Friday, June 30, 2017

Clarion Mall: Clarion (Monroe Township), PA

The journey to Clarion Mall turned out to be a rather hair-raising experience.  Out of nowhere, severe storms were exploding across the landscape along the Allegheny Front, and the closer we got to Clarion the more intense they got.  We stopped at a station to escape the hail noting that we were right in the center of the storm.  When the hail stopped, we continued north to the mall hoping to capture images of this mall before it closed for the evening (at 5 PM, Sunday).  Just as we arrived at the mall, very dark clouds surrounded the area and tornado sirens went off.  Had we not left that station, we may have very nearly been hit directly by a tornado!  However, it did not appear that a tornado actually touched down.  It turns out this area is a hot spot for tornadoes having been hit by two weak tornadoes at the beginning of the month.  You know if the town has a siren, it's not uncommon!


Anyway, upon arriving at the mall we managed to get inside just before the torrent unleashed over this little mall.  Warm and dry inside, it was not a total surprise to find a mall that still retained much of its vintage charm.  It felt like I not only stepped inside from a storm, I also stepped into 1985!  Located just off of I-80, the mall holds its own as a simple T-shaped mall constructed in 1980 anchored today by Kmart and JCPenney.  The mall once featured a third anchor known as Dank's (Dank & Co.).  Dank's closed with the whole Lewistown-based chain in 1995 and was replaced with Carmike Cinemas (including an expansion for the screens).  In addition, the mall features a Peebles on the outlot.  Peebles was originally a second location of the local Brody's department store, which itself closed in 1987.



Looking down the main entrance wing into the main mall.  Carmike Cinemas is currently where Dank's department store originally had a junior anchor.  The theaters use part of the old Dank's, but added on further to the back.




Detail of the empty planters that very much appear to have been fountains originally.  All fountains were covered up in the mall.  There is no way natural plants could survive here.


Looking down the main wing from the mall to the front entrances.  Yes, it's pretty dark. 

The mall features a rather unique design element in that the mall corridor is designed with a sloped ceiling along the main corridor with skylights only on the east side.  However, the court areas feature high window skylights in front of both JCPenney and Kmart.  Planters are still found throughout the mall as well, but fountains were all completely shut off including one in front of JCPenney that was permanently covered.  In all, the mall has an older design than the date of construction suggests, but Clarion itself is a borough with just over 5,000 residents in a county just under 40,000 residents suggesting that it may not be able to support a larger mall.




A look down the Kmart wing.  Notice the loft-style skylights except in the court in front of Kmart.  The Kmart entrance wing is to the right.



A look down and back along the Kmart entrance wing.  As as typical in malls anchored by Kmart, the store is only accessible through the mall.  This Kmart, however, does not have an entrance wing on both sides.  It looks like it might have in the past, however.



The fountains are long since shut off, but the planters and benches are still very much there.  It is a pretty short walk from Kmart to JCPenney.


Next to GNC is the front entrance wing to give perspective of how small this mall actually is.


Blurry shot of the benches.  At least you can visualize yourself sitting here while your significant other takes about 10 minutes to shop here (unless he/she REALLY loves JCPenney).


Detail of the center of the mall, Carmike Cinemas on the left and the main entrance wing on the right.

What sustains the mall is Clarion University of Pennsylvania, a Tier 2 state university that serves as a draw to an otherwise remote region.  The student body itself brings in 5,000 residents each year who likely shop at the mall to avoid the much longer drive to Pittsburgh, Indiana (PA) or Youngstown (OH) to shop.  The mall also appears to be locally owned and managed in lieu of many other malls in the region that are primarily owned by Zamias Realty.  Nonetheless, it is a tiny mall featuring no more than about 200,000-250,000 square feet.  Very few malls of this size remain operational today.



JCPenney loved the slanted wood front mall entrances in the 80's.  I never get tired of them.  What I do get tired of is fountains like the one covered up there being turned off forever.



You can see here how the court area with high window skylights transitions into one with the same only on one side.


Peebles for some reason snubbed the mall (or at least its original anchor Brody's did).  Maybe Peebles will make its way into the mall itself eventually.


JCPenney is on the south end of the mall with the dangerous storm behind it.


I'm pretty sure that's a tornado trying to form on the other side of the mall, but it didn't touch down.  The Carmike Cinemas sign is the main mall entrance.  Under the Kmart sign is the other mall entrance.


JCPenney in perspective with the main mall entrance.  It's not very big unlike those angry skies.


Better detail of the Kmart mall entrance.



Unfortunately the mall sign is not very impressive.  I guess not to many would be thrilled by the mall, but when you need your JCPenney fix or cell phone fixed, it's convinient.

While the mall does have some vacancies, it cannot be considered a dead mall.  Regardless, it is in an awkward position as Kmart and JCPenney both are risky anchors.  However, quite a few options exist for anchors in the mall if either leave.  The ideal scenario would be is if Kmart leaves, JCPenney relocates into the larger Kmart space and Peebles relocates into the former JCPenney space.  Unfortunately, the greatest likelihood is if any anchors are lost, the mall will likely just be turned into a strip center connected to Peebles.  Nonetheless, whatever happens to the mall, it was a very nice find to discover a tiny small-town mall still operating today with both original anchors.  This is especially true in an era where malls large and small are being ripped up by an economic tornado strengthened by a jet stream fed by internet sales, anchor consolidation, a weak rural economy and massive store closures.



Kmart is the biggest anchor by far according to Google Maps.  Peebles is on the upper right, and the addition for the theater is clearly visible.

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