Chris Palmer's Commentary

Posted September 12, 2010 (user submitted)

In Wayne, New Jersey, the stretch of Hamburg Turnpike between Church Lane and Alps Road is perhaps as close to a shoppers' heaven as one can possibly find. The former T-Bowl Shopping Center (now known as Wedgewood Plaza after T-Bowl moved out) and a Marshalls/Cost Cutters strip are on one side of the road and the Berdan and Preakness shopping centers, the latter of which includes a standalone Macy's anchor and the new T-Bowl, occupy one several block-long lot on the other side.

Among the large centers lies a long-forgotten T-shaped mall that has been dying a slow and painful death since the mid-1990s. The Wayne Hills Mall, at the time one of three indoor malls located in Wayne (soon to be two with the de-malling of Wayne Towne Center), is its name and it has been in a slow state of decline for quite awhile.

What made Wayne Hills Mall unique, perhaps, was the fact that the entire complex did not consist of just the mall. A strip adjacent to the main mall housed a Pathmark supermarket and a Kmart store, while almost directly across from the mall's main entrance was a building that, in addition to housing the offices of the mall's management company, was home to a Child World toy store.

The mall's anchor store for many years was Meyer Brothers, an independent department store whose Wayne location was its second- for many years Meyer Brothers was located in downtown Paterson, New Jersey, and continued to operate there until a massive fire destroyed the store in 1991. At various times the mall was home to a Consumers store, a SaveMart electronics store, Pearle Vision Center, TCBY, Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips, Fayva, Kinney, Karins Kurtains (a drapery store) and several other stores.

In 1992, the mall lost one of its major tenants thanks to Child World's collapse and liquidation. Mall management recruited Toys R Us to replace them and the store remains open today. Then in 1995 the mall's anchor, Meyer Brothers, went out of business. Burlington Coat Factory moved in after a while and remains the current mall anchor.

As the mall started the 2000s, most of its stores were occupied. Among its tenants were, in addition to Toys R Us, Pathmark, Kmart, and Burlington Coat Factory, were Foot Locker (which had actually opened a second location and moved across the mall; the original store remains vacant and untouched since the move), Avenue, McDonald's, Champs Sports, Fun Palace (the mall's long operating arcade), Joyce Leslie, Ruki Jewelers, Colorama Photo, Joyce Leslie, The Town Mouse card store, Payless, Blimpie, two hair salons, a nail salon, GNC, Waldenbooks, Payless Shoes, a watch kiosk named Watch Tower and a pizza parlor.

Slowly over time, the stores began to close. The first to go, surprisingly, was the busy Pathmark, which closed in 2001 and left the mall without one of its anchor stores and the area without a food store until the Stop & Shop opened in Preakness Shopping Center in 2003 (Wayne still had a Shop-Rite and A&P in the vicinity, both of which still operate).

The decline was precipitated following that as the loss of the Pathmark greatly affected traffic to the mall. Blimpie and the pizza parlor closed their doors in 2003. In 2005, after a standalone store was built down Hamburg Turnpike, the McDonald's closed after many years of business. Joyce Leslie went quietly later that year. Despite the closings the mall opened a Quiznos and another pizza restaurant (Pauly's, which had previously been located in Willowbrook Mall). Only one of those, the Quiznos, is still open.

The lower end of the mall then lost its remaining store tenants in 2006. After a restructuring and purchase by Trans World Entertainment, Sam Goody began closing its mall based stores including the one at Wayne Hills. The arcade closed as well, and after being the lone holdout the Avenue store closed later that year. This left the Watch Tower kiosk as the only tenant in the lower end of the mall.

Ruki Jewelers, located at center court, then decided to fold, but their going out of business sale dragged for several months due to a lack of mall traffic. The store finally closed its doors in late 2006. Colorama Photo, its neighbor, also closed in 2006 after the chain decided to consolidate its operations to its Willowbrook Mall store.

Champs Sports closed its Wayne Hills Mall location in early 2007 citing a lack of business. The Town Mouse card store, one of the mall's older tenants, would also close later that year.

In 2008, the remaining hair salon (Cutting Crew) closed suddenly and without warning, leaving many of its customers baffled.

Watch Tower moved from the kiosk to one of the vacant stores located nearer to Burlington Coat Factory in late 2007, but moved out of the mall in mid-2008 and is now located in the Packanack Lake Shopping Center on Route 23.

Today, Wayne Hills Mall is a shell of its former self. None of the stores past Foot Locker on one side of the mall and past Burlington Coat Factory on the other are open. GNC, the nail salon, Foot Locker, Quiznos, Payless, and Waldenbooks are still located inside the mall (although all of their statuses remain in question) and Kmart and Toys R Us remain outside. Chase Bank and Columbia Savings Bank (with an interior mall location) join them, and an LA Fitness gym opened in 2006 in the old Pathmark space (which had laid vacant since its closure). It is unclear what the future of the mall holds- Wayne township leaders, including then-mayor Scott Rumana, said that they were looking into a redevelopment of the mall as early as 2007, but there has yet to be any movement on that front. Meanwhile, most of the stores in the mall lay vacant, with "space for rent" signs hanging in most of them. Whether or not those will eventually be filled, only time will tell.

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