PENN-CAN MALL: SYRACUSE, NY
Jack Thomas' Commentary:
Revised June 12, 2009
Just to give the brief history that was slightly touched upon in Pete's commentary, the Penn Can Mall opened in 1975 by Rochester based Wilmorite, as an addition to the already exisiting Sears store on the property. Hills was later added on, and an addition in 1986 saw more stores and Syracuse based Chappell's brought in. Over time, other malls opened in the area, leaving this mall's customer base eroding away. Great Northern Mall came first in 1988, stealing Penn Can's Sears store, which was replaced with Steinbach, and later on, Burlington Coat Factory and Office Max. Then came Carousel Center opened in 1990, and the mall's fate was inevitably sealed. The mall was closed in 1994. Chappell's closed all of its locations soon after, and this one was swallowed up by Caldor, which was one of only several new stores built by the company before thier bankruptcy. And, when that came, this Caldor was closed and turned into one of the first signs of the property's future, a used car showroom. Hills, which became Ames in 1998, closed, and the rest of the mall followed. After a few years, local automotive entrepenuer Roger Burdick came to the rescue, purchasing the property.
I first visited Penn Can Mall, or what was left of it, on a trip to Syracuse
in July of 2004. The mall has been converted into a huge automall called Drivers Village. The whole mall, save for the anchor spaces, the added on 1986 wing, the Sears auto center, and the outlot theater were demolished. The rest of the property was turned into auto dealers throughout. The interior of the remaining mall space has been turned into specialty shops, all related to the automotive nature of the property.
Subsequent visits over the years have seen the former Ames space remain vancant, even after serving as a used car showroom for some time, the demolition of the former theater for more dealers, the moving of Office Max to the neghboring and rejuvinated Marketplace Mall property, the never ending mutilation of the former Caldor space for more dealers, and most recently, the demolition of the former Sears auto center.
The mall is only a hint of it's former glorious self. The original flooring is all intact throughout the saved portion of the mall, and the once, if not still famous clock in the two level center court still greets shoppers, even though the shoppers' agendas have changed. It's still worth the visit though, just so you can get an idea of what the former premiere shopping destination in Syracuse was.
Pete Blackbird's Commentary:
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Syracuse is WAY overmalled.
I think this may be due to the fact that Pyramid is located in Syracuse,
and Wilmorite is located in nearby Rochester. Whatever the case may be,
the result is a dead mall lovers paradise.
Penn-Can mall; this is the deadest of dead right here. It was so
dead, I decided to apply for a job at it's Hills store, and it paid
off. The Penn-Can mall was constructed in 1975, it was a 2 level mall, with
lots of strong anchors, and it had a rather "modular" construction, which
means that the anchors could be demolished and reconstructed with the
needs of each particular store in mind. It started off life with Sears
as it's sole anchor, and LOTS of small stores. Penn-Can was the
first enclosed mall on the north side of syracuse, and remained the big
dog until the early 90's, when the Carosel Center was constructed
(a super-regional that boasts 3 levels of shopping). In 1983, Hills Dept
store built onto the north side of the mall. In 1984 the Marketplace Mall
built next door.
Marketplace proved to be no threat to Penn-Can, it was a smaller mall, with
weak anchors, and never really got off the ground. At some point Sears
decided to relocate thier store, and the space was filled with Burlington
Coat factory, and Office Max. In 1992 a west wing and Caldor was added
to the mall, and the whole shopping center was refaced internally. It was
designed with an early American theme, which reassured the mall's
position as top dog in North Syracuse. With the opening of Carousel
Center, mall traffic dropped off sharply, and stores closed with an alarming
fury. The mall went from hero to zero by 1996. Wilmorite didn't renew
leases, and when the dust settled, the mall was borded up. The
Caldor was included in a round of closings of it's central NY stores
in 1997. A car dealership moved into this space, and the parkinglot
became a pothole haven. In 1998 a funscape movie theater opened next to
the Hills store, and in 1999 The Hills store was aquired by Ames.
The mall remained virtually empty, and with the boards up, the inside
of the mall decayed. When I was employed at Hills, the mall changed
hands, and the new owner of the mall hired a security gaurd to inhibit
vandalism. I talked with her, and she showed me around the inside of
the mall. The roof had leaked, and water damage was extensive, but the
trees were still alive. The seats of the movie theater had been moved
onto the second level of the mall, and there were dead rabbits and cats
that had become trapped in the mall somehow. It smelled horrible, and
there were wires running through the mall going to the different stores
that remained opened. All of the store fronts were ones of traditional
mall stores (ormond, anderson-little, charney's, lens crafters), which
tells me that this mall went from hero to zero in a very short
period of time. The mall has been re-boarded up recently, but other
than that there hasn't been any changes to it. I recmomend a visit to
this piece of retail history.
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