Monday, March 13, 2017

Granite Run Mall: Media (Middletown Township), PA

The Philadelphia market has to be the most overmalled market in the entire country.  The preponderance of the area's endless suburbs stretching from Wilmington to New York City, its position in a competitive tri-state area and a very dense, high population made the area far too attractive to mall developers who likewise built far too many malls in the area.  In the area of Granite Run Mall, competing malls include Concord Mall in Wilmington (10 miles to the southwest), Springfield Mall (4 miles to the east), Exton Square Mall (16 miles to the northwest) and of course the mammoth King of Prussia Mall (20 miles north).  The last may be the furthest away, but it is such a huge draw that it threatens a large number of malls within a 25 mile radius: all hanging on because Macy's has not yet closed at any of these malls.  This is likely to change as Macy's is beginning to become troubled financially with the dead weight of so many redundant stores and just announced the closure of 100 stores by 2017.

Granite Run was not so lucky to have a Macy's that draws in customers.  Because of that, it became one of the weakest malls in the market while too large to support a healthy mix of stores.  Its failure was sudden, but not entirely unprecedented, and it stands as one of the unusual examples of malls that began to fail with a full deck of department stores.  Today, Sears and Boscov's still remain at the mall, but until 2015 the anchor offerings also included a JCPenney that closed partly in anticipation of the mall's redevelopment and partly due to a round of closings that included many malls that also had a competing Boscov's.  Demolition of the mall including the former JCPenney began in 2016, and today the interior mall in these photos is but a memory.

While not particularly impressive, Granite Run Mall did retain a fountain in its center court up until the end.  Most likely a much larger fountain once graced the center court prior to its last renovation.  The first photo shows the center court escalators with JCPenney in the background.  The escalators are likely not original. 

Looking from center court to Boscov's, originally Gimbel's

A picture of the directory shows a three-pronged mall with Sears and Boscov's facing US 1 while JCPenney sat in the rear.

So much of why the Philadelphia market has so many malls is the power that the local department stores once had.  Classy and very popular department stores Strawbridge & Clothier (Strawbridge's) and John Wanamaker (Wanamaker's) opened many locations around eastern PA to showcase their wildly popular stores.  Other New York and New Jersey-area stores opened many stores in the market as well including Bamberger's (an R.H. Macy division absorbed in 1986) and Gimbel's.  Local favorite Boscov's also helped shore up many of these malls in modern times.  Like the department stores of old, Boscov's is more of a draw than the mall itself.  Nonetheless, the decline of these once prominent regional stores such as Strawbridge's and Wanamaker's led to Macy's and Boscov's inheriting a ton of locations that are now very old in equally old malls.  The future of these stores keeping many of these outmoded malls alive is short.  In fact, Boscov's anchors quite a few dead malls and lives on at malls that have long been demolished across Pennsylvania.

One of three spiral staircases in the anchor courts, this one in front of JCPenney.  Note that permanent planters were still used in the mall up to the end.

A view of the upper level from center court looking to Boscov's

View looking away from Boscov's to center court

Lower level entrance to US 1 next to Boscov's.  This wing was very vacant and had the stench of sewage on my visit.  It is unclear what the issue was, but it may be related to the closed restaurant on the left.

Planters and stairs on the lower level outside of Sears

For those in most of the USA, a "run" refers to a stream, not a 10K thus the mall was named for a nearby creek.  Like the creek, the mall has had a good run.  Nonetheless, Granite Run was a mall that was late to the party meaning the market was already saturated when it was built.  Constructed in 1974 by Goodman Company, it maintained two out of three of its original anchors, but the Boscov's started as New York-based Gimbel's.  In 1986, Gimbel's closed and was replaced with Stern's as part of the closure and sale of Gimbel's to numerous competitors.  Stern's itself would close at the mall in 1989 with Boscov's taking over in 1993.  From 1993-2015, the mall's anchors otherwise proved to be stable with no changes up until the closure of JCPenney.  Acme Supermaket and Clover (Strawbridge's discount division) opened on the outlot of the mall with Clover later replaced by Kohl's.  Acme still operates adjacent to the mall.    

Two views of the JCPenney mall entrance.  It was a pretty standard look for malls built in the 1973-1976 time period with the dark brown ribbed material and dark glass.

