New Dawn for Boulevard Mall in Amherst, NY: From Retail to Residential

The Dawn of Boulevard Mall

In 1962, the Boulevard Mall opened its doors as the pioneering indoor shopping center in the Buffalo area, marking a significant milestone in the region’s retail landscape.

Situated on Niagara Falls Boulevard, a key thoroughfare that divides Amherst from the Town of Tonawanda, this mall was designed to offer a modern shopping experience, attracting customers from across Western New York and beyond. Its establishment introduced a new era of retail, setting the stage for the mall to become a central hub for shopping and social interaction.

The mall’s initial lineup of anchor stores included Sattler’s, a Buffalo-based department store, and Jenss, a Lockport-based retailer. These stores occupied substantial spaces of 220,000 and 80,000 sq ft, respectively.

These anchors and approximately 30 other stores made Boulevard Mall an instant attraction. The presence of these major retailers underscored the mall’s importance as a destination for shoppers seeking a variety of products under one roof.

In 1970, the mall expanded its retail offerings with a three-level, 180,000 sq ft JCPenney store, further solidifying its status as a premier shopping location.

Throughout the 1970s and beyond, the Boulevard Mall continued to evolve and expand. A significant extension 1978 introduced around 30 more stores, enhancing the mall’s diversity and appeal.

This period of growth reflected the mall’s ability to adapt to consumer demands, offering more options and drawing in a larger crowd. The addition of a food court in 1994, featuring a carousel and popular eateries, and a major renovation in 1997 modernized its appearance.

The Boulevard Mall’s strategic location and its broad array of retail offerings made it a key player in the Buffalo area’s retail sector. Its role was not just as a shopping destination but also as a community gathering space where people could meet, shop, and enjoy various dining options.

The mall’s ability to attract Canadian shoppers further highlighted its significance in the cross-border retail landscape. It offered unique shopping experiences that drew visitors across the region.

Discovering things to do in Buffalo, NY, the rich history of Boulevard Mall emerges as a significant chapter in the area’s retail and communal development.

From its inception, the mall has been a cornerstone for shopping, dining, and entertainment, pivotally boosting the local economy and influencing the shopping patterns of many generations.

Evolution Through the Decades

The Boulevard Mall’s journey through the decades is a story of adaptation and transformation, reflecting broader retail and consumer behavior trends.

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The 1990s, in particular, were a pivotal time for the mall, marked by significant renovations and new dining options that aimed to enhance the shopping experience.

Adding three restaurants—Bonefish Grill, TGI Fridays, and Honey’s—in conjunction with constructing a 9-bay food court on the mall’s east side in 1994 brought a new dimension to the mall, combining retail with dining experiences.

This food court, complete with a carousel, became a staple of the 1990s mall culture, offering shoppers a place to relax and dine amidst their shopping expeditions.

Boulevard Mall
Boulevard Mall” by Me is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

This era also saw the mall attracting upscale stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch and The Disney Store, diversifying its retail mix and appealing to a wider range of consumers.

These updates aligned with a wider plan to update the mall and keep it ahead in the competitive market, particularly with the emergence of Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, just seven miles south, in 1989.

The Boulevard Mall’s response was a comprehensive overhaul to reaffirm its position as Western New York’s second-largest shopping destination.

The mall’s physical appearance also underwent significant changes during this time. A major renovation 1997 introduced modern skylights, marble floors, and columns, among other features, aimed at modernizing the complex and enhancing its appeal to shoppers.

This cosmetic redesign was not just about aesthetics but also about creating an environment that reflected the evolving expectations of consumers looking for more than just shopping in a mall.

The 21st Century Shift

Entering the 21st century, the Boulevard Mall faced new challenges and opportunities as the retail landscape continued to evolve.

The takeover of May Department Stores by Macy’s Inc. in 2006 brought a notable shift, transforming all Kaufmann’s outlets, including the department and men’s stores at the mall, into Macy’s branded stores.

This transition reflected broader trends in retail consolidation and brand evolution, impacting the mall’s retail mix and consumer perception.

In 2015, a strategic decision was made to raze the food court to make way for a new anchor, Dick’s Sporting Goods. Opening in October of that year, the 58,000 sq ft store represented a shift towards incorporating more lifestyle and sporting retailers into the mall’s offerings.

This move also led to the dispersion of food retailers throughout the mall, including Subway and Taste of China, adapting to changing consumer preferences for more integrated shopping and dining experiences.

Boulevard Mall
Boulevard Mall” by Hope For Gorilla is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The period also saw shifts in ownership and vision for the mall’s future. By 2019, it was evident that the retail industry’s challenges were impacting the Boulevard Mall, with leases not being renewed and many inline stores leaving.

The purchase of the mall and the nearby Wegmans by Washington, D.C.-based Douglas Jemal for $30 million signaled the beginning of a new chapter. Jemal’s vision for transforming the Boulevard Mall into Boulevard Place, a mixed-use development, reflects a growing trend toward repurposing traditional retail spaces to meet contemporary needs and preferences.

