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               ALLENTOWN OUTLET MALL: PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD

Kyle Snyder's Commentary

Posted September 3, 2006 (user submitted)

I first started to notice this mall around 1979, and at that time, I assumed it was newly built, but knowing what I know now about mall styles and history, I'm assuming the main structure was built as an open air mall in the late 60s or early 70s, then was enclosed with more stores added later. (I admit that I could be wrong in this assumption - if anybody has any additional information, please let me know)

It's also likely that the original name was not Allentown Outlet Mall - it may have began its life as simply Allentown Mall. Since the "Outlet" designation is typically added to a mall that is starting to struggle to stay alive, I'm assuming the Outlet part of the name was a later addition.

At any rate, the mall had two anchor stores. A gigantic (for the era) two story Zayre department store, and a narrow, one story anchor store. I honestly do not recall what this narrow anchor store had been originally. It's last tenant (in the mid 90s) was a liquor and beverage warehouse store. (hereafter referred to as "the warehouse". I'm 99% certain this was not the original business in this location.

The Zayre and the warehouse opened into opposite ends of the mall corridor. The warehouse's entrance was level with the mall floor, however, the Zayre entrance was lower than the mall floor, so that shoppers had to descend a four or five step staircase to reach the Zayre entrance. There was a ramp for those that declined to use the stairs.

The Zayre had escalators and elevators, and the ground floor was primarily clothing. The bank of registers was on the ground floor - I do not recall any registers upstairs. The upper floor was hardware, toys, sports equipment, and electronics. I recall going to that Zayre around 1986 because they were selling off all of their old Atari 2600 cartridges for a dollar each! I was quite happy the load of games I grabbed that day!

The Zayre store was converted into an Ames in 1990, and remained an Ames until around 1996, when the store closed entirely. The entrance to the mall was walled up at the time of the Ames take over.

The mall corridor featured square stone planters with trees, each planter positioned directly above a skylight panel in the ceiling. These planters are one of the main reasons that I think this mall may have began as an open air structure.

The mall corridor had about 15 - 20 stores on each side. I'll refer to the "front side" of the corridor as the section that bordered the parking lot, and the "rear side" as the opposite. Stores in the rear side had about twice the square footage than those in the front side.

Most of my memories of these stores come from the late 80s and early 90s, but what I recall is listed below.

RADIO SHACK - this store was there in 1979, (possibly earlier) and it was one of the last two hold outs before the mall was closed entirely in 1997. It was very close to the "warehouse" anchor store (on the front side of the mall corridor) and had both an outside entrance (from the parking lot) and an inside entrance, from the corridor. The mall entrance was locked permanently sometime in the mid 90s.

ALLENTOWN DENTAL PRACTICE - this was a dentist office with multiple dentists practicing in this one location. It was a 1985 renovation of an existing store front, and it was rather modern. It's location was the last store on the front side, before entering Zayre. Along with Radio Shack, this was the other remaining hold out before the mall closed entirely in 1997. The dental practice did not have a direct outside entrance, you had to enter the mall entryway next to Zayre first, then hang an immediate left into the dentist office.

MAGIC MUSHROOM CRAFT STORE - no, I'm not making this up. This was a traditional craft store where you could get fabric, sewing patterns & needles, pillow fluff, dowel rods, styrofoam balls and rings, and other stuff. I first noticed this store around 1981, and I believe it went out of business by the early 90s. It was located on the rear side of the corridor, about halfway down. The store space remained vacant and the sign actually remained in place until the mall closed in 1997.

HAIR PAIR HAIR SALON - part of a Washington DC area chain of salons, they were popular in the 70s and early 80s, but by the early 90s, most had closed down. I believe a handful do still exist elsewhere in the DC area. This Hair Pair was on the front side, and I believe it closed in the mid 80s.

CHESAPEAKE BAY SEAFOOD HOUSE - part of a local chain of restaurants that typically had free standing buildings. This was one of their few mall locations, and it was located on the rear side. I first noticed it around 1986, but it was probably there before then, and it closed by the mid 90s.

SHOE TOWN - part of a chain of shoe stores, popular in the 70s. I originally thought it was a local chain, but it may have been a nationwide company at one time. Shoe Town may very well have been an original tenant, and it's location was on the rear side near the Zayre entrance. It was in business at least through the early 80s - I think it closed in the mid 80s.

ICE CREAM PARLOR - Privately owned, unsure of the exact name. Similar to a Baskin Robbins store, with only three or four "olde time" tables and chairs, and roughly 30 flavors housed in traditional ice cream drums behind hinged glass cases. Located on the front side. Closed in the late 80s.

ITALIAN RESTAURANT / PIZZA PARLOR - Privately owned, changed hands and names several times in the 80s into the 90s. Had a moderate sized dining room with maybe 12 tables and chairs. Located on the front side, had both an outside and inside entrance. Closed in the early 90s.

KARATE SCHOOL - Privately owned, unsure of the exact name. Located on the rear side, based on the mirrors and the "slotted" walls, I believe this location had been a women's clothing store prior to a Karate school. The Karate school basically just tossed down a bunch of blue exercise mats and put up karate related posters, and operated that way.

