LINCOLN MALL: WARWICK, RI
John Donovan's Commentary
Posted April 24, 2011 (user submitted August 19, 2008)
Ahh...the Lincoln Mall.
It was once the biggest retail outlet in Northern Rhode Island. Now, it's an embarrassing strip mall!
The mall was built in the mid-1970's and was designed to carry two large anchors, two smaller anchors, a 4-screen movie theater and could hold up to 75 stores in its interior. The large plot of land was also had room for a fast-food restaurant (McDonald's - still there today) and a supermarket with a small strip mall attached that could accomodate five storefronts. The mall itself was one-level and split in two with even number of stores on both sides. For many years, the only "competition" was the Warwick and Rhode Island Malls down in Warwick, which is 25 mins. south of Lincoln. Because Rhode Islanders typically do not drive 15 minutes out of their way for any reason (I am guilty of this), the existence of these malls was not a huge economic threat. The Lincoln Mall was built in a great location at the junction of Interstate 295, State Highway 146 and local state road Route 116.
In the 1970's and 1980's, the Lincoln Mall boasted several well-known stores but specialized in "Mom and Pop" establishments. Who didn't love the organ player jamming away at Keyboard Magic? How about the Pineapple Colombo frozen yogurt offered at Magic Menu? There was the center fountain, home of "Santa" and the "Easter Bunny." (Later, there was "Randy the Talking Reindeer" - that was a stretch even for a 7-year old to believe.) There was the overwhelming smell of leather eminating from the Lincoln Accessory Shop and an overwhelming smell of wet dog and fish food from the Rumford Pet Center. How about the overwhelming smell of dried beef sticks at Hickory Farms, immediately followed by the real smell of roast beef at the Roast House on your way to buying a fart machine at Spencer's? We can't forget the Windsor Button Shop...which sold buttons, and stickers, and...other crap no one wanted. Rounding out some of the classic stores were Chess King (an 80's staple!), Don Dee Shoes (for the working man...AKA steel mill worker), Lechters (ahh...the days BEFORE Bed, Bath and Beyond!), and another 80s memory: Thom McAn. I'm going to award a special shout-out to mall staple Kay-Bee Toys. It may have been the size of a meat locker, but it had some really great toys. And the GREATEST part of Lincoln Mall came in the late 1980s: the Dream Machine. In a terrific location across from the General Cinema (worst theater ever), the Dream Machine became the destination for every child and a God-send for every parent who wanted to dump their child to shop on their own. They had Skee Ball, the latest video games, and a ticket redemption center. Birthday parties at the Dream Machine became all the rage and it was a good way to win friends quickly. The Dream Machine was so popular that Papa Gino's opened a SECOND mall location next to the arcade to try and drum up more business for itself. (This PG's was not as good as the original in the middle of the mall.) Overall, the mall was a cool package and had something for everyone.
Woolco and the Outlet were the first anchors to arrive at the mall, but both left in the early 1980's. My earliest memories of the mall begin with the two sub-par department stores which replaced Woolco and the Outlet: Caldor and Zayre's. Rounding out the smaller local "anchors" were Cherry Webb and Tourraine (later sans Tourraine), Peerless and Anderson-Little. While having two similar department store as the main anchors was not the smartest idea, it worked for a little while...until Zayre's declared Chapter 11. In Zayre's place came Ames (which took over most Zayre locations) in the mid-1980's. Ames did not last long at the Lincoln Mall (only about 4 years) and when the company needed to make some cuts, Lincoln Mall was first on its list. When Ames went bust around 1990, the smaller Rhode Island clothing chain, Peerless, also closed its doors in the Lincoln Mall. Anderson-Little folded shortly thereafter. (It had a very brief renaissance when the company attempted to restructure its brand, but it did not work. It also operated in 1/2 of its former space as the remainder was cut out for a new Champs Sports store and a Famous Footwear). Sadly, this was a sign of things to come.
THE COMPETITION ARRIVES
The big death knell for the Lincoln Mall was the opening of the 3-story powerhouse Emerald Square Mall in North Attleboro, MA in 1989. Emerald Square is also right off Interstate 295 and is only 15 MINUTES from Lincoln Mall. Uh-oh! 15 minutes...you saw many Lincoln residents FLEEING to the superior mall because it is in that 15 minute tolerance! And so, the Lincoln Mall immediately felt the blow of its clientele wanting to go to more popular chain stores instead of the Mom's and Pop's. The Mom and Pop's soon buckled under the pressure and one by one left the mall. The unique fabric of the Lincoln Mall was slowly but surely being torn to shreds. Hope arrived in 1992 when K-Mart opened in the Ames vacant spot and a fabrics store took over the vacant Peerless location. While K-Mart did revive the mall (slightly), it was still on the same level as Caldor and did not offer the consumer much of a difference in terms of product.
