|Opening date||September 4, 1973|
(demolished early 1999)
|No. of stores and services||70|
|No. of anchor tenants||2|
|No. of floors||1|
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The Methuen Mall was a single-story shopping mall in Methuen, Massachusetts. It was built in 1973 on a 60-acre (240,000 m2) site and initially included Howland and Sears as its anchor stores, as well as 70 other retailers. It remained in operation until 1997, and was demolished in early 1999.
The original plans for the Methuen Mall were to have Sears and Sutherlands as its anchors. However, Sutherlands, a department store based in nearby downtown Lawrence, chose to expand its Essex Street store instead, leading to the store closing a few years later. Unlike other malls, the Methuen Mall opened slowly, with Sears being the first store, opening on Tuesday, September 4, 1973. Howlands opened a few months later in the spot intended for Sutherlands, then the mall itself a few stores at a time. When the mall was built, the area was mostly a farming community (directly across Pleasant Valley Street was Mann's Orchards, which still stands today). The success of the mall began to turn the Pleasant Valley section of Methuen into a much more commercialized area. In the years after the opening, the area also became home to a McDonald's, Burger King, Andover Bank (now a TD Bank), and an adjacent shopping plaza, which was initially anchored by a Caldor (now Walmart) department store and A&P, now Market Basket.
The mall stood close to three major highways: Route 213, now also known as the Loop Connector, ran directly behind the mall and connected the major interstates of Route 93 and Route 495, both a short distance from the mall site. Jackson St made the mall an easy trip from downtown Lawrence. Howlands later moved to a different location to make room for Jordan Marsh. The mall's decline started in 1991 when the Mall at Rockingham Park opened across the border in Salem, New Hampshire, with the advantages of being a much larger mall and the lack of sales tax in New Hampshire.
Stores and culture
The Methuen Mall was once a center of late-seventies to early-eighties suburban "headbanger" culture. The mall differed greatly from today's "McMalls" in that creative touches maintained an element of raw adventure: aardvark- and anthill-themed play areas were placed at either end of the mall, annual petting zoos were held inside (near Sears), and life-sized Christmas dioramas, complete with spun-fiberglass snow and plastic reindeer added a warm touch to any holiday season.
In front of Howlands, a strikingly large, multi-tiered fountain, surrounded by a lounge area reminiscent of an amphitheater, provided a non-commercial community space at the center of the mall. The mere existence of the fountain was a testament to a culture less sterile than is typical of today's suburban malls. The fountain was also noteworthy in that it took up a large amount of space for something that was entirely aesthetic, communal, and non-commercial.
It was possible, at the fountain's heydey, to see children wading in its putrid water, picking over its greenish pennies in search of quarters to be used at the Dream Machine arcade situated at the end of the food court. By the mid-80s, the fountain, along with Howlands, had disappeared, and was replaced by more commercial spaces such as a Sunglass Hut and various wheeled kiosks.
First signs of competition
Methuen, being a border city of New Hampshire, has always been at a disadvantage due to New Hampshire's lack of a sales tax, compared to Massachusetts's 5.0% (now 6.25%) sales tax. However, for many years, the Methuen Mall competed very well with its cross-border counterpart, the Rockingham Mall, which was much smaller and did not contain the high-profile anchors that the Methuen Mall did. However, that changed in 1991 when the Mall at Rockingham Park opened next to the Rockingham Mall, which closed and was rebuilt into a "big box" center shortly after. The new mall was, and still is, the largest mall in New Hampshire. Although the prices were higher than those of the Methuen Mall, the allure of the big, two-storied mall with no sales tax attracted many previous customers of the Methuen Mall, especially during the Christmas shopping season, when the differences in crowds were very apparent. Sears would open a store in the new mall, but kept the Methuen store opened for the rest of its lease term, putting two locations within miles of each other. Other stores, including Jordan Marsh would move to the new mall upon or soon after its opening.
Attempt to survive
Around 1993, the now-defunct Ann & Hope moved into the space formerly occupied by Sears and became the mall's newest anchor store. These last years of the mall's existence brought in a lot of unique stores, who perhaps would not have had a chance to thrive in the mall's earlier, more successful days. Stores such as "Sheds Unlimited" heralded the mall's demise through their bizarre presence in a once thriving center for fashionable retail stores. Soon after that, they left the mall, leaving a huge empty space, both in the mall, and in the hopes of survival. In 1997, the mall decided to turn the empty space into a civic and convention center named the Valley Expo Center. The center's first event was an all-night rave. This gave the mall its nickname "Crystal Meth-uen Mall". Apparently, most adult Methuenites were unaware of what a rave actually was and when the news reports surfaced after the event, the community was outraged. The center held a couple other events, mostly trade shows, and soon fizzled out. The only business left at the mall at this time was an Applebee's with an exterior entrance. The owners at this time were looking to completely demolish the building and build something new. Applebee's, however, did not want to leave. Their lease wasn't up, and being the only sit-down restaurant in the area, they were actually making money. Without any other options, the mall owners demolished the rest of the mall, leaving just the space occupied by Applebee's. After a long court battle , Applebee's finally did leave. Applebee's initially declined to open in one of the new freestanding restaurants on the site, but eventually built a new freestanding restaurant about a block away in 2005. However, it abruptly closed in September 2010, and in early 2012 Joe's Crab Shack moved into the location, but also closed in 2015, replaced by the first New England location of Brick House Tavern (which is owned by the same company as Joe's Crab Shack) in early 2016.
When the Methuen Mall finally closed, the city of Methuen took a huge financial hit, seeing property tax revenue fall from US$60 million annually to US$18 million annually for the site alone. In 1999, the land was redeveloped by The Brickstone Companies into the first of their branded shopping centers named The Loop after the loop made by the highways that surround it. The new, non-enclosed shopping center has no real anchor stores, but is highlighted by a Stop & Shop, Home Depot, AMC Theatres, and Marshall's, as well as about two dozen smaller businesses, including the Gap and Pearle Vision, stores that were in the original Methuen Mall. Borders had a location in The Loop, but it closed upon their 2011 bankruptcy when the whole company went out of business.
- Deadmalls.com write up on the mall
- The Loop Shopping Center
- The Wilder Companies
- Write-up on court case between Methuen Mall owners and Applebee's