The Changing Face of Woodbridge Center Mall, Woodbridge Township, NJ

Historical Development

Woodbridge Center Mall, a prominent landmark in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, has a rich history that dates back to its opening in 1971. Developed by The Rouse Company, the mall quickly became a hub for shopping and entertainment.

The mall’s early years were marked by anchor stores such as Abraham & Straus, Ohrbach’s, and Stern’s. In 1978, the mall expanded with a new wing to include Hahne’s, and in 1981, J. C. Penney moved from the nearby Menlo Park Mall in Edison, New Jersey.

A significant renovation took place in 1987, giving the mall a new look. Changes included the removal of a stairwell, new flooring, updated lighting, and modifications to the mall entrances and fountains.

The mall continued to evolve, with a notable expansion in 2003 that introduced Galyan’s, the chain’s first location in New Jersey, which later became Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Notable Stores and Changes

Woodbridge Center has seen many stores come and go, each leaving its mark on the mall’s identity. Once prominent anchors, Lord & Taylor and Sears closed their doors in 2019-2020, marking an end of an era.

Dave & Buster’s, a popular entertainment venue, opened on the upper level by Sears in 2017, becoming their first location in New Jersey. SeaQuest Interactive Aquariums opened an ample space, its first in New Jersey, on Thanksgiving 2019, adding a new dimension to the mall’s offerings.

The mall’s landscape has been shaped by the closing and opening of various department stores, including Hahne’s, Ohrbach’s, Steinbach, Lord & Taylor, Stern’s, and A&S. Each change reflects the shifting retail landscape and the mall’s adaptability to the times.

Woodbridge Center entrance
Woodbridge Center entrance TopGear, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Woodbridge Center: Attractions and Features

Beyond shopping, Woodbridge Center offers a range of attractions that have made it a favorite destination for families. The mall features a beautiful fountain, a carousel, a train ride, and a children’s play area, providing entertainment for visitors of all ages.

Dining options are spread throughout the mall, with seating areas and restrooms offering a unique culinary experience. In 2007, the carousel ride was relocated, and the train ride was reconfigured, ensuring that both rides stayed together at the exact location, near the J. C. Penney.

A toddler’s play area, “Tiny Town,” located near the carousel and train rides, adds to the mall’s family-friendly appeal. These features have enhanced the shopping experience and created lasting memories for those who have visited.

Economic Impact and Popularity

Woodbridge Center’s impact extends beyond its walls, contributing significantly to the local economy. Situated close to Staten Island and offering the advantage of no sales tax on clothing in New Jersey, Woodbridge Center has become a favored destination for shoppers from New York.

With its expansive gross leasable area of 1,633,000 square feet, the mall is the fourth largest in New Jersey and ranks 34th in the entire United States. Its popularity is not just confined to the local community but attracts visitors from neighboring states as well.

The mall’s success can also be attributed to its diverse range of stores and its ability to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Its continued growth and prominence testify to its enduring appeal and significance in the region.

Woodbridge Center
JCPenney – Woodbridge Center Woodbridge, NJ” by MikeKalasnik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Incidents and Controversies

Woodbridge Center has had its share of incidents and challenges, like any public space. A harrowing incident occurred at Woodbridge Center on March 8, 2012, when law enforcement officers were forced to shoot and kill a shoplifter in the Sears wing of the mall. The individual had taken a woman hostage, leading to this tragic conclusion.

Such incidents, though rare, have brought attention to the mall and raised questions about security and safety. However, they have not overshadowed the mall’s overall reputation as a vibrant and welcoming place for shopping and leisure.

Current Status and Future Prospects

As of 2023, Woodbridge Center continues to thrive, with over 140 popular stores and a range of dining and entertainment options. Managed by JLL (Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.), the mall remains a dynamic space that caters to the community’s needs.

Recent events like the School Supply Donation Drive and Wacky Wednesday Duck Hunt reflect the mall’s commitment to engaging with its patrons and providing unique experiences. The mall’s future looks promising, with further growth and innovation potential.

Conclusion

Woodbridge Center’s journey from its inception in 1971 to its current status as a major shopping destination is a story of transformation, resilience, and adaptability. Its retail, dining, and entertainment blend has made it a cherished part of Woodbridge Township.

The mall’s nostalgic charm and modern amenities create a unique experience that resonates with longtime residents and newcomers. Its legacy is not just in its physical structure but in the memories and connections it has fostered over the years.

Woodbridge Center stands as a symbol of community, commerce, and culture, reflecting the evolving landscape of retail and the enduring appeal of shared spaces.

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