Three separate angles of the Boscov's mall entrance including a Macy's-like side store that takes up some of the mall's space.  Considering that original tenant Gimbel's was once a primary competitor of Macy's and Bamberger's (same company) in the region, it would make sense that they would try a similar tactic.  The exterior design as you will see also resembles Macy's-owned stores of the period.

Granite Run also was built with a nearby competitor that proved to be a complementary mall.  Springfield Mall also opened in 1974, but it did not have any anchor overlap at any point in either mall's history.  However, the presence of both malls so close did not help Granite Run in the fact that differentiated anchors did not result in long-term duplication of inline stores.  Granite Run began to be riddled with vacancies and infill tenants all through the 2000's and 2010's with redevelopment becoming the only accepted option.  Competition from not only King of Prussia, but also nearby upscale centers including The Shops at Brinton Lake and Concordville Town Center made it more difficult for the mall to market the inline space to potential tenants.  Times changed and Granite Run was not able to keep up.

A peculiar feature of 70's malls were the single escalators found in the side wings with none found in center court.  Usually these escalators only went up.  This one is found in the Sears wing.

Three views of the Sears mall entrance, which is not only an original anchor, but remains open at the now-demolished mall today.  Sears, much like its former competitor Montgomery Ward 20 years ago, continues to operate many stores like this one despite a continued lack of business at the majority of their stores.

Next to Sears on the left is an upper level entrance wing (outside entrance shown also) that included a nail salon and Chinese restaurant at the end: two tenants that obviously do not keep the doors open on a medium-size two-level enclosed mall.

From 1998-2015, the mall saw significant change in management.  1998 saw the purchase of the mall as a joint venture between Macerich and Simon Property Group with Simon managing the mall.  In 2011, Simon defaulted on the mall's loan beginning the failure of the mall.  In 2013, BET investments then purchased the mall with the intent to redevelop the mall.  By 2015, Granite Run Mall finally closed the interior mall with demolition beginning in 2016 to rebuild the mall into an open-air center maintaining Sears and Boscov's meaning that despite the loss of the mall that a significant portion of the mall would remain.  With Sears troubles, it is unclear what will ultimately happen to Sears when it ultimately closes, but the owners must have faith that they can reposition the store when that happens.

This older style of Master Cuts was also noted in other dead malls built in the 70's.

Two views of the front of the mall.  It was a very unattractive and brutalist mall on the outside.

Boscov's, originally Gimbel's and later Stern's, really was not modified much on the outside from its original look.  Notice how it resembles many Bamberger's and Macy's stores of the era.

A curious component of this particular Boscov's is the garden center.  Department stores have occassionally experimented with them.

Granite Run Mall today is not just symptomatic of the state of malls in the country where too many malls were competing for an ever dwindling share of the market.  It is also the canary in the coal mine signaling the eventual failure of a large number of malls in the Philadelphia market.  The market has a few very dominant malls that are only increasing in that dominance.  This means that these older, smaller malls are set to join Granite Run in their descent into oblivion as they prove unable to effectively compete in a perfect storm of internet sales, department store downsizing, expansion of dominant malls and changing shopping habits.  This will, of course, be unfortunate as some of these malls were very uniquely designed and beautiful in their day beyond what was common elsewhere in the country.  Even Granite Run's redevelopment is risky relying on a scrappy regional department store and failing national department store as the center of its redevelopment.  Nonetheless, in an era of failing malls in a city that is far too reliant on them it remains remarkable that Granite Run matured to survive 40 years and has avoided the fate of many malls of its time: sitting vacant for years while the political leaders scramble to figure out what to do with it.

The upper level rear entrance next to Sears retained its original 1974 look!

The front of Sears, although bland, features this fascinating granite mosaic apparently paying tribute to the mall's name.

Photos of the Sears auto center.

Photos of the exterior of the now-demolished JCPenney looking at the west and north side of the store.

While clearly expanded, Acme was an original anchor tenant on the outlot.  Kohl's also opened as Clover, but was heavily modified to the point its former anchor tenant is not recognizable.

BONUS: Demolition photos taken July 23, 2016

Demolition underway, but not yet completed on the Sears wing

Side of Sears entrance wing where Peking restaurant was.

Former Boscov's mall entrance now covered up with demolition completed.

There has to be some irony here that this older entrance in the back is one of the last parts still standing.

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