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Norwich — The dozens of business representatives, residents and city officials who walked into the former Norwichtown Mall for the last time Thursday thought back to their past favorite stores — Debutant, Beebe's Dairy, Caldor and Waldenbooks, among others.
But the mood wasn't somber or nostalgic but cheerful and excited, as the new mall owner displayed several poster boards with renderings of what will be the reconstructed Norwichtown Commons.
"This is exciting, jobs coming to Norwich," Human Services Director Beverly Goulet said.
More than 50 people gathered inside what used to be the main entrance into the Caldor department store to hear Adam Winstanley of Winstanley Enterprises LLC describe the $7.5 million project to tear down the center portion of the mall and replace it with a smaller plaza with stores that will each have their own entrances.
"As soon as everyone clears out of here," Winstanley said, "we're going to start knocking down the mall."
The project will bring about 350 construction jobs to the city and about 75 permanent jobs once the stores open, he said.
Winstanley Enterprises LLC of Concord, Mass., purchased the mostly vacant mall from Edens & Avant Investment Limited Partnership for $15.75 million last July and received permit approval a month later for the reconstruction plan.
The economy cannot support mid-size malls that once thrived in communities such as Norwich, Winstanley said. With Internet shopping growing, Winstanley and partner Surrey Equities couldn't find interest in the 100,000-square-foot former Caldor building at the end of the mall. So plans call for cutting that space in half, to 50,000 square feet, and marketing it to two "junior anchor stores" expected to be announced soon.
Overall, the size of the mall will be reduced from 300,000 square feet to about 168,000 square feet, Winstanley said. Phase one of construction will cover the section from the existing Dress Barn Store, already renovated, to the former Caldor space and is expected to be completed by Christmas.
Phase two, the reconstruction of the former Caldor space, is expected to start in the summer and be completed in early 2013.
Signed leases for the first phase include the existing Stop & Shop, which just signed a 10-year lease extension, and Dress Barn, as well as the return of Dollar Tree and Fancy Nails and a new PetSense, Hair Cuttery and Chinese restaurant.