The Chapter 11 wheels just kept on turning, though! The on-site supermarket, Almacs, closed in 1992. That fabrics store was HISTORY in a short amount of time and nothing replaced it except for a horrid kiddie carnival center. Cherry and Webb closed in the late 1990's, as did the 4-screen theater and the beloved Dream Machine arcade across from it. Caldor declared bankruptcy at the turn of the millenium and vacated. The mall was sinking FAST with its 1/2 anchor of K-Mart and only a few notable stores (CVS, The Gap, Waldenbooks, Radio Shack, Famous Footwear, Champs, Foot Locker). Desperate Mom and Pop's hung on for dear life with little clientele. Lincoln Mall institutions like Rumford Pet Center and the Lincoln Accessory Shop finally called it quits. Empty storefronts outnumbered occupied ones and the mall was barely breathing. The fact that you could get a parking space by the door at the peak of Christmas season spoke volumes all in itself.
CAN WE SAVE IT??
The early 2000's saw an attempt to revitalize the mall. Caldor was demolished and a Super Stop and Shop was installed (with a gas station in the parking lot). The Stop and Shop would have no interior mall access. HomeGoods entered the vacant Peerless location, Pay/half entered the vacant Cherry and Webb location, and a very small Marshall's was squeezed inbetween the HomeGoods and Stop and Shop (where the pet store used to be.) The 4-screen theater finally went out of business (this was a long time coming - it smelled, the seats were horribly uncomfortable, and your shoes stuck to the floor) and it hilariously turned into the Visiting Nurses of Rhode Island (why, no one knows). Most of these stores had interior mall access and exterior access, however, most just used the outside access and avoided the interior like the plague. It also didn't help that the magnificent 4-level high-end Providence Place Mall (which is only TEN MINUTES away) opened in phases during the early 2000's and gave Lincoln residents yet another reason to avoid Lincoln Mall.
NO, WE CAN'T SAVE IT!!
The new stores didn't assist the mall's interior. The stores inside the mall just didn't have a chance and the few familiar retail outlets mentioned earlier finally flew the coop. A decision was made in late 2004 to demolish most of the inside of the mall and keep only the big name stores bringing in the money. By 2005, all that was left of Lincoln Mall was the center pavilion of the mall (the fountain) and only a few of the former storefronts in close proximity to the center pavilion. Radio Shack and Papa Gino's were spared, as was the GNC, Zales, and T-Shirt City (which eventually closed as well.)
RIGHT ON TARGET
In desperate need of attention, the Lincoln Mall scored Target in 2006. How it happened...well, no one cares. We have a Target in Lincoln! Finally, a reason to go to the mall. Target sits where the majority of the left wing (including the former K-Mart) was located. Target has no interior mall access. It's part of the mall...but doesn't want the baggage that comes with the new relationship. It is still open as of the date of this update (August 2008) and doing very well.
OTHER INTRODUCTIONS IN 2006:
Small strip mall near the main entrance housing a Hollywood Video and a Starbucks (with a drive-thru!)
A new strip mall attached to the Target, featuring former interior faves Payless Shoes and Deb. Yes, somehow Deb - that dinosaur - managed to keep its Lincoln Mall ties! Did they keep the scary clothes racks that hung from the ceiling like prison shackles?
Ocean State Job Lot - that classy establishment - moves into the former Almacs location. This space had been vacant since 1992!
The Asia Restaurant becomes the Asia Grille and expands its space
A new movie theater! Cinema World 16 opened and provided a nice alternative instead of driving to North Attleboro or Providence to go to the movies. The lobby of the theater opens into the center pavilion of the former mall interior, next to Papa Gino's. They even built a Subway in the pavilion to attract the attention of hungry movie-goers.
Chili's opens...backwards. Yes, Chili's was built backwards. The developers thought that the Town of Lincoln was going to give Chili's its own entrance from Route 116. Nope! More embarrassment for Lincoln Mall. But that Chili's does very well despite having its back turned to the mall. (What irony!)
Lincoln Mall would look better in its the current outdoor strip mall state if the exterior was consistent. But no attempt was made to homogenize the exterior. It is a patchwork of the mall that was formerly there with new stores clumsily attached to it. It looks ugly, but business is steady.
The interior and the hey-day of Lincoln Mall is truly dead. The current red-headed stepchild of the former mall is still in full swing.