Thursday, July 13, 2017

Warren Mall: Warren, PA

What if a mall died and nobody cared?  This is how it feels when discussing the rather sad Warren Mall.  Once a proud three-anchor mall featuring Bon-Ton, Kmart and JCPenney, today the mall is almost entirely vacant except for Bon-Ton and Dunham's Sports.  In fact, at present only three tenants continue to operate in this forlorn mall as plans are currently in the works to demolish the interior.  Built by Zamias Services, the mall also has a very similarly designed sister mall to the south with Indiana Mall.  However, the similarities will not be visible much longer.


Built in 1979, Warren Mall provided a small regional mall to Warren County and the nearby city (and county seat) of Warren.  It seemed that during the 1970's it was viewed by developers that nearly every county in the state needed at least one mall: a factor in why Pennsylvania is so overmalled.  With U.S. heavy industry not yet in decline, the region was growing modestly while malls were at their peak.  Since the mall opened, however, Warren County has suffered from the typical fate of the Rustbelt: a lack of opportunities, population loss and graying of the population (median age of 40).  In fact, since the mall opened, the county itself has lost 7,000 residents, a population loss of 8.5%!  None of those factors sustain a mall.



Walking into the mall, the few signs of life are deceptive.  Master Cuts is closed for good on the right and aside from Bon-Ton, the only other business open here is the nail salon, because getting your nails done is more important than a haircut.


I failed to get a close-up of the mall directory, so I created my own further down the post.


Detail of benches and planters in the front entrance corridor.




Approaching the Bon-Ton with a focus on the center court details in front.


Overhead detail in center court with the center court fountain on the right.

Furthermore, 20 miles to the north Chautauqua Mall in Jamestown, New York provides a more complete shopping experience.  Unlike this mall, Chatauqua Mall has a pretty typical rural selection of stores: JCPenney, Sears and Bon-Ton.  In contrast, Bon-Ton is the only thing keeping the doors open at Warren Mall.  It has been a slow decline, however.  JCPenney closed in a large round of closings in 2000 and was replaced by Big Lots.  However, Kmart hung on in the mall until 2014.  Big Lots itself left the mall in 2013 with the store remaining vacant until it was replaced with Dunham's Sports in April 2017.  Unlike Big Lots, however, Dunham's walled off access from the mall.  That wall in fact IS the writing on the wall about the future of the mall.




A few shots inside the Bon-Ton that looks about as original inside as the mall itself does.




The center court fountain has sadly been turned off.  It was never super elegant: just stacked stone and a very small waterfall into the blue pool you see here, but it's striking with the yellow tiles, stained wood benches and plants basking in the ethereal glow of the small overhead skylight.  The first photo faces the JCPenney wing, second the Kmart wing and third looking into the fountain with Bon-Ton on the left.


Context of center court planter, skylight and Bon-Ton



Empty Kay Jewelry store next to center court.  It has likely been vacant for at least 15 years.

What was pretty clear is that the closure of JCPenney was the catalyst that began the exodus of inline tenants.  The mall had a few vacancies in the 1990's, but today all that is left is Napoli Pizza (which opened with the mall), a nail salon and Label Shopper, which has outside access only.  The loss of JCPenney and so many inline tenants drove the mall into bankruptcy in 2003.  While Zamias got the mall out of bankruptcy, the mall itself never recovered.


Entering the JCPenney wing, later Big Lots.


Detail of the planters and lights in the JCPenney wing.  To the right was a Waldenbooks.  The only reading going on in this mall now are bored Bon-Ton employees killing time on their smartphones waiting for the rare customer.


Label Shopper is the only store open on this wing.  However, they have closed their mall entrance and have outside access.  JCPenney is also not vacant.  It is now Dunham's Sports, but they have walled off the mall entrance in anticipation of the mall's redevelopment.


"JCPenny's...used to be here".  The light over the planter, however, makes it look like JCPenney has passed on...oh wait.


Skylight over the planter.


Next to the former JCPenney is this back entrance corridor leading to the back parking lot.



Golden glazed bricks lead the way to the light that will soon cover the site of the failed mall.


View of the outside of the back entrance reveals a very stark and vintage entry with burnt orange letters over brown blocks, dark doors and a stained white brick facade.

Overall, Warren Mall has a pretty basic layout with exception to how the mall corridor turns diagonal to the main mall instead of ending flush with the former Kmart.  The result was that Kmart sat diagonal to the rest of the mall.  This was a necessary design fluke done because the back side of the mall backs up to Conewango Creek.  In fact, the mall itself appears to be in the floodplain of the creek although I cannot find any evidence that it ever flooded the mall itself.  Otherwise, the mall has a straightforward design with one main entrance, two smaller back entrances and three anchors.  It is also still comparatively large and attractive for a mall serving a population of less than 50,000.  If the county had continued to grow as it did in the 70's, the mall would likely still be doing well today.



Former Ponderosa Steakhouse in the Kmart wing.  A wrought iron rail blocks off access to the interior.  However, a look inside reveals the once popular restaurant.


Former Foot Locker on the left with an empty kiosk to the right and the former Kmart in the background.


Inside the former Foot Locker


There is just something awfully classy about the way they did planters and lights in the 70's malls.  The skylight is nothing special, but touches like this make it far more eye catching and restful.  The plastic tarp over the storefront to the left, however, is creepy.  It was once a Fashion Bug, but it turned over and died.


