How Auburn Mall in Auburn, MA, is Adapting to Change

The Historical Backdrop

The Auburn Mall opened its doors to the public in 1971, developed by JMB Realty. It was a symbol of modern retail, offering a variety of stores and services to the residents of Auburn, Massachusetts. The mall initially featured two major anchor stores, Denholm’s and Sears, attracting many shoppers.

Over the years, the mall underwent several transformations. Denholm’s was converted to Forbes & Wallace and The Outlet, a department store chain based in Providence, Rhode Island. The Outlet store eventually closed its doors in the 1980s and was replaced by Caldor, another retail giant of its time.

In 1997, the mall experienced a significant renovation, adding Filene’s as a third anchor. This addition was a strategic move to attract more foot traffic and offer the community a comprehensive range of shopping options. The renovation marked a high point in the mall’s history, making it a go-to destination for shopping and leisure activities.

Auburn Mall

The Golden Years

The late ’90s and early 2000s can be considered the golden years for Auburn Mall. Caldor was converted into a Filene’s home store in 1999, adding more diversity to the mall’s retail offerings. In 2006, the two Filene’s stores in the mall were converted to Macy’s, further solidifying its status as a retail hub.

During these years, the mall was more than just a shopping center; it was a community gathering spot. It hosted various events, sales, and promotions that engaged the local population. The mall was bustling with activity, and it seemed like the good times would never end.

However, like all good things, this period had its limitations. The rise of e-commerce and changing consumer preferences started to impact traditional retail spaces, including Auburn Mall. Despite these challenges, the mall continued to be a significant part of the community, offering various options for things to do in Auburn, Massachusetts.

Signs of Decline

In 2015, the mall unveiled ambitious plans to add a 10-screen cinema and a restaurant in the space previously occupied by Macy’s Home Store, which had closed on December 1 of the same year. By April 2016, these plans were approved, and the community was excited about the new entertainment options that were about to come their way.

However, in a surprising turn of events, the mall abandoned these plans in November 2016. Instead, a proposal for a new medical center to replace the Macy’s Home Store space was introduced. This marked a significant shift in the mall’s strategy, moving from retail and entertainment to healthcare services.

On June 16, 2017, it was announced that Reliant Medical Group had signed a 20-year lease for the space formerly occupied by Macy’s Home Store. The medical group opened its doors on February 18, 2019, offering the community various healthcare services. While this was a positive development, it also signaled a change in the mall’s identity.

The Anchor Falls

The mall faced another significant blow when it was announced on November 7, 2019, that Sears would close its doors on February 16, 2020. This was part of a larger plan to close 96 Sears stores nationwide. The closure left Macy’s as the only traditional retail anchor, raising concerns about the mall’s future.

The impact of Sears’ closure was felt immediately. Foot traffic decreased, and many smaller tenants started to struggle. The mall was no longer the bustling community hub it once was, and questions about its long-term viability began to surface.

Despite these challenges, the mall continued operating at a reduced capacity. The remaining tenants adapted to the changing landscape, focusing on online sales and curbside pickups to sustain their businesses. Yet, the absence of Sears was a constant reminder of the mall’s declining fortunes.

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Auburn Mall
Sears (Auburn Mall)” by jjbers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reliant Medical Group: A New Anchor

Reliant Medical Group’s entry as the second anchor tenant brought a new dynamic to Auburn Mall. Their state-of-the-art facility offers primary and specialty care, making healthcare more accessible for the local community.

Auburn branch now offers Gastroenterology, Endocrinology, Cardiology, and OB/GYN services. The facility has modern conveniences like check-in kiosks, free Wi-Fi, and tablets for filling out questionnaires.

The presence of a healthcare facility within a shopping mall is a relatively new concept but one that has been well-received. It has increased foot traffic and diversified the types of visitors coming to the mall. Now, people are shopping and coming for medical appointments, benefiting smaller retail stores and dining establishments.

Reliant Medical Group’s long-term commitment to the mall is a positive sign. Their 20-year lease indicates a level of stability that the mall desperately needed. While it may not bring back the mall’s golden years of retail, it does offer a new direction and a sense of hope for the future.

Auburn Mall
Macy’s (Auburn Mall)” by jjbers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Current Tenants and Their Struggles

Despite the addition of Reliant Medical Group, many of the mall’s current tenants continue to face challenges. Stores like Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, and Bath & Body Works are still operational but have had to adapt to the changing retail landscape. The mall currently houses 59 stores offering various products and services.

Dining options have also seen a shift. While the mall offers few choices like Cap’t Loui and Tacos Mexico, the reduced foot traffic has impacted business. Many of these establishments have started offering takeout and delivery services to stay afloat.

The mall’s management, Simon Property Group, has proactively supported the tenants. They have implemented various promotional activities and events to attract visitors. However, the general sentiment among tenants is cautious optimism as they adapt to the new normal.

The Future of Auburn Mall

The future of Auburn Mall hangs in the balance. While adding Reliant Medical Group has provided some stability, the mall is far from reclaiming its past glory. Simon Property Group owns 56.4% of the mall and has been exploring various strategies to revitalize the space, but the path forward remains uncertain.

Community opinions on what the mall should become are diverse. Some suggest adding more entertainment options, while others believe focusing on essential services like healthcare is the way to go. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and the mall’s future will likely blend various elements.

Expert opinions on the mall’s future are equally divided. Some believe the mall needs to reinvent itself to survive, possibly by adding more experiential stores or services. Others think that the mall’s days are numbered, and it’s only a matter of time before it joins the growing list of “dead malls.”

Auburn Mall
Auburn Mall” by jjbers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In conclusion, Auburn Mall is at a crossroads. Its past is a reminder of the community’s vibrant history, while its present challenges offer a glimpse into the complexities of modern retail. The future remains blank, waiting to be filled with new stories and experiences.

Conclusion

Auburn Mall has had a rollercoaster of a journey. From its opening in 1971 to its current state, the mall has seen highs and lows reflecting broader retail and community engagement trends. The addition of Reliant Medical Group as a new anchor offers a glimmer of hope, but the mall’s future is still uncertain.

The mall’s story is far from over. It serves as a mirror to the changing dynamics of retail, community needs, and societal trends. While it may never return to its golden years, its current state offers valuable lessons for other malls and retail spaces.

The mall’s resilience in the face of challenges is commendable. Despite the setbacks, it continues to serve the community in various capacities. As we look to the future, Auburn Mall remains a significant part of Auburn’s landscape, holding the potential for rebirth and transformation.

The mall’s journey is a testament to the ever-changing nature of retail and community spaces. As we progress, it will be interesting to see how Auburn Mall adapts to the new normal, carving out a new identity while honoring its rich history.

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