Saturday, July 1, 2017

Clearfield Mall: Clearfield (Lawrence Township), PA

The rarest find in terms of retail is the existence of the mythical enclosed strip.  One of the oddest mall types, this design feature seems to exist solely in regions known for harsh winters providing the benefits of a strip mall without the exposure to the elements.  While this design would seem to be popular, it does not appear that any centers of this type were constructed after the early-to-mid 1970's.  Clearfield Mall is one of the most classic examples of such a mall.

Built in 1970, Clearfield Mall was also one of the first centers built by Zamias Realty featuring a pair of tenants typical in their early malls: a discounter and catalog department store.  In this case, this pair included Murphy's Mart and JCPenney.  The mall itself did not end at either store, instead fronting both stores just the same as if it was an open strip center.  However, the mall has a catch in that in the bend of the mall a small back corridor leads to a set of doors into a back parking lot.  With no anchor, it does not seem this corridor would have ever been much of a draw, but it was still open to the public with nearly every storefront vacant with exception to a financial services office and a second Goodwill store (which appeared to be offices, also).

You KNOW when you see a mall with a front like this, it's going to be shockingly old inside as well.

JCPenney is in the midst of flying the coop.  It is uncertain what will replace it.

A few more shots of the front of the mall.

At the Ollie's end of the mall.  Enclosed strips do not have traditional mall entrances.  This was once Murphy's, later Hills and Ames.  It was vacant up until Ollie's arrived.

A look back into the "main mall", which as you can see is one-sided.

Dollar General operates in part of what was originally Fashion Bug.

A mini-arcade rests on the parking lot side of the mall.

Hallmark has been replaced by the sound of someone exhaling the "H" sound.

Hallmark is now the hall of shelves

The funny thing with a mall like this is you'd expect a leaky, yellowed ceiling and disrepair, but this mall is still a Zamias property and is actually well-maintained.  Vintage does not always mean a moldy public health hazard.  You can see updated lights and sprinklers meaning the roof is in good shape.  If you keep up the roof and fix nothing else, these old malls could last forever.

Inside the GNC.  It's as original as they come other than the updated logo.

Whatever store operated on the right was a very tight squeeze.  It's basically a built-in kiosk.

Today, Clearfield Mall is not doing too hot.  The former Murphy's Mart, later Ames, is today Ollie's Bargain Outlet and JCPenney is in the process of closing their nearly 50 year old store.  While the JCPenney seems to be in otherwise good condition, it is clearly one of the weakest stores in the chain.  In addition, like Clarion Mall, a Peebles sits in the outlot instead of in the mall itself effectively stealing business from JCPenney.  The mall itself, however, is easy to fill with only about 15 stores and about 50% occupancy suggesting that remaining tenants are likely to leave soon.  The Hallmark is long closed, and remaining retail stores today include Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits, Dollar General, Goodwill and GNC.  The Dollar General in particular hid a labelscar for now-defunct Fashion Bug.

The state-run liquor store nears what could best be considered "center court", which is where the L-shaped enclosed strip turns and reveals an interior full mall section.

What surprises await those around this spooky looking bend?

And here it is!  The back mall.  On the left is this highly intriguing corner with original wood paneling.  Was it just a design flaw they couldn't figure out what to do with?

It looks to be an original Foot Locker forgotten to time.

Geez, set up a lemonade stand or something.  I cannot imagine any parent willing to give their kids a gumball from that machine.

Yessir, this just leads to a back door.  No anchor, no reason to go back there at all.  It's clear from the vacant storefronts that not many have in years.

It is impossible to tell what this ever was, but what is inside looks like just storage.

Let's see what's outside these doors.

Umm, okay.  This REALLY makes you want to shop here.  What's insane is that these doors are even accessible!

Cinder block with appropriate graffiti.  It makes you think they hoped to land a third anchor here in the back, but it just never worked out.

Walking back in those double doors into the corridor of lost hope.  The doors on the left appeared to be some restaurant.

Inside, it looks like the Sad Cafe circa 1985.

The mall is also a museum of pretty much every design cue from 1970.  Not only has it not been updated, but the back wing features a mystery space featuring a faux-room with no outer walls and scuffed up wood paneling at the beginning of the back portion.  Floors and other fixtures also appear to be original.  While the mall is clean and not in disrepair, the lack of interest in updating the property suggests that its days are numbered as an enclosed mall.  While the JCPenney was likely marginally profitable, it likely pays next to nothing in rent.  This suggests that the future of this center is not a mall.

Leaving the back mall wing heading to what will soon not be JCPenney.

