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                CAMILLUS MALL: CAMILLUS, NY

Chuck Burke's Commentary:

Posted August 4, 2005 (user submitted)

Camillus Mall's life as an enclosed mall was only about half of that development's life. Camillus Plaza was built in the early 60's on the site of a former drive-in theater. By the mid 70's, it was home to 2 grocery stores, JC Penny's, Witherills (a local discount department store) and a large Anderson Little clothing store, along with the usual assortment of small shops and boutiques. A former Grants store in one corner of the plaza had been partially occupied by a small catalog-based store, similar to Service Mechandise. The larger portion of the Grants shell was occupied in 1979 by a Price Chopper supermarket, in which I worked for 3 years. One of the original grocery stores in the plaza, Great American had closed a year earlier.

In late 1980, work began on an enlcosed expansion, which was attached to the plaza through the Anderson Little store. Anderson Little received a prominent location in the newly-rename Camillus Mall, across from the 2-screen movie theater. The expansion was anchored by a K-Mart at the far end.

In summer of 1982, work started on enclosing most of the old strip plaza as part of the mall. This included demolition of the old Witherills store at one end, to be replaced by a Hess department store. This took longer than building the original expansion, as I recall in 1984, when I was working in the Radio Shack at the mall, they finally had the ribbon-cutting for the completed Camillus Mall.

Also, in August 1982, the Price Chopper store closed, when Hill's bought out the remaining 27 years of their 30 year lease, and I lost my job there. (no problem, I was leaving for college at the end of the month) Hills occupied all of the original Grants store space. The closed Great American store had become a rollerskating rink by this time. The other grocery store, P&C, moved out of their space in the old strip plaza into a free standing building, still on the mall property. It remains there to this day.

Sears was added as part of a small expansion in the mid-80's. during which time there was a major fight with local authorities over signage: the Sears store was at the back of the property, and not visible from the road running past the Mall. They wanted a store out front, which local ordinances forbade. This was the beginning of Camillus' reputation as a community unfriendly to developers.

In the late 80's, Hess department stores went under, and their space was taken over by Chappell's, a local department store chain. This was, in turn, bought out by Bon-Ton, which still has their store on this spot, the last vestige of the mall. They claim it is one of their most profitable stores, probably because there is no competition in the Camillus area now.

In 1990, Carousel Center opened less than 10 miles away. JC Penny was one of the anchors there, which spelled the end of the Camillus Mall Penny's store - they closed when their lease expired in the mid-90's. K-Mart closed the Camillus store during one of their rounds of financial problems, citing the proximity of Hills, and the Ames store 2 miles down the road as too much competition for the then-struggling chain. Silo, a large appliance and electronics store, had moved in during the enclosure of the old strip plaze, but closed in the mid 90's when the company pulled out of Syracuse. The Mall added an 8-screen theater in it's place, adding to the original 2-screen theater in the first expansion. When Ames bought Hills, they closed the, by then 15 year old, store at Camillus. This left the mall with 2 anchors - Sears and Bon-Ton. By the fall of 1999, Sears announced they were leaving, with plans to open a new store at Carousel Commons, which was to be a strip mall adjacent to Carousel Center. (this

Wilmorite, the long-time owner/developer of Camillus Mall, finally sold it off in 2003. The local school district bought part of the land, including the K-Mart building, and relocated their bus garage there. The rest of the mall, except for the Bon-Ton store, was demolished in 2004. Work has now begin on the Camillus Commons, a new development to include a Wal-Mart SuperCenter and a Lowes Home Improvement store. They are trying to bring in other businesses as well, while keeping the development pedestrian-friendly.

Why did Camillus Mall die?

  1. Competition. The Syracuse area had no less than 8 malls in the early 80's. By the late 80's, two more major ones had been built, one of which was less than 10 miles away, even as a couple of the older, smaller ones were dying off. It's hard to get and keep stores when they have so many potential locations.
  2. Movie theaters. The Camillus area did not have a first-run movie theater until 1981, when the 2-screen theater in Camillus Mall opened. The people here were accustomed to travelling to see their movies, and they are creatures of habit. Waiting 10 years before adding more screens was foolish. The 8 screens that were added survived nearly until the end of the mall, but never seemed to do much business.
  3. Demographics. Camillus is a town where people come to live out their lives. My parents moved there in 1976, their next door neighbors in 1979. They are both still considered newcomers in their neighborhood. The demographics of Camillus are skewed toward the higher age brackets. Malls, and most of the stores that locate in them, are chasing the 25-50 demographic.

Pete Blackbird's Commentary:

(circa 2001)

The management of Camillus Mall saw where this ship was sailing, and decided to sink it before it ran ashore. Located in Camillus NY, the mall was built in a rather ponderous place. It's not easily accessible by an interstate, and there really isn't a high population density near the mall. However, it survived for quite some time considering it was built in 1966. The opening of the Carousel Center didn't kill Camillus as fast as it killed the Penn-Can mall in Cicero, but after time, Camillus' customer base eroded, and anchors started to leave.

