Monmouth Mall Chronicles: A Story of Survival in Eatontown, NJ

The Dawn of Monmouth Mall

In the heart of Eatontown, New Jersey, the Monmouth Mall first opened its doors to the public on March 1, 1960. Sprawling over 600,000 square feet, this open-air center, initially named “Monmouth Shopping Center,” marked a significant milestone in the region’s retail landscape.

The mall was strategically built on a tract of land once part of a farm owned by the Valentino Family, a name well-associated with the nearby city of Long Branch, New Jersey.

From its inception, Monmouth Mall set a high standard for shopping centers in the area. It debuted with an impressive roster of 50 stores, offering a diverse range of products and services to cater to the needs and preferences of the local community.

The mall’s original anchor tenants, Bamberger’s—a subsidiary of the renowned Macy’s—and Montgomery Ward, were pivotal in establishing the mall’s reputation as a premier shopping destination. These anchor stores drew in crowds and set the tone for the mall’s future expansions and success.

As the 1960s progressed, Monmouth Mall became synonymous with things to do in Eatontown, New Jersey. It wasn’t just a place to shop but a community hub where families and friends would gather, browse the latest offerings, and enjoy the day together.

The mall’s design, characterized by its open-air layout, provided a unique and inviting atmosphere that resonated well with the shoppers of that era.

The success of Monmouth Mall during these early years laid a solid foundation for its future growth, expansions, and transformations, shaping it into a landmark that stood the test of time.

Expansion and Renovation: The Mall’s Evolution

1975 marked a significant turning point for Monmouth Mall. Embracing evolving retail trends, the mall transitioned from an open-air center to an enclosed shopping haven, expanding its footprint.

This expansion doubled the mall’s size and introduced a new era of shopping experience with the addition of a two-level section.

This section became home to prestigious new anchors, including Abraham & Straus, JCPenney, and Hahne’s, each bringing their unique retail brand to Eatontown.

The mall’s architectural evolution continued in 1987 with a major renovation that redefined its interior aesthetics. Introducing modern lighting, sleek new flooring and contemporary glass and chrome handrails along the second level gave the mall a fresh and modern look.

The renovation also saw the strategic removal of in-floor planters, replaced by movable ones, and the closure of certain entrances near the former arcade on the Wyckoff Roadside to streamline foot traffic.

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Further enhancing the mall’s appeal, the mid-90s expansion introduced an elevator and a food court, infusing a Jersey Shore theme that resonated with the local culture.

This period also saw the arrival of major brands like Nobody Beats the Wiz and a 15-screen Loews Theatres, now AMC, adding entertainment options to the mall’s offerings.

The addition of Old Navy, replacing the closed Caldor, marked another milestone, ensuring that Monmouth Mall remained at the forefront of retail trends and continued to be a central hub for shopping and entertainment in New Jersey.

Monmouth Mall
Monmouth Mall” by NYC Guru is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Changing Face of Retail: Anchor Stores’ Saga

The anchor stores at Monmouth Mall have been a dynamic and evolving aspect of its retail landscape. The year 1987 was particularly transformative when the Bamberger’s store was rebranded to Macy’s, reflecting a broader corporate change.

This transition was not just a name change but symbolized the mall’s alignment with evolving retail trends and consumer expectations.

The mall’s anchor narrative continued to evolve. In 1986, Caldor replaced Alexander’s, introducing a new variety of merchandise and shopping experiences.

The 1990s brought further changes, with Lord & Taylor taking over the space previously occupied by Hahne’s in 1990 and Stern’s replacing Abraham & Straus in 1995.

Each of these transitions marked a new chapter in the mall’s history, attracting different customer demographics and reshaping the mall’s identity.

In 2001, Boscov’s entered the scene, replacing Stern’s and bringing a quality and customer service legacy.

This introduction was not just about adding another store but about injecting new energy and drawing in a diverse crowd, ensuring that Monmouth Mall remained a key player in the competitive retail market.

The mall’s ability to adapt and embrace these changes in its anchor stores reflects its resilience and commitment to providing its patrons with a vibrant and dynamic shopping environment.

The 21st Century Challenges and Responses

The onset of the 21st century brought new challenges to the retail industry, and Monmouth Mall was no exception.

The 2008 recession and a shift in consumer habits necessitated a strategic response. In 2009, the mall embarked on a significant expansion, a proactive move to enhance its appeal and functionality.

This expansion added space and enriched the shopping experience with modern amenities and services.

Between 2010 and 2011, the mall underwent cosmetic renovations to revitalize its ambiance. These enhancements included new tiles, fresh paint, updated lighting, and a complete food court overhaul.

These enhancements were not merely aesthetic; they were strategic efforts to create an inviting atmosphere that could compete with the convenience of online shopping.

Plans for the mall’s ownership and management changed in 2012 when Vornado Realty Trust announced its intention to sell its portfolio of enclosed shopping malls.

