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    Editorials
    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    The death of an American mall

    JCPenney earlier this month became the most recent retailer to announce it would soon be closing its Crystal Mall location, leaving yet another gaping vacancy at the once-thriving regional retail center.

    The Waterford mall that opened to great fanfare in the 1980s and drew crowds of shoppers for decades, is not so slowly withering into oblivion and JCPenney’s departure will only accelerate the mall’s decline. To make matters worse, the investor that bought the mall in May 2023 appears to be following the same path in Waterford that it has traveled numerous times with other retail properties it owns. Namdar Realty Group of Great Neck, New York has earned a reputation of buying depressed retail properties and doing nothing to rejuvenate or redevelop them.

    It will be especially sad to see JCPenney close later this spring as the department store is the only one of the mall’s original anchor stores still in business. Sears, Jordan Marsh and Filene’s all closed much earlier, as did Macy’s, then Christmas Tree Shops and Bed Bath and Beyond. Without the anchors to draw shoppers, combined with the fact that shopping for years has been migrating to online retailers and away from brick and mortar stores, the Crystal Mall also has lost numerous smaller retailers and restaurants that simply couldn’t hang on as the mall became a shell of its former vibrant self.

    For a time in 2023, there was some hope the mall might get a makeover. When Namdar, a company that owns 250 retail properties in 34 states, purchased the bulk of the mall property for $9.5 million in May, local officials were hopeful it could mean some positive changes for Crystal Mall.

    Unfortunately, Namdar has not come forward with any promising plans, and in other Connecticut towns where it also owns retail space, its track record is not encouraging. Enfield officials, for example, have said they are frustrated by Namdar’s failure to make necessary repairs such as fixing a gaping hole in the roof at the Enfield Square property it owns.

    Other localities throughout the country where aging shopping malls are located have been more fortunate. Dying malls have been repurposed as mixed-use residential and retail centers, athletic and entertainment venues, college classrooms and administrative offices, office parks, senior citizen housing and medical buildings.

    Indeed, only about 20 miles west of Waterford, plans have emerged in recent weeks to remake the Westbrook Outlets into a mix of apartments, condominiums, retail space, entertainment venues and possibly a hotel and amphitheater. The projected price tag is some $425 million and the development will, no doubt, add a lot of ka-ching to Westbrook’s tax coffers. The outlets are currently operating at only 25% occupancy.

    The benefits Westbrook will soon reap from the outlet center makeover should also happen for Waterford and southeastern Connecticut. Certainly, there’s a need for housing in the area and a developer with a vision could see a wide mix of other possible lucrative uses for Crystal Mall as well.

    We urge the owners of Namdar Realty, along with the entities that own other portions of the Crystal Mall such as the former Sears anchor store, to come together with local officials to devise a plan to benefit the town of Waterford and the region, along with the developers themselves.

    Doing nothing as Crystal Mall decays should not be an option.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.