Camillus Mall had all the right anchors too. Inside there was a JCPenney, Sears, K-Mart, Silo, and The Bon-Ton. There was also a Hills Department store in the nearby plaza (but it closed during the Ames Acquisition due to the large pre-existing Ames store in the nearby Fairmount Fair). With a lineup like that, the Camillus Mall was able to stay afloat for quite some time, but the mall never really recieved a facelift. Silo left in the late 80's or early 90's; JCPenney closed its store in the mid 90's, as did K-Mart. Smaller stores trickled out while others renovated, and the Camillus Mall became a mish-mash of healthy spots and dead spots. With only a two-screen movie theater, the mall sought to attract more traffic via the construction of a eight-screen Hoyts Cinemas in the old Silo space. It must be losing money daily, because I never see a soul there.

Sears remained open until some point in 2000. I came back to the mall to visit, and the mall was in the process of being totally demolished. I have pictures. I'm not sure if the Sears closed, and then demolition happened, or if Sears lease was simply not renewed. In any case, there were a lot of small stores still in business in that portion of the mall, but mall management must have been dazzled by the idea of making a big-box center, like Fairmount Fair, before the mall started showing losses. The last time I was there most of the smaller tenants had seen the writing on the wall, because the open portion of the mall was either vacant or contained secondary stores. My favorite Burger King on the planet (it received that title for the best based on taste, and the cute chicks working there) pulled out, as well as the Afterthougts, Lane Bryant, Charney's, Pet Shoppe, St. Claire's, and Radio Shack, which were in the demolished portion of the mall.

Soldiering on through the demolition are the Hoyts 8, Fannie Farmer, and Bon-Ton.

I would say that the most predictable plan for this property would be a Wal-Mart supercenter, or another big-box, due to the mall's suburban location. Neighboring Farmount Fair has had fantastic success with this route. At one point it was an enclosed mall (I missed that), but it was converted into a large Ames, P&C, Dicks Sporting Goods, and a small Wal-Mart (located in the former Caldor building, which I can verify with a picture). Apparently the local government strong-armed Wal-Mart into using this space. I'm sure Wally-world is eyeing the Camillus property for a new locaton, so I would suggest you see the Camillus Mall before it's butchered any further.

Elizabeth Zarella's Commentary:

Posted November 20, 2006 (user submitted)

What was once the Camillus Mall is now Camillus Commons. Nothing's left of the old mall building but the Bon-Ton store, which is now free-standing and is undergoing a facelift to cover an outdated facade and the scars from it's attachment to the demolished mall.

Pete, you called it -- there is now a Wal-Mart Supercenter on half of the mall property and a Lowe's on the other half. Denny's is still in its original location near the Bon-Ton, though it was completely renovated when the Wal-Mart was being built. There is now a temporary Bank of America housed in a trailer behind Denny's and ground has been broken to build a permanent bank building in a far corner of the Wal-Mart parking lot near P&C and Eckerd's. Since Rite-Aid just acquired Eckerd's I'm sure we'll be seeing some changes there soon, as well.

The Camillus Commons P&C, in an effort to compete with Wal-Mart's supermarket, has converted to a P&C Fresh Market. Supposedly this means that their produce and meat departments have been improved in some way, but I don't see a difference aside from the changed signage and shopping bags. Across Kasson Rd. from Wal-Mart is a new Cam's Pizza/Chinese restaurant, and at the corner of Kasson and W. Genesee is a new Jreck's Subs. The old Key Bank building across W. Genesee St. from Camillus Commons was torn down to make way for a strip mall housing Aspen Dental, Quizno's, and a pack-and-ship store, among others. A 24-hour Walgreens just opened up across from Camillus Commons and West Genesee High School at the corner of W. Genesee and Hinsdale, and the Post-Standard reports that soon we'll be getting a Moe's Southwest Grill/Dunkin' Donuts at the corner of Vanida and W. Genesee as well as another strip mall (though it wasn't mentioned what businesses it would house).

As for the old Wal-Mart property at Fairmount Fair that Pete mentioned, it's awaiting demolition and a Target will take its place in late 2007.

There was considerable community objection to the new developments at the old mall site. The old guard put up enough of a fight that they repelled 99 Restaurant (and later Wendy's) from opening up a store where the Dunkin' Donuts/Moe's will be, and they fought tooth and nail against the Wal-Mart (which, incidentally, is always packed with locals). I can say, though, that the Town of Camillus has done a decent job of ensuring that the new businesses and their signs are as aesthetically pleasing as possible. They've also widened W. Genesee St. and Kasson Rd. and put in new stoplights to provide for the slight increase in traffic. A lot of people (including me) wish we could get some bookstores, a movie theater, and some better restaurants out here. I guess we'll just have to be patient, though, since a large, upscale mixed-use development with all these things and more is said to be in the planning stages near Hinsdale Rd. and Rt. 5.

Bing Bird's Eye View:

Camillus mall from a satellite in space









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