This decision culminated in August 2015 when Kushner Companies acquired Vornado’s fifty percent stake and management control of Monmouth Mall for $38 million.

This acquisition marked a new chapter in the mall’s history, setting the stage for further developments and adaptations in the ever-evolving retail landscape.

A New Vision: Redevelopment Plans and Community Reactions

In February 2016, a bold new vision for Monmouth Mall was unveiled by Kushner Companies. The conceptual plans aimed to transform the traditional shopping mall into a mixed-use development, a “live, work, and play” environment estimated to cost approximately $500 million.

This ambitious project, proposed to be renamed “Monmouth Town Center,” was envisioned to include residential apartments, a hotel, retail spaces, entertainment options, and dining venues.

The plan involved commercial expansion and the creation of a vibrant community hub with outdoor plazas, green spaces, and a streetscape friendly to bikers and pedestrians.

However, the redevelopment plans were met with mixed reactions from the community. The proposed addition of residential units raised concerns about the potential impact on local traffic and public school systems.

A pivotal moment came on April 27, 2016, during a public meeting at a local middle school gymnasium. Eatontown’s mayor, Dennis Connelly, and the Borough Council opposed a zoning change to facilitate the mall’s expansion.

Borough residents voiced vocal opposition to the meeting, which led to Kushner Companies announcing the project’s abandonment at the same gathering.

Monmouth Mall
Monmouth Mall” by LancerE is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Despite this setback, the vision for redevelopment persisted. In January 2018, a new proposal named “The Heights At Monmouth” was issued, suggesting the demolition of the two-story wing that includes Boscov’s and the addition of structures totaling 900,000 square feet.

This plan, approved on July 16, 2018, aimed to open up the mall corridor, create new outdoor spaces and provide 700 residential apartment units, including 88 designated as affordable housing.

This chapter in the mall’s history reflects the complex interplay between visionary development, community engagement, and the challenges of adapting to changing times.

Current Anchors: Macy’s, Boscov’s, and AMC

Macy’s, Boscov’s, and AMC are the current anchor tenants of Monmouth Mall, each playing a crucial role in the mall’s operations and appealing to shoppers.

With its long-standing presence since the rebranding of Bamberger’s in 1987, Macy’s continues to be a cornerstone of the mall. Its wide range of products and reputation for quality attract a diverse customer base, contributing significantly to the mall’s foot traffic and retail sales.

Boscov’s, which replaced Stern’s in 2001, has established itself as another key anchor. Known for its wide selection of merchandise and commitment to customer service, Boscov’s has become a favorite among shoppers, further cementing the mall’s status as a go-to shopping destination in the region.

AMC Theatres, introduced during the mall’s expansion in the mid-90s, adds an entertainment dimension to the mall’s offerings.

The 15-screen cinema complex provides a recreational option for mall-goers, enhancing the overall appeal of Monmouth Mall as a place for a comprehensive shopping and entertainment experience.

Together, these anchors contribute to the mall’s stability and attractiveness, playing a pivotal role in its current operations and its resilience in the face of retail industry challenges.

Their presence is not just about the services and products they offer; it’s about the experiences they provide to the community, making Monmouth Mall a landmark in Eatontown, New Jersey.

The Current State: Monmouth Mall Today

As of 2024, Monmouth Mall stands at a crossroads, embodying its storied past and potential for future redevelopment.

The mall currently houses many tenants, including prominent names like Old Navy, Buffalo Wild Wings, Victoria’s Secret, and Claire’s.

These brands, among others, continue to draw shoppers, maintaining the mall’s status as a central retail hub in Eatontown, New Jersey.

2023 was pivotal for Monmouth Mall, with significant steps taken towards its transformation. This new vision for the mall includes retail spaces, residential units, and green areas, aiming to create a more integrated and community-focused environment.

The local government of Eatontown officially endorsed these plans in April 2023, setting the stage for a transformative redevelopment process.

The mall will undergo heavy demolition around March 2024, marking a pivotal shift from a traditional retail space to a mixed-use development featuring stores and apartments.

This redevelopment plan involves the demolition of the two-floor wing between Boscov’s and the escalators, an area that has seen a gradual vacancy of retail shops in anticipation of the construction.

Additionally, the space formerly occupied by JCPenney, which left the mall following bankruptcy, is also slated for demolition.

The final plan for Monmouth Square includes 1,000 apartments, reduced to four stories, and approximately 900,000 square feet of retail space. The flats will be centrally located, away from the mall’s perimeter bordering residential neighborhoods.

The redevelopment also promises new landscaping with over 800 trees, sidewalks, and bike lanes, enhancing the area’s community feel. A common area in the center will offer public programming.

Notably, current tenants like the AMC movie theater and Barnes & Noble will remain, with the latter relocating within the mall to accommodate the new layout. Whole Foods is set to take over the current Barnes & Noble location, indicating a shift towards more diverse and lifestyle-oriented retail options.

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