The Early Years (1967-1980)
Nestled off Route 2 near the junction with Interstate 190 in Leominster, Massachusetts, The Mall at Whitney Field opened its doors in 1967 as the “Searstown Mall.”
With original anchors like Sears, R. H. White, and Bradlees, it quickly became a bustling hub for shoppers. DeMoulas (now known as Market Basket) was a prominent feature next to Bradlees, and the mall even saw the addition of a Toys “R” Us with an outside entrance.
The mall’s early years were marked by growth and optimism. The community embraced the new shopping center and became a place where families gathered, friends met, and memories were made. The mall’s design and layout were typical of the era, reflecting the optimism and consumer culture of the time.
However, change was on the horizon. As the mall grew in popularity, so did the need for expansion. The 1980s saw significant growth, with new stores and features being added to meet the demands of a growing customer base. The mall was more than just a place to shop; it symbolized the community’s progress and prosperity.
Expansion and Renovation (1980s-2004)
The 1980s were a time of transformation for the mall. A new extended wing emerged from the building that once housed R. H. White, culminating in the addition of a fresh JCPenney store. The mall’s landscape was changing, with it, the shopping experience.
Stores like Sage-Allen closed, replaced by others like Service Merchandise. The mall was adapting to the times, reflecting its patrons’ changing tastes and preferences.
The year 1999 brought further transformations to the mall. Service Merchandise closed their store, emptying the long side wing leading to their old store. In 2000, the mall big-boxed the wing, turning much of it into an Old Navy store and replacing Service Merchandise with a Circuit City store. The departure of Bradlees in 2001 left a large vacancy, but the mall continued to evolve.
The early 2000s saw further renovations and changes. The mall was extensively renovated and renamed “The Mall at Whitney Field” in 2004. This was more than just a cosmetic change; it was an attempt to attract shoppers from more affluent suburbs. The mall was no longer just a local shopping center; it was positioning itself as a regional destination.
Ownership Changes and Struggles (2005-2013)
The Mall at Whitney Field faced new challenges in the mid-2000s. 2007 it was sold for $82 million to Walton Street Capital LLC of Chicago. The mall’s management changed, but so did the retail landscape. Stores like Circuit City closed, replaced by Ultimate Electronics in 2010, only to go out of business a year later.
In 2013, the mall again changed ownership to California-based Vintage Real Estate. The new owners had plans to renovate and turn around the struggling mall. They announced the signing of a ten-year lease with Burlington Coat Factory to occupy the former Circuit City space that had been vacant for years.
Despite these efforts, the mall’s struggles were apparent. Old Navy moved into a vacant space inside the mall to accommodate the addition of Burlington Coat Factory. The mall was adapting, but the retail environment was changing rapidly. The mall’s identity was shifting, and with it, the connection to the community.
Recent Developments (2014-2020)
The past decade has seen significant changes at The Mall at Whitney Field. Gardner Outlet Furniture found a new home in the space previously occupied by Toys “R” Us, opening its doors in March 2019.
Sears announced its closure in November 2019, part of a nationwide trend. The store closed on February 15, 2020, leaving a void in the mall’s landscape.
On January 7, 2020, it was announced that Macy’s would close in April 2020. The loss of these anchor stores was a blow to the mall’s vitality. Burlington and JCPenney remained as the only anchors left. The mall was sold again on January 8, 2020, to Hull Property Group.
The mall’s struggles were not unique. Across the country, malls were facing similar challenges. The rise of online shopping and changing consumer habits were taking their toll. The Mall at Whitney Field was adapting, but the question remained: Could it thrive in this new retail environment?
Current State and Future Prospects (2021-2023)
The Mall at Whitney Field has seen continued changes in recent years. In 2022, Gardner Outlet Furniture relocated to the first floor of the former Macy’s space, and Launch Entertainment opened in the former Gardner Outlet Furniture space in 2023. The mall’s layout and offerings continue to evolve, reflecting the changing retail landscape.
Despite these changes, the mall remains a place where memories are made. It’s a place where people can still gather, shop, and enjoy time together. The mall’s current state may differ from its heyday, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of those who have spent time there.
The future of The Mall at Whitney Field is uncertain. The challenges faced by malls across the country are real, and the mall must continue to adapt to survive.
But for those who remember the mall’s early years, the nostalgia for what it once was is strong. The mall may change, but the memories remain.
The Mall at Whitney Field: Impact on the Community
The Mall at Whitney Field has been more than just a shopping center; it’s been a part of the community. It’s been a place where people have gathered, celebrated, and connected. The mall’s impact on local businesses and the economy has been significant, and its role as a tourist attraction in Worcester County cannot be overlooked.
But the mall’s impact goes beyond economics. It’s a place where memories have been made, friendships have been forged, and community has been built. The mall’s struggles reflect broader societal changes, but its legacy is one of connection and community.
The mall’s future may be uncertain, but its place in the hearts of those who have spent time there is secure. It’s a reminder of a time gone by, a symbol of a community’s growth, and a testament to the power of place.
The Mall at Whitney Field has been a landmark in Leominster, Massachusetts, for over five decades. From its early days as a bustling shopping center to its current struggles, the mall’s story is about change, adaptation, and resilience.
The mall’s journey reflects the broader changes in retail and society. It’s a story of growth, transformation, and challenge. But more than that, it’s a story of community, connection, and memory.
As the mall faces an uncertain future, the memories and connections it has fostered remain strong. The Mall at Whitney Field may change, but its legacy endures. It’s a place that has touched lives, shaped a community, and left an indelible mark on the hearts of those who have called it their own.