John Reed's Commentary

User submitted April 20, 2017

The Fort Steuben Mall first opened its doors in 1974 with three anchor stores such as Kaufmann’s (later Macy’s), Carlisle’s (later became JC Penney), and Sears. In addition to the aforementioned stores, it also had an F.W. Woolworth store caddy cornered from the Carlisle’s/JC Penney, which remained in that spot until 2001. It boasted two fountains; a large one in the center court and a smaller one in front of the Sears entry way. The Mall also had a movie theater initially called “Cinemas 3” which literally doubled in size circa 1990 changing the name to Cinemas 6. Throughout the decades, the mall has seen various stores come and go. Being a child of the 1980s, that was a time I have the fondest memories of FSM, and was one of my favorite local places to visit at the time. I grew up not too far from there, so it was always convenient for me and my family.

The 1980s was the peak time for the mall as it boasted two toy stores: Circus World (later became Kay Bee Toys) and Playland, an Aladdin’s Castle video arcade (later to become Tilt), Baskin Robbin’s Ice Cream (yes, we actually did have a Baskin Robbins!), York Steak House, Der Dog Haus, Scotto’s Pizza, The High Hat Café (now known as The Ville), and Elby’s (Big Boy) Restaurant to name a few. Somewhere in the middle of east wing, stood a Gertrude Lee Candy Kiosk that always smelled sweet when you would walk past it. We always walked through Sears whenever we would go to the mall during that time. When we exited Sears, we were greeted by a lagoonish fountain painted in a dark blue color with dim orange lighting, and would always cross the bridge above it and toss coins in. Across from that fountain was a musical instrument store, which I referred to as “the organ store” as my grandparents purchased theirs at that store. Then, as you proceeded to the center court, there was the grand fountain which was absolutely breathtaking to watch the waters squirt up about 10 feet high almost into the skylight above. During the holiday seasons, said fountain would always be converted into a stage and my older brother’s fourth grade honor choir performed its Christmas concert there in 1989, and my family recorded footage of it! Also, during the holiday seasons, there would be a kiddie train set up Circa 1989, a food court was added with food vendors such as Sbarro Pizza, Cinnabon, A & W Hot Dogs and More, and a locally owned Yorgo’s Gyros and Potatoes. It had spots for potentially more food vendors, but never caught on. However, a small video arcade called Pocket Change was added in the back of the food court region sometime later. Despite the food court being in the east wing, most of the mall’s eateries were located in the north wing, save Elby’s (Big Boy) and Long John Silvers. Kaufmann’s was the only store that had escalators (prior to the new Sears) and one of my favorite pastimes in my childhood was riding them! Going to that mall made me blessed to be a child of the 1980s.

When the 1990s rolled around, things started to change, but not for the better. I noticed a whole plethora of the stores/tenants packed up and left. There was even The Gap, which lasted until circa 1995. Der Dog Haus and Baskin Robbins, which were next door to each other, closed sometime in early 1990. The ground started to sink in a certain wing of the mall, causing the stores to either relocate to other parts of the mall or simply close altogether. As a result, Spencer’s closed in 1997, but returned in 2001. Also, they discontinued the use of the fountains around that time. I surmise the mall began its downward spiral when Woolworth’s closed in late 1993. Not too long after, the Food Court closed and it later became yet another video arcade known as Tilt, which later took over the classic Aladdin’s Castle whenever it closed. Prior to that switch, Aladdin’s Castle got remodeled sometime in the early 1990s, giving it a brighter décor, and they expanded by taking over the defunct music store that butted up against it giving it an L-shape with two entrances inside the mall plus an outside entrance. However, they went back to just the space they initially had as they were cutting corners. For a short while, the Woolworth’s space became home to a community room which was short lived until a furniture store called “Motif’s” took over the spot in 1995 for approximately the remainder of the decade. In 1994, a Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant opened up in the location as the defunct Playland toy store. Chi-Chi’s remained until 2003, when the chain as a whole went belly-up. The Rite-Aid Pharmacy left the mall in the late 90s to make way for the new Sears and relocated to a freestanding location on the main drag. Also, the National City Bank relocated to a freestanding spot on the main drag. One of the stores the mall gained in the early 1990s was Family Toy Warehouse; now an Aaron’s sits there along with Cato Fashions, and Pet Supplies Plus (Note: The aforementioned stores cannot be accessed through the mall proper). The 1990s was a dark, depressing era for the mall, seeing one store close after another  and that was when the mall started cutting corners (as stated above).

Circa 2000, as a plan to revive the mall, some drastic changes were made. They wanted to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter on mall property which remains there to this very day, and decided to play “musical stores” in order to put it into play. They closed various stores midway through the west wing to make way for the relocation of Sears, which is two-story, unlike its predecessor. JC Penney’s was relocated to where Sears initially was to make way for Wal-Mart. However, Kaufmann’s (now Macy’s) is the only anchor store that did not budge; just the name, if you will. In addition to playing “musical stores” the mall interior was renovated with bright white walls and carpeting on the flooring throughout, hence covering up the tile that was laid there when it first opened. The renovations did somewhat increase the traffic throughout the mall, but it was nowhere on par with what it was in the 1980s. As a result of the carpeting on the floor, the areas where the famous fountains sat were covered up by it, making it just a plain open space! Part of the wing that led to the former JC Penney was cut off half-way to make way for Wal-Mart. One thing I miss about that wing was the mall entrance corridor with the rentable locker units, and as you walked in, you literally smelled fish as that was where Long John Silver’s sat. Speaking of which, whenever my family frequented the mall back in the day, We would always grab something to eat at LJS, and York Steak House (when it was there in the 1980s) Up until 1994, LJS had dimmed lantern lighting and made you feel like you were on board a ship as it had nautical décor, then the lantern lights were replaced with more traditional fluorescent lighting throughout the restaurant making it brighter. LJS was moved a few spaces up in 2001, now served with A&W in conjunction. By the mid-2000s the mall backslid…again. Circa 2009, WaldenBooks packed up and left for good. Prior to that, they were one of the stores that had to be relocated to another spot to make way for Sears circa 1999. The 2000s was the era of the stores that left as fast as they came: Steve & Barry’s, Pac Sun, Christopher & Banks, and a few others.

The big news flash of this decade for the mall is that Sears closed its doors for good sometime in July 2016. It was the first major store of the mall to close, Macy’s subsequently closed in 2017. (I have to admit, that Macy’s lacked in comparison to other Macy’s in the district.) When a mall anchor store closes, you know what that means, right? The mall is DYING!! This mall is on the verge of becoming history! This mall already lost Long John Silver’s/A & W along with Quizno’s Subs (not that I ever went there) approximately one year ago. Guess what? After Macy’s departure on March 26, 2017; Sam Goody, Radio Shack, and Spencer Gifts folded. I currently work at JC Penney inside the mall, and one can only hope it survives. The only place I ever frequent in the mall nowadays is the Chinese buffet, which offers great food! That and The Ville are the only sit-down restaurants attached to the mall. The other eateries currently there are Corrado’s (formerly Scotto’s) Pizza, The pretzel/cookie counter, and yet another pretzel joint. The former famous arcade is now home to military recruitment offices, and adjacent to it, is the Social Security office. I have a feeling the mall will no longer be operating by the end of this decade. Personally, whoever developed this mall should have selected a better site to place it as it is not visible from any major highway. Had that been the case, maybe it would not be in such bad shape. In a nutshell, the mall is simply not what it used to be!

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