Victor Moldovan's Commentary

Posted December 13, 2005 (user submitted)

The Fashion Center, in Paramus NJ was affluent Bergen County's first upscale mall. Completed in 1967, it was Paramus? 3rd shopping mall in 10 years, capitalizing on the proximity of New York City and New Jersey's exemption of sales tax on apparel.

Bergen County's first enclosed mall was small by today's standards at 480,000 square feet. Anchor stores were a 150,000 3-level Lord & Taylor on the north end and a 3- level 175,000 square feet B. Altman on the south end. The single level mall was tenanted to become a miniature Fifth Avenue. Stores in the mall included W&J Sloane (a high-end furniture retailer), Andrew Geller shoes, Rogers-Peet (later Brooks Brothers), Georg Jensen, Schraffts (a Fifth Avenue restaurant), Peck and Peck, and Ann Taylor (before its mass-market makeover).

The interior of the mall was chic and modern. Chandeliers of 14 karat gold chain punctuated the length of the mall. The center's small center court featured a fountain with an elegant curved staircase surrounding it that accessed the parking deck above the mall area.

The department stores in the mall were special as well. Lord & Taylor, in its pre-May Company era featured an up-market furniture department, home store and a restaurant all housed in an unusual dart-shaped building (see aerial view). B. Altman mirrored its landmark Fifth Avenue building with polished hardwood floors on the main level and a large chandelier in the center. The 2 upper floors housed men's and children's collections, extensive home store departments, a community room, bakery and a re-creation of it's famed Charleston Gardens restaurant on the 3rd floor.

In 1971, venerable Best & Company, another Fifth Avenue landmark began building a 2 story 60,000 store on an out-parcel near B. Altman. Before its completion, the chain went bankrupt and was replaced with a Britt's department store which lasted less than 2 years before closing its doors. Altman's moved its furniture and design studio into this building in the late 70's until its demise. The mall prospered until the late 80's when the B. Altman chain closed. For decades, Altman's operated with a special tax-exempt status as profits from the chain's operations were rumored to be passed to the Archdiocese of New York. Altman's suffered when the tax-exempt status was removed and closed shortly after.

Competition included the late 70's construction of upscale Riverside Square in neighboring Hackensack flanked by an existing Bloomingdales and a new Saks Fifth Avenue along with an assortment of 70 upscale stores. Further south along Paramus? Route 17, Paramus Park was opened in 1973 with an Abraham and Straus (now Macy's), Sears and Fortunoff. Even further south, the vast Garden State Plaza complex was enlarged and renovated to over 2,000,000 square feet and included Macy's (one of the chain's largest stores), Nordstrom, JC Penney, Neiman-Marcus and yet another Lord & Taylor.

The Fashion Center's slow demise as a destination center came with the re-tenanting of the B. Altman building. Bed, Bath & Beyond moved into the main floor and new escalators accessed the second level which now houses TJ Maxx. The former home store building was re-constructed as a Toys R Us. Meanwhile, W&J Sloane closed, and most of the other upscale tenants followed suit. The south end of the mall was further desecrated when it was removed to house Best-Buys that now runs the width of the mall.

The Lord & Taylor store still exists in its location, but several years ago closed its mall entrance. It can now only be accessed from the parking areas. Now owned by Federated Department stores, its future is questionable as Federated ponders the fate of the once-venerable chain.

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