Erica Hayes' Commentary:

Posted July 8, 2003 (user submitted)

The Rainbow Centre Factory Outlet, a.k.a. the Rainbow Mall, opened in 1982 as part of downtown Niagara Falls' Urban Renewal effort. It was unique in that the mall itself was built into its own parking garage. It was initially a big success, since it was about 2 blocks away from the Canadian border. It was a semi-typical outlet store in that most of the stores were of the outlet variety, however I distinctly remember a Claire's, a Deb, and a Kay-Bee Toys where my Dad once bought me a western-type Barbie doll.

The Rainbow Centre's defining feature was a beautiful fountain near the food court. It had a center spout surrounded by smaller ones, and it ran constantly. Every 10 minutes or so, the smaller spouts would shut off, and the center spout would shoot up into the air about 10 times in a row. As a 5-year-old, I was mesmerized. It was also bordered on one side by the Wintergarden, yet another Urban Renewal project - an indoor arboretum.

At the time (mid-late 80's), the Rainbow Centre was thriving while Niagara Falls' other outlet mall, the Niagara Factory Outlet, was deader than a doornail. I don't ever remember going there as a kid, because there was nothing there to do.

But, by the mid 90's, things changed. The Niagara Factory Outlet was acquired by Prime Outlets, and it was given a MAJOR face lift. Suddenly all the Canadian tourists flooded over there, and the Rainbow Centre (which hadn't been renovated since its opening, remaining 80's tacky and bright until… now) began to falter. Its major anchor, Burlington Coat Factory, left town, and the little outlet stores began to close rapidly.

As a child, my Dad used to take all of his kids there on weekends. He grew up in the area but lived out of town (or state) for much of our lives, and so when he came to visit, he'd pick up me and my brothers and sister and we'd all go to the Rainbow Mall for lunch, Haagen Daas ice cream, and toys. I'd ride the cool-shaped elevator up and down while my brothers tried to hold the sides of the 'up' escalator. We made every trip an event - there are pictures and movies of us there, just eating ice cream and acting goofy.

After I grew up, Dad moved back to the area so we didn't need a get-together spot anymore. We stopped going there, and I didn't realize what trouble it was in until I read the Buffalo News website at college in September 2000 and saw that the mall was history - closing its doors in 2 weeks. Fortunately, the mall had one tenant it wasn't about to boot - Off Track Betting. Developers decided to revamp the mall as an entertainment complex (hold your breath… 2 blocks away an abandoned water park has sat for 6 years), and because OTB makes good money, they kept it in the mall and therefore it's open to the public. So I got in through the Wintergarden and took these pictures. I'm heartbroken that a place that housed so many of my childhood memories could fall so quickly, but I'm thrilled that I got a chance to go back inside just once more.

Exclusive Photos:

Exclusive photos:

Click here to see exclusive photos taken by Erica Hayes

1) The main sign outside - it was beautiful lit up at night, and you could very easily see it from Canada.
2) The 'Rainbow Centre' and 'Factory Outlet' signs on the outside. I spent my spring working a block away, and the 'Rainbow Centre' sign actually lit up at night until sometime in April.
3) Another retro-type outdoor sign (that's my boyfriend trying not to be in the picture).
4) The entrance to the mall from the Wintergarden.
5) The sign stating the obvious - it might as well say "Mall closed FOREVER".
6) Looking out into the Wintergarden.
7) The ceiling designs, never unchanged in the mall's history.
8) More ceiling designs - very early 80's.
9) Looking down the second floor corridor - I wanted to go further (where Claire's, Deb, and Kay-Bee once were), but nasty people kept staring at me from OTB across the way.
10) The second floor, some storefronts and the corridor to the rest rooms.
11) My boyfriend checking to see if the rest rooms were still open (they weren't).
12) A boarded-up store.
13) Looking down onto the first floor benches.
14) Ports of the Orient was a little store that was there for as long as I can remember - ever since I was a kid.
15) Green Onion is another store that was there forever, and when they were ordered out of the Rainbow Mall, they picked up and moved uptown to Prime Outlets.
16) More Green Onion, along with a view of the beloved fountain.
17) Another shot of the Green Onion - notice the white wall on the far left, bottom floor, put up to keep people out of that part of the mall.
18) A&W Hot Dogs & More in the food court, another Rainbow Mall staple.
19) The creepy, vacant food court. The tables and chairs were uncomfortable red plastic that left squares on any part of your body not covered by clothing.
20) A pizza place. I swear, when I was a kid, it was a Sbarro. I know it was.
21) The food court entrance. If you look closely, you can still see the Haagen Daas posters up next to where their ice cream place was.
22) Looking across the second floor to the food court.
23) The elevator. To my 5-year-old mind, it was a marvel. I used to be scared that it would get stuck in the hole at the bottom, which was also a waterfall. I thought we'd get stuck and drown, even though the water was flowing out into the fountain and not in.
24) More elevator.
25) Looking down into the fountain. It was starting to decay (as was the whole mall), but it was still a wonder.
26) More fountain - I wanted to get as many pictures as I could of my childhood haven, and this was the best part of the mall experience.

Also check out the photo page on Jump The Falls which has tons of pics from the past and present.


Rainbow Mall - some awesome pictures of the mall from birth to death.
Jump The Falls - another very good article and TONS of pics of the evolution of the mall.

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