This transition towards a more diversified use of space, incorporating residential, office, and retail elements, indicates the transformations occurring in the retail sector and how malls adapt to remain relevant in the 21st century.

Current Anchors and Their Stories

Despite the shifts in the retail landscape, the Boulevard Mall is anchored by several key stores, each with its unique story within the mall’s ecosystem.

JCPenney has been a staple at the Boulevard Mall since 1970 when it opened its three-level, 180,000 sq ft store.

Over the years, JCPenney has adapted its offerings to meet changing consumer demands, maintaining its position as a go-to destination for apparel, home goods, and beauty products. Its longevity at the mall underscores its ability to evolve and remain relevant in a competitive retail environment.

Macy’s, which transitioned from Kaufmann’s following the acquisition by Macy’s Inc. in 2006, has played a central role in the mall’s retail mix.

Macy’s has contributed to the mall’s appeal as a comprehensive shopping destination as a department store with a wide range of products, from fashion to home furnishings.

The rebranding from Kaufmann’s to Macy’s marked a new chapter for the store, aligning it with a national brand known for quality and style.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, the newest of the anchor stores, opened in 2015 in the space previously occupied by the mall’s food court. This 58,000 sq ft store brought a fresh focus on sports, outdoor, and fitness-related merchandise to the mall, catering to the active lifestyle of its customers.

Gabe’s, another key anchor, is known for offering designer brands and fashion at discount prices. Its presence at the Boulevard Mall adds a value-oriented retail option for shoppers, diversifying the mall’s retail portfolio and appealing to budget-conscious consumers.

Gabe’s contributes to the mall’s ability to offer various shopping experiences, from high-end to affordable options.

The Transformation into Boulevard Place

The ambitious plan to transform the Boulevard Mall into Boulevard Place represents a shift towards mixed-use development, aiming to revitalize the area and create a vibrant community hub.

This transformation is driven by a vision to repurpose the mall into a space that combines retail, residential, and office elements, reflecting a broader trend in urban development.

Douglas Jemal spearheaded the project after purchasing the mall and adjacent properties for $30 million. It is poised to breathe new life into the site.

The vision for Boulevard Place includes creating an urban boulevard concept and integrating the mall’s existing structures with new constructions to offer a dynamic mix of uses.

This approach aims to create a walkable, connected community that serves the needs of residents, workers, and shoppers alike.

Key to the transformation is the focus on incorporating residential units and office spaces into the development alongside retail outlets.

This mixed-use strategy is designed to create a self-sustaining ecosystem where people can live, work, and play nearby. Green spaces, pedestrian-friendly streets, and modern amenities are expected to enhance Boulevard Place’s appeal, making it a desirable destination for people across the region.

The transition from a traditional mall to a mixed-use development reflects an understanding of the changing dynamics of retail and real estate.

By adapting to these changes, Boulevard Place is set to become a model for how underutilized retail spaces can be reimagined to meet contemporary needs, offering lessons for similar projects nationwide.

In a significant development for the Boulevard Mall, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $31 million funding initiative to reimagine the mall into a vibrant, mixed-use, transit-oriented town center.

The funding is a crucial step in the mall’s redevelopment, facilitating the creation of at least 1,500 residential units that will cater to a diverse demographic, including affordable housing, market-rate apartments, student housing, and senior living options.

This residential component is expected to breathe new life into the area, addressing the region’s housing shortage while fostering a renewed sense of community.

Moreover, the project promises to generate employment opportunities and stimulate economic growth by adding new restaurants, retail outlets, and open spaces. The envisioned redevelopment aims to transform the physical infrastructure and enhance the quality of life for residents of Western New York. 

The Community and Economic Impact

Since its inception in 1962, Boulevard Mall has been a significant player in the local economy, contributing to job creation and serving as a commercial hub for the Amherst and greater Buffalo area.

Over the years, the mall has adapted to the changing retail landscape, undergoing several renovations and expansions to enhance its appeal to shoppers and retailers alike.

The transformation into Boulevard Place marks the next chapter in the mall’s contribution to the local economy. It has the potential to redefine the area’s commercial and social landscape.

The Town of Amherst’s designation of the mall as an “urban renewal area” is a strategic move aimed at revitalizing the site and surrounding neighborhoods. This initiative is expected to attract investment, stimulate economic activity, and address community needs such as affordable housing.

The mixed-use development plan for Boulevard Place, incorporating residential, office, and retail spaces, is designed to create a vibrant, walkable community that can attract residents, businesses, and visitors, further boosting the local economy.

The project’s emphasis on creating a transit-oriented downtown area aligns with broader trends in urban development, focusing on sustainability, connectivity, and quality of life.

By integrating public spaces, enhancing pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and improving access to public transportation, Boulevard Place is poised to become a model for community-centered development, contributing to the economic and social vitality of the region.

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