Colonial Park Mall in Harrisburg, PA: From Shopping Mecca to Silent Halls

Colonial Park Mall: Landmark in Harrisburg’s Retail Landscape

Located in Lower Paxton Township, three miles northeast of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Colonial Park Mall has long been a central hub in the region’s retail landscape.

Perched at the northeast corner of U.S. Route 22 and Colonial Road, the mall is easily accessible, just east of Interstate 83 and south of Interstate 81.

This prime location has made it a destination for residents in Harrisburg’s eastern and northern suburbs.

With Boscov’s as its current anchor store, the mall has a storied history, reflected in the vacant spaces once occupied by major retailers like The Bon-Ton and Sears.

The Mall’s Current State

Today, Colonial Park Mall is a stark reminder of the shifting tides in retail trends. While it continues to house a variety of tenants, from traditional massage services to modern jewelry stores, it’s hard to overlook its status as what many would call a ‘dead mall.’

This term, often used to describe malls that have lost their luster and foot traffic, aptly fits the current state of Colonial Park Mall.

The empty storefronts and the departure of key anchor stores have left an indelible mark, painting a picture of a once-thriving retail center now struggling to find its place in a rapidly changing industry.

Tracing the Mall’s Historical Footsteps

The story of Colonial Park Mall is not just about its current struggles but also about its rich history and evolution.

From its early days as Colonial Park Plaza in 1960, an open-air center, to its transformation into an enclosed mall in 1970, it has witnessed and participated in the broader story of American retail.

Each phase of its existence, from the addition of new stores to the change in ownership, has been a chapter in a narrative that mirrors the highs and lows of shopping malls across the country.

The Early Years of Colonial Park Mall

From Open-Air Plaza to Enclosed Mall

In 1960, a new chapter in the retail history of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, began with the opening of Colonial Park Plaza.

This open-air shopping center, initially featuring Sears and Food Fair as its anchor stores marked the dawn of modern retail in the area.

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The plaza quickly became popular, offering various shopping options under the open sky. A decade later, in 1970, the plaza underwent a significant transformation, evolving into an enclosed space and adopting Colonial Park Mall.

This change was a strategic move, reflecting the shift in consumer preferences towards more comfortable, all-weather shopping environments.

Expanding and Adapting to Changing Times

The 1970s were a time of growth and adaptation for Colonial Park Mall. Just three years after its enclosure, in 1973, the mall welcomed Pomeroy’s, adding to its retail diversity and appeal.

Adding Pomeroy’s was more than just an expansion; it was a sign of the mall’s increasing significance in the region’s retail landscape.

Later 1987, another significant development occurred with the introduction of Boscov’s, further solidifying the mall’s status as a premier shopping destination.

That same year marked a pivotal change, as The Bon-Ton acquired the Pomeroy’s chain, rebranding it in 1990. These changes reflected the mall’s ability to adapt and thrive in a competitive retail environment.

A Symbol of Retail Innovation

Throughout these early years, Colonial Park Mall stood as a symbol of retail innovation and a trendsetter in the Harrisburg area.

Its transformation from an open-air plaza to a modern enclosed mall mirrored the evolution of shopping habits and preferences across America.

The mall’s expanding list of retailers and ability to attract major department stores demonstrated its importance in the region’s economy.

Colonial Park Mall was not just a shopping center but a place where community, commerce, and convenience converged, setting the stage for decades of retail success.

Ownership Changes and Impact at Colonial Park Mall

Transition of Ownership Over the Years

Several key changes in ownership mark the story of Colonial Park Mall, each bringing its impact and direction.

1997, a significant shift occurred when Glimcher Realty Trust acquired the mall from Catalina Partners LP. This transition marked a new era in the mall’s management and strategic approach.

Later, in 2014, the ownership baton was passed to Washington Prime Group following their acquisition of Glimcher Realty Trust. This changeover was a business transaction and a mall’s developmental trajectory shift.

Finally, in 2017, the mall found a new owner in Kohan Retail Investment Group, purchased for $15 million. These successive changes in ownership reflected the evolving landscape of retail real estate and the continuous search for sustainable business models in an increasingly competitive market.

The Effects of Ownership Changes

Each change in ownership at Colonial Park Mall brought new strategies, investments, and, sometimes, challenges.

These transitions often impacted the mall’s maintenance, tenant mix, and customer appeal. Each owner’s different management styles and business priorities were crucial in shaping the mall’s journey.

For instance, some periods saw a surge in investment and revitalization efforts, while others faced challenges maintaining maintenance and attracting high-profile tenants.

The revolving door of ownership affected not only the physical space of the mall but also its position and reputation in the local retail market.

Reflections on the Mall’s Market Position

Through these phases of ownership, Colonial Park Mall experienced varying degrees of success and struggle.

The mall’s market position often reflected the broader retail environment, influenced by changing consumer habits, the rise of online shopping, and economic fluctuations.

The owners’ efforts to adapt and reinvent, whether through attracting new types of stores or exploring different retail concepts, were crucial in keeping the mall relevant.

However, the challenges of maintaining an ample retail space in a changing market have been a persistent theme, underscoring the complex nature of mall management and ownership in the modern retail landscape.

The Decline of Colonial Park Mall

The Closure of Anchor Stores

The decline of Colonial Park Mall can be primarily attributed to the closure of its anchor stores, which once served as the main attractions for shoppers.