Another mystery tenant complete with beautiful wood paneling is tucked away on the parking lot side of the L.  What was this?  A travel agency?

JCPenney mall entrance and exterior front entrance.  You enter the mall to enter the store.

A few more details of the JCPenney mall entrance looking into the main mall.

A couple shots inside the closing JCPenney.  It is not as remarkable or as vintage as you'd think.

"JCPenny's...used to be here".  Yes, an official sign with an official spelling error!  This is the back entrance to the store with direct parking lot access.  However, this door was locked.

So what is the future of the property?  For one, aside from those of us who find mid-century anything amazing, the property on the outside looks like a retail fossil.  Looking at an aerial, it does not even look like a mall: just a typical strip shopping center.  It would be very easy for owners to simply take out the enclosure along the front of the mall and turn it into an outdoor walkway from Ollie's to the (soon to be former) JCPenney.  The interior mall in turn could simply either be removed, converted to an open-air courtyard or given to Goodwill to expand their store into the mall space or subdivided for new tenants.  Peebles could relocate from their current location into the former JCPenney space.

Tom & Jerry are keeping an eye on the JCPenney entrance.  The back mall is peeking around the corner also.

A little more detail in the back wing.  This abandoned store that once housed "Pet Place" is today part of the Goodwill.  It is not clear what purpose it has since the store is not technically part of the Goodwill in the main mall.

A little more detail of the wood paneling faux room shows that it has a third side split by the main (strip) mall access.  Tom & Jerry are just around the bend to the left as well as JCPenney.

I guess the mall has a few skylights.  This is looking back into the main enclosed strip mall where most of the action is.

Walking back to Ollie's

Detail around Murphy's/Hills/Ames/Ollies.  If you look very close you can almost make out a "Mart" on the right of where the white paint is.

Outside of Murphy's/Hills/Ames/Ollie's

Former Brody's?  Like Clarion Mall, the Peebles is just outside instead of IN the mall.

The gutting of the mall space would mean lower rents meaning a region that cannot support the higher rents of a mall could offer lower rents as a regular strip.  Of course, despite the economic sense this makes, it is boring.  A creative solution would be to better market the center such as attracting antique stores along the back portion, attracting more service-oriented tenants and finding a suitable replacement for JCPenney such as a grocery store (Shop 'n Save), but could anything be done to make the mall as-is attractive to potential businesses again?  For once, it would be nice to see something interesting that is old manage to come back to life without changing it into the same old boring strip mall.

From space it is nearly impossible to tell that an actual mall is here.  It just looks like a typical 70's strip mall.


  1. I hope you check out Century III Mall since you're kind of near Pittsburgh. Man, that place is dead.

  2. Thanks for the pictures, I love seeing malls like these. The loss of JCPenney (or JCPenny according to that sign) will be a big loss for the remaining tenants of the mall (not that there's many left). Hopefully low enough rent and a familiar location will allow some of those businesses to stay viable.

    We have a mall in the Houston area, the Mall of the Mainland in Texas City, that has rebuilt itself in a non-traditional way. The mall opened in the early 1990s, but was a dying mall from the beginning. New management came and went, but they could never turn the mall around. It finally closed a couple years back with a couple of anchors staying open including Sears and a theater. A local developer brought the mall and built a large, upscale gym in the former Macy's. He just opened up a large trampoline park in part of the in-line section of the mall and a wrestling studio opened up in one of the former junior anchors. He's trying to get some restaurants to open up in the mall creating a "restaurant row" (one restaurant has already opened). Anyway, a few smaller retailers have opened up in the mall. It's not like the mall is a vibrant place, but at least there's a decent amount of traffic at the mall once again. Perhaps these dying malls need something like that.

    Maybe I'm way off about this, but the inside of that GNC reminds me of the old Hickory Farms stores we had in malls here that closed in the late 1980s/early 1990s. It's been 25+ years since those closed so maybe I'm off about that though. Does anyone know if that might be an old Hickory Farms? I don't remember GNCs ever having interiors like that, but it's not like I shop at them frequently even though they are a fixture at dying malls.

    I enjoyed all the new posts you've put up this week. Keep up the good work. I know retail blogs are about as dead as dead malls, but I'm one person who still prefers them to Facebook and all that other stuff.

  3. Well, I grew up here. Peebles was a Riverside Grocery Store. The restaurant inside was a pizza shop, Correct on the Foot Locker, The corner store inside, with the back side facing the parking lot was an ice cream parlor. NRM was where the Goodwill is. In the back corridor, Pet Store, Full size arcade, Travel agency... There was a shoe store as well, I believe something like a Payless at one time in the front section.