Saturday, December 2, 2017

Neshaminy Mall: Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania

The sixth mall in the Philadelphia metro area was a one-story mall in Bensalem Township, a fairly typical suburban mall with a few special touches that make it stand out above the rest.  Named Neshaminy Mall, the mall was named for nearby Neshaminy Creek.  Meaning "double drinking place", the name was derived from the language of the Lenni Lenape tribe of Delaware Indians.  From the beginning, the mall lived up to its name constructing a large fountain as its centerpiece.  Constructed in 1968 by a partnership between The Korman Company and Strouse Greenberg, the original mall looked impressive for one level with very high courts over two stories tall both in front of its original two anchors and in the center court.  Those original anchors were Strawbridge & Clothier and Sears.


As an ode to the tribe that the mall was named for, the original fountain was replaced within two years of the mall's opening with a much larger fountain that was paid for by one of the mall's two original anchors: Strawbridge's.  Sears may have also had a fountain, but it was probably similar to the original one in front of Strawbridge's and later removed.  Apparently Strawbridge's wanted to showcase their store with a much showier fountain with historic precedent to replace the more basic concrete fountain that was put there when the mall opened.  The newer fountain features a waterfall, a pool, trees, plants and a statue of Tawanka, chief of the Lenni Lenape tribe for which the name Neshaminy was derived.  It was dedicated on September 9, 1970.  Strawbridge's was a family-run store until the 1990's, and the family loved to pay homage to the area's history both on the exterior and at the mall entrances.  This was their contribution to Neshaminy Mall.



The first photo shows the fountain, waterfall and pool in front of the Strawbridge's (later Macy's) mall entrance.  More details of the fountain and court are shown both above and below.  The upper level seen above the Macy's sign was part of the Strawbridge's restaurant and was closed to the public when the restaurant closed.


A view of the fountain and statue facing the Boscov's wing.  Macy's is to the right.


Detail of the statue


Detail of the waterfall


Plaque on the fountain explaining the meaning behind the fountain and sculpture.


Fountain facing the Boscov's wing.


Fountain facing the main part of the mall toward Sears.

Strawbridge's did not hesitate to make their store the centerpiece of the mall despite not actually being in the center of the mall.  This included the third floor of Strawbridge's overlooking the mall providing a view from what was then the Corinthian Room restaurant.  This was also likely part of the reason for the fountain upgrade.  Nonetheless, aside from Strawbridge's, the mall was otherwise a fairly typical mall of the era forming a straight shot from Strawbridge's to Sears.  Over time, this arrangement proved to be less competitive, and an expansion was undertaken in 1975 to help the mall better compete with more popular Oxford Valley Mall.  Oxford Valley Mall had opened in 1973 a mere six miles away with a bigger, better mall and was stealing customers from the older mall.  The newer mall had the same anchors as Neshaminy, and the expansion of Neshaminy Mall added a northeast wing that included Lit Brothers department store and between 15-25 more inline stores.


Above is the detail of the skylights inside the former Strawbridge's/Macy's when it was still open.  The gorgeous escalator/staircases in the center of the store was a signature style of suburban Strawbridge's locations.





More detail of the stairs, escalators and chandaliers at the Strawbridge's.


Exiting back out into the mall, more detail of Strawbridge's court.  The overhead skylights and windows are 1960's, but it is tasteful and attractive giving abundant natural light.

Philly-based Lit Brothers, however, was a lower-end department store that was no longer able to compete after competition from larger chains cut into their business.  The entire chain was liquidated in 1977.  Lit Brothers closure was also due to its parent company, City Stores (now CSS industries), divesting its department store holdings in the span of 1973-1980 including other chains like Lansburgh's in DC and Loveman's in Alabama.  Pomeroy's, a division of Allied Department Stores replaced Lit Brothers the same year.    Ten years later, Bon-Ton would take over Pomeroy's when the chain was spun off as part of the sale of Allied Stores to Federated.  Bon-Ton itself would itself prove to struggle in the market, closing in 1994.  Boscov's would take over the location in 1995 and ultimately outlast all the other previous tenants.


The 1973 addition was apparently originally designed as a darker corridor with no natural light.  A later renovation added these skylights, which obviously had to be worked in above the existing ceiling trusses.  This is an unfortunate and unsightly trend in more recent malls as a way of adding skylights where none previously existed.


Like the older parts of the mall, the Boscov's court was designed with high ceilings, but did they ever serve any purpose?  Skylights added were more subdued than the 1960's portion of the mall.  The store originally opened as Lit Brothers in 1973 and later operated as Pomeroy's and Bon-Ton before becoming Boscov's in 1995. 


A small exterior entrance corridor is located next to Boscov's that appears to have originally held around 4-6 tenants.


Leaving the Boscov's court returning to the older part of the mall.