The Bon-Ton, a longstanding anchor, shut its doors in 2018, marking a significant blow to the mall’s foot traffic and appeal.

Another major setback followed this closure in September 2021, when it was announced that the Sears store, one of the mall’s original anchors, would also close.

The closure occurred on November 14, 2021, further diminishing the mall’s status. The loss of these key stores left vast empty spaces.

It signaled a deeper issue within the mall’s ability to retain high-profile tenants, critical for drawing customers and sustaining other businesses.

The struggles of Colonial Park Mall are not isolated but part of a larger trend affecting many traditional shopping malls across the country.

The rise of online shopping, the COVID-19 pandemic, changing consumer preferences, and the shift towards more experiential retail have all played a role in the decline of conventional malls.

As shopping habits evolve, with a growing preference for online convenience or open-air, mixed-use spaces, enclosed malls like Colonial Park have found attracting and retaining shoppers increasingly challenging.

This shift in the retail landscape has forced many malls to rethink their strategies, often requiring significant investments in redevelopment or rebranding to stay relevant.

Social and Economic Impact on the Local Community

The decline of Colonial Park Mall has had a noticeable impact on the local community, both socially and economically.

Once a bustling hub of activity and a significant source of employment, the mall has seen a reduction in both aspects.

The loss of major retailers means fewer job opportunities and a decrease in the mall’s contribution to the local economy.

Socially, the mall’s decline represents the loss of a communal space where people gathered, shopped and socialized.

Recent Developments and Uncertain Future of Colonial Park Mall

Failed Purchase and Sheriff’s Sale

Colonial Park Mall faced a critical juncture in its history in 2023. Under the ownership of Kohan Retail Investment Group, the mall was slated for a sheriff’s sale on July 20, 2023, due to over $300,000 in unpaid sewer and stormwater bills to Lower Paxton Township.

This situation highlighted the financial challenges and uncertainty surrounding the mall’s future. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the sale was averted 25 minutes before the deadline when Kohan Retail Investment Group cleared the outstanding dues.

This last-minute rescue left the mall’s future in the balance, with questions about its long-term viability and potential redevelopment plans.

Stonewall Capital LLC’s Redevelopment Plans

In April 2023, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope when Stonewall Capital LLC, based in Maryland, announced they were under contract to purchase Colonial Park Mall from Kohan Retail Investment Group.

Stonewall Capital LLC proposed ambitious plans to revitalize the mall, including adding residential areas and redesigning new retail spaces.

Their vision represented a potential turning point, offering a path to transform and modernize the mall, adapting it to current retail trends.

However, these plans were contingent on the successful completion of the purchase, which was subsequently jeopardized by the financial complications leading to the near sheriff’s sale.

Boscov’s Remaining as a Constant

Throughout the tumultuous recent history of Colonial Park Mall, Boscov’s has remained a constant, anchoring the mall amidst the uncertainty.

Unlike other major stores that have closed, Boscov’s has continued to operate, providing stability and continuity for the mall.

Their decision to stay is significant, as it maintains a link to the mall’s past while offering hope for its future.

As plans for the mall’s redevelopment and potential sale remain uncertain, Boscov’s offers a semblance of normalcy and a reminder of the mall’s potential to adapt and survive in a changing retail environment.

Colonial Park Mall in the Community Context

The Mall’s Role in the Harrisburg Metropolitan Area

For decades, Colonial Park Mall has played a significant role in the fabric of the Harrisburg metropolitan area.

As a central shopping destination, it served the immediate neighborhoods and attracted visitors from the broader region.

The mall was more than just a collection of stores; it was a communal space where people from different walks of life came together.

Its presence boosted the local economy, provided employment opportunities, and was a cornerstone for community events.

The rise and fall of Colonial Park Mall thus mirror the area’s broader economic and social shifts, highlighting the mall’s integral role in the region’s identity.

Conclusion

Reflecting on the journey of Colonial Park Mall, we see a narrative that is rich in history, marked by growth, adaptation, and challenges.

From its inception as a vibrant shopping center to its current state, the mall’s story symbolizes the evolution of the broader retail landscape.

The transition from a bustling hub of activity to what many consider a ‘dead mall’ speaks volumes about the changing dynamics of consumer preferences, the rise of online shopping, and the challenges traditional retail spaces face.

As we look ahead, the future of Colonial Park Mall remains uncertain. The potential for revitalization and redevelopment offers hope, suggesting that spaces like these can find new life and relevance in the modern retail world with innovation and adaptation.

The story of Colonial Park Mall is a testament to the resilience and ever-changing nature of retail spaces and their significant role in shaping our communities.

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Comments: 2
  1. Avatar of Eleanor Reeder
    Eleanor Reeder

    I’ve lived in the Harrisburg area for a lot of years and always shopped at the Colonial Park Mall. I really hated to see the Bon-Ton to go out! And of course Sears also. I really like to shop at Boscov’s. I wish I could continue shopping there and I wish the Mall the best!!!

    Reply
    1. Avatar of Spencer Walsh
      Spencer Walsh (author)

      I’m delighted you have enjoyed shopping at Colonial Park Mall for many years. It’s truly disheartening to see beloved stores like Bon-Ton and Sears close. Here’s to hoping the mall remains a cherished part of the Harrisburg community!

      Reply
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