The East Brook Mall is on its way down again after one time having a 100% occupancy rate and receiving a small addition through the creation of a Michael’s Arts and Crafts on the mall’s far north end.
August 3 marked the closing day of the 35,522-square-foot J.C. Penney that has been a mainstay at the mall since 1995 .
Then on Nov. 2, the mall’s toy store , 3,439-square-foot Over the Rainbow Toys, closed .
After the former J.C. Penney lay empty for three months, the portion closest to the mall entrance (the former women’s and jewelry departments) was transformed into the Santa Claus photo area, which is usually in the middle of the mall concourse.
Currently, the East Brook Mall suffers from the lack of a discount department store, for most of its life it was anchored by Caldor (1975-1999) and for a brief period Ames (1999-2002).
The anchor space laid vacant until Kohl’s opened in 2006, bringing traffic once again back in the mall . Kohl’s helped the mall since it has no exterior entrance and requires shoppers to go into the mall to access the store.
Big Lots is one store that could help the mall as their website states that they are looking for sites that are 25,000 to 35,000 square feet while the J.C. Penney space is slightly larger at 35,522 square feet.
The Christmas Tree Shops is another option as the space is only slightly smaller than their approximately 40,000 square-foot store at the Crystal Mall in Waterford .
While there is no Five Below store in the Willimantic area, those stores are generally only 10,000 square feet, which would be less than one third of the J.C. Penney space.
The problem with subdividing the space is that only the tenant closest to the mall entrance would be able to have direct mall access while the others like the case with T.J. Maxx and Michael’s, would have outdoor access only.
This is a situation that East Brook Mall should avoid to encourage more walking traffic to the other stores since it is one of the few small neighborhood-like shopping malls in Connecticut and the only one-level enclosed mall left in Eastern Connecticut.
Eastern Connecticut Smaller Malls Close
While the region was home to the Norwichtown Mall (formerly anchored by Caldor) and New London Mall (formerly anchored by Bradlees), the loss of long-time anchors resulted in them being converted to “lifestyle centers” with entrances of retailers facing a parking lot.
In fact, Adam Winstanley of Winstanley Enterprises LLC, who worked on the project to convert Norwichtown Mall to the Norwichtown Commons said, “malls in the 300,000 to 700,000 square foot range are not surviving today, people are only shopping at malls of maybe a million and a half square feet or larger.”
300,000 square feet is the approximate size of the East Brook Mall and the previous Norwichtown Mall and New London Mall.
For comparison purposes, the Crystal Mall, with no vacant anchor spaces, is one million square feet .
The Downfall of the Rhode Island Mall
The East Brook Mall should take a lesson from the tragic story of the 549,499-square-foot 2-level Rhode Island Mall.
While the Rhode Island Mall had two department stores with mall entrances, Filene’s closed in 1997 and it and one-third of the mall was demolished for a new two-level anchor building, with Kohl’s on the upper level and Wal-Mart on the lower level which opened in 2000.
While there were rumors they would open in the mall, they both decided they didn’t want the extra baggage of having an additional entrance and Sears later walled off its mall entrance as well.
Small tenants began closing up after Filene’s closed and even more closed when it was apparent they wouldn’t get the walk-by traffic from the anchor stores.
The dead mall , with only a handful of stores, closed in May 2011.
I’m sure if both anchors had mall entrances, it could have rejuvenated the rest of the mall.
Let’s hope the East Brook Mall is able to attract a tenant in less than the four years it took them to fill the vacant Ames with Kohl’s. If not, there is a real possibility that some of the other tenants will close.