Since the initial 1975 expansion, the mall was expanded two more times.  The first was the addition of a food court in 1989 that was further expanded in 1990.  After a 1995 renovation, the mall was expanded again adding a northwest wing ending at a 24 screen AMC theater in 1998.  This expansion also brought the mall to over one million square feet.  Throughout the years, the mall also changed ownership several times.  The first ownership change came with the sale of the mall from Mutual of New York (now known as AXA) to Homart Development Company, the real estate development arm of Sears.  The mall was sold again to General Growth Properties (GGP) in 1995 when Sears sold off Homart properties and shut down the subsidiary.  GGP continues to currently own the mall.




Details of the actual center court of the mall with abundant natural light coming from large windows and overhead skylights.  If the areas around the skylights and high windows were replaced with actual color and wood trim with as impressive of a center court as exists in front of the old Strawbridge's, this would be truly impressive.


A view into the food court area.



Sears court and mall entrance.  Barnes & Noble takes up a large junior anchor space to the left of the Sears entrance.  It is worrisome what will happen to this mall when Sears closes.


This is NOT something you see everyday in a modern mall: a Time-Out Arcade!  I'm glad I captured this.  I ultimately found another Time-Out Arcade at another mall and went in with a friend to play some Skee Ball.


Before you go to watch the fifth sequel of a movie you were tired of by the second one, you "gotta go to Mo's!"  Modell's is a moderately successful sporting goods chain that has somehow found a niche among larger players in the Northeast.  It is often found off-mall.


Fun for the whole family at the AMC 24!  The addition of the theater in 1995 rounded off the mall at four anchors.

Next year, Neshaminy Mall will celebrate its 50th anniversary, but there may not be anything to celebrate considering that the mall is facing a crisis.  Between 1995 and 2015, nothing significant changed with the mall other than Strawbridge's becoming Macy's.  However, Strawbridge's was long in decline before it became Macy's with the family losing the store to May Company in the late 90's who then sold it to Federated Department Stores, which converted it to Macy's.  In early 2017, Macy's decided to close its location at the mall after 49 years of business.  This leaves a significant hole in the mall, especially when considering that the mall's only other original anchor, Sears, is very close to going under.  This leaves only Boscov's and the AMC theater as anchors to the mall.  Since dead anchors in malls are now impossible to fill, this is the beginning of the end of a very special little mall.  We wish so much that the industry could be turned around and that new stores could come in and fill these voids, but since the beginning of the decade this has proved nearly impossible for too many malls.  Non-traditional anchors are what will be needed, but this will mean that the existing Sears and Strawbridge's buildings will likely need to be demolished since they are too big for the needs of any future retail tenant.


Sears at a mall should never go without a photograph: especially when it's a store from 1968!  As one of the original two anchors, the troubles with the chain are worrisome considering that Macy's left the former Strawbridge's location after 49 continuous years of business.


Sears Auto Center


Boscov's, which opened in 1977 as Lit Brothers.  As typical of Boscov's, the exterior entrance saw a few updates.  When a smaller chain like Boscov's can update their stores from previous owners, but Macy's can't even afford a gallon of paint, it's pretty obvious there is something wrong with Macy's.



RIP Strawbridge & Clothier.  The Strawbridge's "Seal of Confidence" is visible in the stone on the right.  That confidence was lost when it became Macy's.


The problems for Neshaminy as a competitive mall, however, are not new.  Since the mall was built, it has competed with two larger malls with better anchors.  It is also a reflection of the industry as a whole where department store closures and consolidation are making it harder and harder for the typical suburban mall to survive.  Neshaminy was one of those malls that was once bulletproof.  As evidence of these problems, its main two competitors are also facing difficulties.  Oxford Valley Mall, once the primary competitor to Neshaminy, is also not doing well with a dead anchor and many vacancies.  Even competing Willow Grove Park Mall, located 12 miles away, just lost JCPenney and is soon to lose its Sears although it has already downsized Sears for Irish clothing store Primark.  Neshaminy has also seen an uptick in vacancies since Macy's closure.  Unlike with many malls with a sudden loss of a major anchor, this one is harder to pinpoint.  Perhaps it can be summed up as the King of Prussia effect: a mall so dominant in the market that none of the other malls can effectively compete.  At this point, it is difficult to predict what the final outcome will be, because the mall seemed to be doing very well when the pictures were taken.  Macy's was full of customers and so was the mall.  What happened?  It seems as though the most likely outcome for Neshaminy will be redevelopment into a mixed use center keeping only Boscov's and the AMC theaters.  It's not a plan that is worth celebrating when a mall like this survives 50 years, but the wheels of change are suddenly moving too fast for conventional malls like this one.

1 comment:

  1. When I worked at the bon-ton stores would send any thing with beads to Neshaminy. When I worked at S&C the cosmetic ladies told me that people with extravagant hairstyles shopped at Neshaminy. Beads and glamour and eternity perfumes I remember. I enjoyed my Pomeroys days

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