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The Norwichtown Mall: A Look Back at its 43-Year History and a Radical Transformation Ahead

The rich history of the enclosed Norwichtown Mall is examined along with a preview of its upcoming future as an outdoor shopping center.

As a kid, I remember the Norwichtown Mall in its heyday. The mall was successful in having a variety of independent and chain businesses with more than 25 stores. The stores I remember the most were the larger ones such as Styles, Caldor, and Burr's Card and Gift Store (which later became Suburban Stationers).

Contributors to the Labelscar, Caldor Rainbow, and Thread City websites provide a complete trip down memory lane of the names and photos of stores, restaurants, and services that called the mall home during its 43 years. They have included: W.T. Grant, McDermott's Jewlery, Debutante, H.A. Bruckner's Business Attire, Two Legs Jeans, Dazzle, Fayva Shoes, Shetucket Harness Outfitters, Tech Hi-Fi, Russo Opticians, All Sleep Water and Air, Kaplan Travel, The Amber Room Salon, Vernon Drugs, Buster Brown's, Tons of Fun Arcade, Puppy Love, University Music, Booksmith, K&M All Star Sports, Waldenbooks, Cutting Crew, seasonal Day by Day calendar kiosk, Radio Shack, a computer software store, Chelsea Groton Savings Bank, Westies Shoes, Delilah's Silks, Swords & More, Weight Watchers, a Tommy Toy Fund Distribution Center, a community meeting room, and Bob's Discount Furniture. 

Food outlets included Nature Foods Center, Treats Bakery, Bradford House Restaurant, Pickadeli Bar, Golden Star Chinese Restaurant, House of Nuts kiosk, Nancy's Carousel, Bee Bee Dairy Bar, Newport Creamery, Dunkin' Donuts (inside Stop and Shop) and Nathan's (inside Caldor).

After Caldor closed in 1999, other stores slowly started closing in the the 241,000-square-foot mall.

This past summer, the last of those stores included Stop and Shop with its pharmacy and People's United Bank, Dress Barn, GNC, Fancy Nails, and the Dollar Tree. The barren mall was being used more by mall walkers than by shoppers. Its many empty storefronts with cold metal gates would have made for a good horror movie. 

The recent purchase of the mall by Winstanley Enterprises from Edens and Avant means that New London County's dying shopping mall can be revived with a complete makeover.

The developer, Adam Winstanley, will convert the enclosed mall into an outdoor 150,000-square-foot shopping center.

Smaller enclosed malls just aren't feasible anymore, he claims. However, just 15 miles away lies the successful and slightly larger 300,000-square-foot East Brook Mall in Mansfield featuring three department stores, an 8-screen cinema, and a fitness center. The much smaller 200,000-square-foot enclosed Wakefield Mall in Wakefield, R.I. is also doing quite well with just 17 stores

Norwichtown Mall is following a similar path as the 1968 New London Mall (also about 15 miles away). In 1998, the 290,000-square-foot enclosed mall, built with 35 stores, was renovated into an outdoor shopping center with five separate buildings and 20 tenants. 

Southeastern Connecticut now only has one enclosed shopping mall, the two-level, one-million-square-foot Crystal Mall in Waterford (again about 15 miles away) which opened in 1984.

Other small Connecticut enclosed malls that closed or became outdoor shopping centers included Bristol Center Mall, Naugatuck Valley Mall, Farmington Valley Mall, Meriden Hub Mall, Ansonia Mall, Civic Center Mall, Chapel Square Mall, and Charter Oak Mall.

Construction on the Norwichtown Mall will begin in February which will include demolition of the section between Dress Barn and the former Caldor.

It is expected the new center, which will be called Norwichtown Commons, will have seven to twelve businesses. The developer is currently having discussions with 30 potential clients and is working to get new tenants that do not already have a presence in Eastern Connecticut.

While Norwichtown might be losing its enclosed mall, hopefully it will gain a renewed and popular shopping center.

What are your memories of the Norwichtown Mall? Please post your stories and photos. 

What would you like to see open at the new Norwichtown Commons that does not already have an Eastern Connecticut presence? Would you like to see an additional location of a store or restaruant that is already in our region?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Karen Loftis Rankowitz November 10, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Great article Corey. Keep us updated on this - it could mean quite a bit for our area. As far as what I'd like to see...Outback Steak House!
dollyl December 26, 2012 at 05:33 PM
We need a Red Lobster and a Trader Joe's in this area. Since this is a smaller mall, it is doubtful that a Trader Joe's would be feasible within such close proximity of Stop and Shop, but Red Lobster would definitely be a big draw!
Marcia K. Wilbur July 12, 2013 at 04:38 PM
As a child, I wandered through the mall with my mother. She would stop in several shops. As a young adult, I went with my friend, Jen and then many friends. I would take the bus, walk or get a ride to the mall. When they put the arcade in, I spent my days playing Food Fight or Tempest. I remember there was a hot dog stand in the mall. There was a pet shop that smelled foul and a smoothie bar at one point. Ironically, as an adult, my sister and I ran into the security guard who used to chase us on our way to the mall when we were cutting class at NFA. She was security at the mall. We had the pleasure of letting her know we both completed college. I remember walking the railroad by the Falls to the mall. I remember eating french fries at BeeBee's Dairy and laughing with friends at the mall. I spent hours there. It wasn't the most awesome of malls (sometimes I would take the bus to New London). Once the Crystal Mall opened, I started spending my weekends there. I practically lived there. We closed that place out! I think the mall can be used as a symbol of our lives past. The mall was a great place. It was a place people in the community would meet up and make small talk. Our community is lost. So is our mall. I grew up in Norwich. I got my first bike at Benny's, played in parks unsupervised, my friend's grandfather played in the park with my grandfather. Everyone seemed so connected to everyone there. I left in 1988 hoping to go home. In 1998, I returned to that place - decadent and full of transients. Most of my friends and neighbors gone. I believe it hit my generation the hardest. I mean the change happened just as we were graduating and becoming young adults. What did the town gain? A few jobs nearby. Does that justify the losses and disadvantages? We are a displaced generation - with nothing left but memories of sweeter, more pleasant times.

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