Your 80's horror movie fantasies could be filled with scenes where very evil things happen inside both of those former stores.  Aside from visions of slashing and carnage, one way you can be absolutely sure that the owners do not give a damn about the mall anymore and plan to knock it down is when one empty store is blocked off with a chain link fence and another with a plastic tarp like this.  There will be slashing and carnage, however...with a wrecking ball and backhoe.  



Kmart's mall entrance sits empty and forlorn.  However, Ollie's plans to take over once the mall is demolished.

It is also important to note a few other features of the mall.  Unlike Indiana Mall, the theater was not built into the mall itself.  Instead, it exists to the left of the mall located on an outlot.  To the left of that is a Tractor Supply, which is located in what was a former greenhouse Kroger.  It is unknown when the Kroger closed, but it is believed to have closed as early as 1984 when Kroger left Pittsburgh meaning that the store was only open around five years.  One source stated a store named County Market, a small independent with currently one location in Grove City, used to operate in that space.



A ray of false hope shines down on the side planter near the south mall entrance (and de facto Kmart entrance).  Identical planters were positioned in the Kmart entrance corridor at Indiana Mall.



Napoli Pizza, the last remaining original tenant, still does a good business next to the Kmart exterior entrance.  To the right was Aladdin's Castle.  Its former arcade appearance still lingers today.


Where the mall bends into the main mall just past Kmart with this faux skylight overhead.


Nope, it's just a very interesting artificial light fixture with reflective panels to enhance the glow.


Inside the former Kmart.  It doesn't look rough because it's been closed a long time.  It looks rough because it's Kmart and was barely maintained for years before it closed!


Another back entrance corridor is just before Kmart.  This is the location of the bathrooms and mall offices.  The bathrooms are wedged into a triangular corner between this hallway and Kmart.


Patti's closed before you could ever buy "Patti Pie" here (as if you ever could).  

One thing that makes Warren Mall stand out over other dead malls is that it is remarkably unchanged from when it first opened nearly 40 years ago.  While absolutely spotless and in good repair, nothing substantial has ever been done to the mall...EVER!  The mall still features the same fountains, same flooring, same skylights, same wood trim and same planters since the day it opened.  The exterior is equally as vintage with original "MALL" signs on back entrances and a solidly 70's design.  What changed is the stores...most of those completely gone.


Re-entering center court with a dead Bath & Body Works on the left.  Usually one of the last stores to close, it has been vacant over a decade!


Exiting the interior Warren Mall...forever :'(


Label Shopper's exterior entrance is due to its former life as CVS.  It was also a Dollar General for awhile.  CVS consolidated into a downtown store.


Bon-Ton appears to only be accessible via the main mall entrance (which should at least mention that a mall is here!).  Perhaps it once said "MALL" underneath this sign.



In the back side of the mall, Bon-Ton has direct parking lot access...and the old logo to boot!!



It looks like it's just a Kmart entrance, but it's actually also the mall entrance.  It was very common in malls with Kmart as an anchor to have the Kmart entrance actually be the mall entrance with the actual store entrance inside along the mall corridor.

Obviously, a mall with no stores is not going to stay open as a mall for very long.  It is unclear what Bon-Ton's commitment is, but like the mall itself, the store inside has never been updated.  Bright orange and burnt sienna floor tiles grace the store's departments, and the lack of updates reflect the problems with Bon-Ton itself.  It is a troubled company with far too many far-flung locations in dead malls, and the chain has an unfortunate reputation of catering to old people considering that its base of stores just happens to be in markets that younger people have largely left.  With Kmart empty, Dunham's disconnected from the mall, and only three tenants retaining mall access, the signs were there that the mall was almost done, and it turns out to be true.


Overview of the front of the mall from Kmart to the former JCPenney.


Dunham's in the old JCPenney with the Big Lots labelscar on the left.  Dunham's arrival shows a commitment to the mall, but only as a redeveloped center.  They have no mall access.


The former JCPenney back entrance where store services are has been unceremoniously boarded up.


Cinemas III rests on an outlot just north of the mall.  It clearly is as vintage as the mall itself.  Unlike its sister Indiana Mall, it is not part of the mall itself.  This is likely due to the geographic constraints where the back of the mall backs up to Conewango Creek.


Former Kroger.  It is unknown how long this store ceased to be a Kroger.


The mall's sign panels have been updated, but the very awesome original logo just abbreviating the name of the mall remains.


Last but not least, check out these killer retro entrance/exit signs located along US 62.

In 2016, Zamias sold their interest in the mall to Cocca Development of Boardman, OH.  The new owners pretty much had no qualms about what their plans were: to bring it down.  It will be done in a fashion similar to what was done at Raleigh Mall in Beckley, WV.  That means they will leave the anchors standing, but demolish the interior mall while keeping remaining tenants in the new development.  This will also give Bon-Ton front parking lot access.  In addition, Ollie's Bargain Outlet is moving into the Kmart space.  With Dunham's already in the old JCPenney, this will ironically bring the mall back to full occupancy...minus the mall itself, of course.  Redevelopment of the mall is scheduled to begin in 2018.  We wish the best of luck to the redevelopment, but it will be sad to lose another well-preserved vintage gem with Warren Mall.


Here is a map and aerial of the mall and outlots.  For details of former inline tenants, these maps show various tenants from 1980-2000.

 


For your further interest is the aerial of the mall from Google.

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