Jack Thomas' Commentary

Posted January 18th, 2017

Fairgrounds Square Mall was developed as an alternative shopping experience to the older Berkshire Mall in nearby Wyomissing. Built by Interstate Properties, the mall opened in October 1980 on the site of the former Reading Fairgrounds joining a previously built Boscov's department store. JCPenney joined the former, as did about 70 stores and a movie theater.

The mall was thought to draw more shoppers to the north end of town, and it worked for a little while. First Union Real Estate purchased the mall and embarked on an expansion in 1988 adding Phar-Mor and some additional smaller stores. Montgomery Ward came on in 1996 as the long planned fourth anchor, and a renovation was done throughout the mall. Success did not last long, for Montgomery Ward was finsihed just three years later. Jason's Furniture moved into the space. Not long after, JCPenney converted their store to an outlet location.

Anchor shuffling continued into the 2000's with Phar-Mor leaving. Jason's Furniture moved to that space, while National Wholesale Liquidators took their place in the old Ward's. They too did not last, and in 2005, Burlington Coat Factory moved into the space. Jason's closed in 2009 and was replaced with Super Shoes and Planet Fitness. JCPenney closed their outlet store in 2011, and the space is now home to Limerick Furniture.

A visit to this mall is a depressing one. While the center is bright and provides a large amount of natural light thanks to vaulted ceilings, the store selection and overall atmosphere leaves much to be desired. On a June afternoon, only a few people graced the halls. Very few national tenants remain, and it is hard to imagine any future use of this property remaining in its current form. Hull Property Group of Augusta, GA now owns the mall and future plans are currently being discussed.

Time and time again, the results of "overmalling" become apparent in cases like this. Reading simply did not need two malls. In fact, the mall that this one sought to replace, Berkshire Mall is doing fine and well and continues to be a success with solid achors and a well rounded selection of tenants. For now, Fairgrounds Square trudges on into an unknown future. Go here while you can, because its days are surely numbered.

Exclusive Photos

Exclusive photos by Jack Thomas. Taken June 4th, 2016.

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