Jack Thomas' Commentary:

Revised June 12, 2009
(With info provided by Justin N.)

Eastern Hills Mall was opened in 1971 by the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation along Transit Road in Clarence, NY near the Thruway in the northern suburbs of Buffalo, as that area's fourth and largest mall. Anchors at the time of opening were AM&A's, JCPenney, Sears, Jenn's, Woolworth's and Hengerer's, as well as auto centers for both JCPenney and Sears. The mall had full scale carpeting throughout and outlandish center court designs. It was also equipped with a fountain, and a General Cinema three screen theater.

The mall led a pretty good life all in all. DeBartolo gave up and sold the mall at some point in time. Hengerer's was swallowed up by Sibley's in the 80's, which in turn was swallowed up by the May Company's Kaufmann's brand in 1990. The 1989 opening of the Walden Galleria located in Cheektowaga, stole the property's "biggest mall" title, and threatened the mall with a bigger assortment of stores and services, but still the mall struggled on. AM&A's was turned into The Bon Ton in 1994. Woolworth's became Waccamaw, a home improvement store, which did not last long. Jenn's closed all their stores in 2000, and the space became a Burlington Coat Factory, a usual deathknell for a mall.

When I first paid a visit to this mall in 2003, I wasn't overly impressed. Although I thought it was a nice mall, well laid out and looking good in it's appearance, I felt that management wasn't doing enough to bring new stores to compete with its surroundings and try to bring things up to speed. Some smaller stores had closed, the cinemas were closed(having not been one of the General Cinema properties purchased by AMC Theaters), and the mall just felt dead. I couldn't have been more wrong though. Management seemed to turn things around a couple years later by sprucing up the mall, taking out the carpets, and putting in new stores and services new to the area. Orvis opened up in a space in the mall, and Dave and Busters opened up in the former Jenn's/Burlington Coat Factory. A return visit in October of 2008 put all fears aside. This mall is still a strong competitor in the Buffalo market, and has managed to come into it's own with its competition. The mall is a bit dated in parts, but all in all, I feel that adds to the character. The parking lot is huge too, another DeBartolo staple. I would definitely recommend a visit to this mall.

Eastern Hills Mall takes a turn toward the upscale

New restaurant and an art gallery added to lineup

News Business Reporter
Buffalo News @

A white table cloth is not seen very often at a restaurant inside the mall. But the new owners of the Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence are bringing in local restaurateur Steve Calvaneso and his Cosmopolitan Grille.

The idea is to create an artistic corridor near Kaufmann's and the Dipson theater, which may be remodeled.

In addition to Calvaneso's Cosmopolitan Grille, Hus Var Fine Art will open a gallery in the mall. And Eastern Hills is getting its first new national tenant since Mountain Development Corp. of Clifton, N.J., bought the mall last summer for $17 million.

Casual Corner, Petite Sophisticate and August Max will open its three-door concept in Eastern Hills. The stores will sit side by side and customers will be able to walk between them without having to go back into the mall. The stores should open in the fall, said Paulette Russell, the mall's director of retail leasing.

"Apart from having expanded and renewed the existing tenants, this represents one of the first commitments from a major national fashion retailer to come into the property," said Jeffrey S. Taylor, managing director. "It represents a major name, which we think should appeal to our target demographics."

Even with this unique offering, Eastern Hills still lacks the line-up of tenants at the Boulevard and Galleria malls. So Eastern Hills is trying to offer shoppers experiences they can't get at those malls - like fine dinning and fine art.

"If you look at innovative malls across the world, fine dining works in them," said Paco Underhill, author of "Call of the Mall" and founder of Envirosell, a consulting firm. "It's often coordinated with some other form of activity - movies, Imax or in this case art galleries."

The Cosmopolitan Grille inside Eastern Hills will have 21/2 times more space than it currently does on Transit Road. That will allow Calvaneso to offer private banquet rooms and an outdoor patio - things he lacks at his current location, about one mile north of the mall.

"In other cities, there are high-end restaurants in their malls," Calvaneso said. "I believe in the new ownership. I think they have a great vision for the mall."

The dinner-only restaurant should open late this year, with the current location closing for a few weeks during the transition. Calvaneso said he's contemplating a more casual concept with simpler food and a billiard room once the Cosmopolitan Grille leaves its current location.

Calvaneso also owns Bacchus, City Grill, YaYa Bayou Brewhouse and Ultimate Men's Shop.

The demographics of the households surrounding Eastern Hills attracted Hus Var, which will keep its location on Main Street in Buffalo. The gallery often shows its artists' work in nontraditional places like restaurants, offices and spas.

"With the renovation they're doing and the great marketing effort, they're drawing in a clientele that's discerning and looking for just what we offer," said Sean Hus Var, executive director.

"With Calvaneso coming into the mall, it's going to be a great synergy of fine art and fine dining," he said.

Although it's getting several new tenants, Eastern Hills still has to fill the space left vacant by Burlington Coat Factory. The mall decided not to renew its lease with the discount retailer last year.

Eastern Hills is also looking to fill the space left vacant when Waccamaw, a home decor superstore, closed in 1998.

"One of the challenges that malls are facing is looking at the anchors," Underhill said.

"One of the things I'm reasonable sure of over the next five years is there will be significantly empty anchor space inside malls. They'll need to find innovative redevelopment of those spaces," he said.

e-mail: [email protected]


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