U.S. POST OFFICE - Last store front on the front side before the warehouse. Had several rows of post office boxes, and a small counter for employees to ring up packages and sell stamps. Opened in the late 80s, closed in the mid 90s.

The rest of the stores I only vaguely recall, but I believe the majority of them were clothing stores. There may have been a book store in the mall at one point as well.

Allentown Outlet Mall had several more stores that were not attached to the corridor itself. These retailers occupied traditional store fronts that all opened out toward the parking lot, and were built on the opposite side of the "warehouse" anchor store. My assumption is that these were add-ons several years after the actual mall corridor and two main anchors had been built. These stores are listed below.

DART DRUG - part of a large local chain of pharmacies / discount stores, that were very popular in the 70s through the early 80s. All the Dart Drug stores closed around 1987. Select locations (this one included), reopened as Fantle's pharmacy (around 1988), a rebranded Dart Drug that offered prescription delivery direct to your home. Fantle's only lasted around two years at best. The store front existed in the early to mid 90s as a enclosed flea market / thrift store. Inside the store was remaining signage left over from both Fantle's and Dart Drug.

TRAK AUTO - a "spin off" of the automotive section of the Dart Drug chain, Trak Auto stores became a successful chain independent of Dart Drug. This Trak Auto survived many years after Dart Drug became Fantles and then the flea market. It eventually closed around 1995.

GEORGE'S TELEVISION - another local Washington DC chain - this store primarily sold televisions, and featured a large showroom with multiple tvs on display on "islands" out on the showroom floor. This was in the late 70s and early 80s, back when most tv's were 19 inch console sets that doubled as furniture as well... I miss those days!! I seem to recall that you could also get radios, and early personal computers there as well. George's closed around 1982 or 1983, and the location was promptly taken over by Erol's Video Club, another local DC area chain, which for the time, was THE PLACE to rent your Beta, VHS, or Laserdisc movies. Erol's operated here until the whole company was bought out by Blockbuster video in the early 90s. This store was then closed, Blockbuster did not operate here.

PLAY IT AGAIN SAM VIDEO ARCADE - privately owned, featured roughly 40 - 50 video arcade games and a handful of pinball machines. Opened around late 1982, lasted for about four years. I remember this place vividly, because when my grandmother took me there in 1983 for the first time, she recognized the owner! Turns out, she had worked with that same guy about 10 years before at a previous job, and had lost touch with him. While my grandmother and the owner (whose name was actully Sam) caught up on "old times", Sam gave me about $5.00 worth of quarters and let me have the run of the place! A really fond memory, and the first place I ever saw the classic game Dragon's Lair.

MINUTEMAN PRESS - one of a nationwide chain of copy shops. I always recalled the logo (which they still use today), of a casually leaning stick figure with a clock for a head. This location was open until the early 90s.

There were several other stores in this "unattached" section as well, I'm about 50% certain there was a Sherwin Williams paint store for a while in the 80s, and I know there was a privately owned dry cleaners as well.

Finally, this brings us to the three "outparcels".

DUNKIN DONUTS - This was there in 1979, and it still exists today. It's address is 6100 Allentown Rd, Suitland, MD 20746. Located near the end of the "unattached" section of the mall described above. Donuts are always yummy.

ASIAN RESTAURANT - built as a bank branch, I believe it was a First Annapolis Bank location. I recall the logo that looked like a combination of an anchor and a letter "F" for "First". Sometime in the early to mid 80s the bank vacated, and the building was turned into an Asian restaurant. Outwardly it still looked like the bank, even still had the drive up lanes and the suction tubes! Changed hands or at least names multiple times in the 80s into the 90s. It may have been operating as recently as 2001, but since I moved to Ohio in that year and haven't been back to Maryland since, I'm not sure of the status of this building. Located directly across from the "warehouse" anchor store of the main mall structure.

FOTO-MAT - a film developing "drive through kiosk", part of the nationwide Foto-Mat chain - was located near the Zayre end of the parking lot. The kiosk structure was removed entirely in the mid 80s, and I believe it had been vacant since the early 80s, although I seem to recall that it became a key making place for a brief time after Foto-Mat left.

What happened to the mall after it completely closed in 1997? The "unattached" stores (Dart Drug, Trak Auto, etc) were demolished leaving the actual mall corridor standing. Then the entire corridor, including the former two story Zayre/Ames and the liquor warehouse, were innovatively remodeled into a huge self storage facility!

The whole structure was painted off white, and two new entrances were constructed. One small entrance opens into what was originally the front wall of the warehouse anchor store, and the other entrance is directly in the center of the "front" side of the mall corridor. The two original mall entrances have been walled over to the best of my recollection.

The large square shaped store space was the two level Zayre. The former mall corridor can be seen as the narrow rectangular shape with the little square skylights still in place. The former warehouse anchor is the narrow but deep store space at the opposite end from the Zayre.

The dark entranceway seen near the center of the structure is the new entrance into the self storage facility.

The original mall entrances can be seen as "indents" leading to either extreme end of the mall corridor, with one indent bordering the old Zayre, and the other bordering the old warehouse anchor store.

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