Friday, December 1, 2017

Concord Mall: Wilmington, DE

Non-locals and retail enthusiasts seem to have ignored a particular mall in the Philadelphia metro area.  After seeing this mall, we have to wonder why.  Opening in 1965, Concord Mall was originally a small enclosed mall anchored on the south end by a store called Almart, a discount division of Allied Stores founded in 1962.  The mall attached to Almart was also built by Allied Stores.  Of note is also that Almart was known as J.B. Hunter in other markets although J.B. Hunter appears to have been a low-end department store.  While Allied Stores no longer exists as an entity in the U.S., it appears that the mall itself was spun off to a small corporation bearing the name of the former corporate parent.  The early mall was a relatively small and noncompetitive ancillary mall compared with other malls in the market, so it is remarkable that the mall is not only still around today but is doing quite well.


Concord Mall is not a mall without competition, which is part of what makes it unique in how well it does.  Add to that that all malls in Delaware greatly benefit from being in a state with no sales tax, meaning that retail is big business in the First State.  This draws in many shoppers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey that might otherwise go to competing malls.  In all, it basically carved out its own niche in the market despite being 14 miles from far more popular Christiana Mall, 17 miles from Springfield Mall, 17 miles from Exton Square Mall and 27 miles from the massive King of Prussia Mall.  Competition is not that far away, but it is still far enough away that it definitely has a convenience factor.  Its present anchors today include Boscov's, Macy's, Macy's Home and Sears.  With Sears failing as a company, that might present issues for the mall, but as a healthy mall, this anchor may not be super difficult to fill.  In fact, in an era when so many malls are on the brink of failure this is not one of them.




The center court and fountain is very striking with decor similar to what was used in malls in the very early 90's.


Looking south down the Sears wing from center court.  It is clear that the center skylights were added later due to the structural elements being incorporated into the design.

The layout of the original mall was a straight-shot one level mall with a small three-story office building in the middle making it a fairly typical mall of that period.  In 1971, the mall saw its first addition when a Pomeroy's was added on the northern end of the mall transforming it a standard dumbbell shaped mall.  It also appears that it was not an accident that Pomeroy's became the northern anchor.  Pomeroy's was a division of Allied Stores, who also owned Almart on the mall's southern end.  This meant the mall's owners had a vested interest in bringing in stores they already owned.  The biggest coup for the mall, however, came in 1983 when Philadelphia-based Strawbridge & Clothier opened an elegant new store in the front of the mall.  This new store came with very distinct architectural touches and was coupled with an update to the mall that restructured a dark and plain mall into a far more attractive one with a large glass atrium in the center court, added skylights, new planters, fountains and an updated look.  It made an ancillary mall into a truly competitive one.  Strawbridge's was also the first non-Allied anchor to open in the mall.




A more traditional fountain greets shoppers in the lush court in front of Sears.


The mall directory today.  The former north anchor was Pomeroy's and the south anchor was originally Almart.  On the right side, it appears there was once a mall theater.  The strip portion shown on the upper left is owned as part of the mall and is located just north of the mall.


The tall planters were really an elegant touch.

The relocation of Strawbridge's, however, was somewhat sad as it replaced a 1951 store at the Merchandise Mart, now Merchant's Square.  Built as an anchor to one of the oldest strip shopping centers in the country, the former Strawbridge's location was abandoned for many years and finally demolished in 2009 with a Food Lion built just behind the site of the former store.  A set of photos from Retroland USA shows the demolition of the original store.



Detail of the fountain next to the food court and in front of Boscov's.


Boscov's mall entrance, which was Pomeroy's until 1986.  It has been there much longer than its original anchor.


A bit more detail of the tall planters looking south to center court.


Macy's, which was Strawbridge's from 1983-2006, has by far the most elegant mall entrance.  The mall is visible from the second floor of the store.  Below is the Strawbridge & Clothier seal placed as a "monument" to the store.  Every Strawbridge's location had this seal.

In 1984, the Almart chain was sold off to the Montgomery Ward corporation, which Ward's subsequently opened as a unit of their Jefferson Ward division, a discount format of Montgomery Ward.  Jefferson Ward was originally a Miami-based discount chain called Jefferson's that Montgomery Ward purchased in 1973.  Jefferson Ward was poorly operated by Montgomery Ward, and the stores were sold the following year to Bradlee's.  Two years after Almart was sold, the Pomeroy's location was sold off to Boscov's as part of their expansion into the Philadelphia region and as part of the Campeau purchase of Allied stores.  Pomeroy's itself would disappear the following year after Allied Stores was sold.  All Pomeroy's locations were converted to The Bon-Ton.  In all, the 1980's were pretty eventful for the mall.


A view from the second floor of Macy's to the cosmetics department and mall entrance.



Staggered escalators give a unique perspective to the center of Macy's.


Domed skylight with visors in Macy's.


Inside the Macy's outside entrance to the parking lot.

