A Storied Past: Evolution of Midland Commons Mall in Warwick, RI

Origins and Early Years

Midland Commons, known initially as Midland Mall and then Rhode Island Mall, is an outdoor power center in Warwick, Rhode Island. It opened in October 1967, after the Homart Development Company purchased the land in 1963.

The company altered the landscape, leveling a hill and changing the course of the Pawtuxet River to accommodate the mall. Anchored by Sears and Providence-based Shepard’s department store, the mall featured 60 shops.

In 1981, MetLife acquired the property for $20 million. The mall was renamed Rhode Island Mall in March 1985, and for several years, it coexisted with the nearby Warwick Mall, which opened in 1970.

Rhode Island Mall Archive

Transformations and Tenant Changes

In 1988, May Department Stores acquired Filene’s, a Boston-based department store chain. The company merged its owned G. Fox division into Filene’s in 1993, converting all stores, including the Rhode Island Mall location, to Filene’s name.

However, Filene’s closed its Rhode Island Mall store four years later in favor of its Warwick Mall location. Royal Ahold leased the mall’s vacant spaces, owners of the Stop & Shop supermarket franchise, to prevent Walmart from becoming a superstore within the mall.

Following the closure of Filene’s, nearly one-third of the mall, including the former Filene’s and the food court, was demolished to make way for a two-level anchor featuring Kohl’s on one level and Walmart on the other.

Decline and Closure

By the 2000s, Rhode Island Mall was considered a dead mall, listed on Deadmalls.com. Sears was the final anchor store that closed access to the mall’s interior through a partition wall in March 2011.

Subsequently, in April 2011, the mall management closed off access to the mall’s interior. At the time, only First Place Sports, LensCrafters, and GNC remained open within the mall.

Rebirth as a Power Center

In November 2012, Winstanley Enterprises, LLC., and Surrey Equities, LLC., purchased the mall for $38 million, expressing their intention to revitalize the property as part of Warwick’s retail hub. In late 2014, a plan was announced to redevelop the mall as an outlet center while retaining Kohl’s, Walmart, and Sears.

Sears Holdings spun off 235 properties in 2015, including the Sears at Rhode Island Mall, into Seritage Growth Properties. The mall underwent construction in February 2016, creating space for four big-box-style tenants instead of the original outlet plan.

Burlington Coat Factory was confirmed as one of the lessees, with Dick’s Sporting Goods and Planet Fitness also relocating to the mall.

BJ’s Brewhouse announced its first Rhode Island and New England location at the mall, while Raymour & Flanigan and At Home took over the former Sears space.

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Portions of the former Sears Auto Center became BJ’s Restaurants and Hook & Reel, while Wendy’s, On the Border, and Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Recent Developments

In September 2017, Sears closed its store as part of a nationwide closure of 20 stores. In July 2018, Toys R Us closed due to the company’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing.

However, BJ’s Wholesale Club – BJ’s Market took over the building in May 2022 and continued operating as of March 2023.

Midland Commons Today

The transformation of Midland Commons from a declining indoor shopping mall to a vibrant outdoor power center reflects the changing retail landscape in the United States.

The redevelopment efforts, spearheaded by Winstanley Enterprises and Surrey Equities, have breathed new life into the property, allowing it to adapt to the evolving needs of the local community and retail trends.

Midland Commons now boasts diverse tenants, including Burlington, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Planet Fitness, Raymour & Flanigan, At Home, and BJ’s Market.

This revitalization has again positioned Midland Commons as a key player in Warwick’s retail hub, attracting shoppers and fostering economic growth in the region.

The story of Midland Commons is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of retail spaces and the potential for growth and renewal in the face of changing market conditions.

As the retail landscape continues to evolve, Midland Commons serves as an example of the power of redevelopment and the importance of embracing change.

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