A Shopping Destination in its Prime
In the late 1960s, the Blue Hen Mall was the place for shoppers in Dover, Delaware. As the only enclosed mall in the state then, it became a significant retail hub, drawing businesses away from downtown Dover.
JCPenney was among the first to relocate from Loockerman Street to the mall, with Woolco also anchoring the shopping center. At its height, the Blue Hen Mall housed over 50 shops and was a popular destination for locals.
The Impact on Downtown Dover
The opening of the Blue Hen Mall marked a significant shift in Dover’s retail landscape. With businesses moving to the mall, the downtown area faced declining foot traffic.
As a result, the city’s commercial activities gradually shifted toward the mall, leaving some downtown businesses struggling to survive.
The Rise of the Dover Mall and the Blue Hen’s Decline
When the Dover Mall opened in 1982, it signaled the beginning of the end for the Blue Hen Mall. Stores like Sears, which had been interested in relocating to the Blue Hen Mall, opted for the newer mall.
This shift in retail focus caused the Blue Hen Mall to experience a significant decline in visitors. As a result, the once-bustling mall soon became a “dead mall” and earned the nickname “Blue Hen Chicken Mall” among locals.
Reinventing the Blue Hen Mall
Despite its declining fortunes, the Blue Hen Mall was not destined to become just another abandoned building. Instead, in the 1990s, the mall was converted into the Blue Hen Corporate Center, transforming the retail spaces into office spaces.
At that time, the property was owned by Jardel Company, Inc. and Penn Mutual. The reinvention of the mall attracted new tenants, including the Bank of America call center and an Aetna office facility. Unfortunately, these businesses eventually closed their operations at the corporate center.
The Arrival of Medical Tenants and State Offices
The Blue Hen Corporate Center continued to evolve, and by the 2010s, it had become a hub for medical care and state offices. The DE Department of Labor, VA Outpatient Offices, and Bayhealth Medical Center were among its tenants.
In September 2013, Bayhealth rented the former Aetna space and relocated all its information services resources from Kent General Hospital and Milford Memorial Hospital.
The space underwent a complete renovation, including new office furniture, computers, and phone systems for employees and contracted staff. In addition, it now houses a 24×7 helpdesk for the entire hospital system.
Bayhealth’s Plans for the Dover Medical Neighborhood
In January 2022, Bayhealth announced its acquisition of the two original anchor store spaces (JCPenney & Woolco/Roses). The organization plans to renovate these spaces and create a “Dover Medical Neighborhood” featuring specialty clinical services and administration space.
The former Bank of America call center was recently used for the Governor’s Central Delaware Career Expo in 2022, with signs of upcoming renovations evident.
Potential Benefits for the Local Community
The development of the Dover Medical Neighborhood presents an opportunity for the Blue Hen Corporate Center to regain its status as a vital part of the Dover community.
With specialty clinical services and administration space planned, the project is expected to create new job opportunities and attract more businesses to the area.
A Nostalgic Look Back at the Blue Hen Mall
While the Blue Hen Mall’s retail days may be long gone, its history remains essential to Dover’s story. For many, memories of the bustling shopping destination are filled with nostalgia. Here’s a quick look back at the mall’s anchor stores:
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JCPenney was a significant anchor store at the Blue Hen Mall from its opening in 1968 until 1993, when it relocated to the Dover Mall. Woolco, another major tenant, operated from 1968 to 1983, after which Roses replaced it.
Roses remained at the mall from 1983 until it closed in 1991. Sears had been interested in joining the Blue Hen Mall but could not agree with the management on the store’s location within the shopping center.
As a result, Sears decided to relocate to the new Dover Mall and other department stores.
For the Dover community, these stores represent a bygone era of retail when the Blue Hen Mall was the premier shopping destination in the area. However, many residents remember the excitement of visiting the mall, browsing the aisles of their favorite stores, and spending quality time with friends and family.
The Blue Hen Mall holds a special place in the hearts of many, as it represents not just a shopping center but a piece of local history and a source of fond memories.