The positive side of all of this was that none of these changes harmed the mall.  Changes in the industry in this case helped improve the mall's position in the market by making it more appealing to the residents of the region by bringing in popular stores.  The addition of Boscov's and Strawbridge's was far more of a boon to the mall than its original format as a low-end mall anchoring a 1960's discount store.   Nonetheless, further changes took place in the 1990's.  1992 saw the closure and demolition of the Bradlee's (former Almart) for a new two-story Sears.  Soon after, 1994 saw creative reuse of the office building draped over the mall as Strawbridge's decided to expand its home section into the office building.  This change created a strange quirk in the mall where the upper levels of the home store actually overlook the mall itself.  Thus, what is otherwise a one level mall suddenly jumps to three levels!  After these two changes occurred, Concord Mall finally stabilized.


Looking up from the mall skylight is the mall's most unusual detail: an office building converted to Strawbridge's Home Store, currently Macy's Home.




The Macy's home store sneaks up on you as its narrow three-story tower looms over the main mall just north of center court.  It opened as Strawbridge's home store in 1994 after previously functioning as an office building.


The Strawbridge & Clothier seal is also located just above the mall on the second floor.

Today, Concord Mall has seen very few changes since the adjustments of the 80's and 90's.  The only anchor change since that time was Strawbridge's, which converted to Macy's in 2006 with the sale of then-owners May Department Stores to Federated Department Stores (now Macy's, Inc.).  What will be interesting to see is what happens when Sears inevitably folds as a chain.  Unless one of the few remaining department stores to choose from relocates from another store, the mall will need to be creative to fill the void.  The most likely possibility is that JCPenney relocates from their current location at Prices Corner Shopping Center to the mall.  JCPenney's current store at the shopping center is from the 1950's, and it is way too close to their Christiana Mall store.  Another possibility is an urban format Wal-Mart, which currently has no locations in the immediate area.  The addition of Wal-Mart in that spot would be incredibly ironic since it is only one letter off from the original anchor Almart, and both were discount stores founded in 1962.  Less likely is that Lord & Taylor may also look to locate a store at the mall (they previously were located at Christiana Mall until 2006).  If none of that materializes, the anchor will probably become extended mall space coupled with junior anchors or an entertainment option creating an interesting two-level addition on the southern end.  Considering the excellent demographics, location and popularity of the mall, it should not be difficult to fill a Sears vacancy.



Two views from the third level of the furniture store down into the main mall.




Outside views of the officer tower transitioned to home store for Strawbridge's, later Macy's.  Note the labeslcar in the third photo.

What is also remarkable about Concord Mall is the way it looks today.  It was certainly a shock to enter a mall that had so much of what is rarely seen in malls today: lush planters, three fountains, colorful decor, and distinctive architectural touches sorely missed in most other malls.  The mall itself does not have an exciting layout, but it was far more enjoyable when coupled with these special touches.  Add this in with the very unique design for the Macy's and the surprising layout of the vertical home store, and what would otherwise be a very bland mall is actually quite beautiful.  It probably helps that the owners are not part of a major mall conglomerate, which is also likely why the mall does so well despite being overlooked by larger, better known malls in the region.  In all, Concord Mall got better with age in its 50+ years of business.  It was an unexpected and surprising retail diamond that will hopefully continue to shine for many more.


View of the furniture store from the west side of the mall.


Boscov's and mall entrance.  Boscov's retains many architectural cues from Pomeroy's.


Exterior shot of Strawbridge's (Macy's) parking lot entrance.  Zoomed out shots were taken, but they did not turn out well due to the store's close proximity to the road.


Detail of mall entrance next to Sears


Sears opened at the mall in 1992 replacing a closed location of a dying discount chain with a full-line department store.  However, the site is the reason the mall was built in the first place: to complement the Almart discount chain that folded in the 80's.  It was Jefferson Ward and Bradlee's prior to Sears.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the pictures of this mall and the others you have posted this week. This mall in particular is fascinating. The lush greenery, fountains, colors, and skylights make this a retro looking mall in many ways (encompassing different eras of retroness I guess), but yet it does not look dated at all. It does not look like a cookie cutter mall either. I'm glad that you were able to present this interesting mall to us!

    The photo angles of the Macy's Home Store really shows some interesting angles of the unique store. The Sears too looks very interesting. Sears stores from the 1990s tend to use fairly standardized designs (which actually look pretty good) as opposed to their unique designs for each store in earlier eras, but this one looks a little different from other Sears stores I've seen from the 1990s. It almost looks like a May Department Store corporate design from that era in some ways. Being a Sears store from the 1990s, it's probably in better shape on the inside than most other Sears stores too.

    Anyway, I hope this mall continues to prosper. And, again, thanks for all the recent additions to the blog.

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  2. This is a very nice mall with some interesting elements. The Macy's Home Store especially is a perfect example of how dead space can be transformed.

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  3. Very interesting post on this lesser-known mall.
    I previously lived in Philly for 5 years, and we used to shop the Christiana Mall in Delaware...but I never heard of this one. I'd like to check it out next time I am in the area, especially that Boscov's/Pomeroy's exterior. Very early 80's!

    Just one note--"Bradlee's" is spelled with no apostrophe--the correct spelling is "Bradlees". Cheers!

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