Kevin Rooney's Commentary:

Posted March 10, 2014 (user submitted August 16, 2009)

The Wayne Towne Center, formerly the West Belt Mall, was built sometime back in the ‘80s, right next to the much larger Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey. It had three anchors, JC Penney, Fortunoff, and Neiman Marcus, implying that it was intended as an upscale alternative to the more middle-class Willowbrook. Why they decided to build a smaller shopping mall literally right next to a bigger one is beyond me. Honestly, I’m surprised that the Wayne Towne Center lasted as long as it did, spending its entire existence in Willowbrook’s shadow (sometimes literally, if the sun is shining in the right direction).

Neiman Marcus pulled out of the mall and moved the store to Pennsylvania in 1993, and the mall has struggled ever since. Neiman Marcus was replaced by Borders, but it wasn’t enough to stem the tide of tenants leaving, either to the Willowbrook or to other regional shopping centers, like the Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Rockaway or the Mall at Short Hills in Millburn. Meanwhile, the Willowbrook started moving upmarket, adding a Lord & Taylor to replace Steinbach in 1997 and a Bloomingdale's to replace Stern's in 2003. This brought the two malls into direct competition, and the bigger mall won out. 2008 marked the death knell for the Wayne Towne Center. Borders pulled out, as did Fortunoff when the national chain went bankrupt, leaving it with only JC Penney as an anchor.

The mall is currently undergoing a "de-malling" redevelopment. When I last visited the area back in July, the Borders building had been torn down, and the mall interior was undergoing the same process. Outside the mall, several businesses are thriving. An Olive Garden, a TGI Friday’s (which had moved there from a former location in the mall), and a DSW Shoe Warehouse have all opened up in the north parking lot, while a Chipotle Mexican Grill has opened up on the south end. The JC Penney is still open, and still attracts a lot of customers, judging by the number of cars I saw clustered around it in the parking lot. Dick’s Sporting Goods is planning to move into the mall after the renovation is complete, possibly into the old Fortunoff store (which is still standing).

The failure of the Wayne Towne Center is simple: competition. The intersection of Route 46, Route 23 and Interstate 80 is a thriving retail district, as evidenced by the success of the Willowbrook Mall, the stores surrounding the Wayne Towne Center, and even the JC Penney that used to anchor the mall. The Wayne Towne Center could have survived losing Neiman Marcus for Borders, but once the Willowbrook started competing with it, it was really a matter of when, not if, it would finally give out. The recession only helped it along.

Bing Bird's Eye View:

Wayne Towne Center mall from a the sky
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