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Party of one Shopping for answers to mall’s future

February 21, 2019

I rarely mention the Stamford Town Center in this space. The few times I do, it is usually in passing and with the mockery I think it deserves. It’s a shopping mall, after all. How reverent can one be about a bazaar of cell phone accessories, teenybopper clothing, and gadgets that slice and dice but still can’t properly fold a contour sheet?

Yet almost every mention I’ve made over the years of the Stamford Town Center has been followed by a note or phone call from a member of mall management complaining about my sullying of its property and/or tenants. If only the workers at the Apple store there cared that much about what I had to say. But with the recent news of five more stores there closing and a bigger, fancier mall opening later this year in Norwalk, maybe my criticism should be more considered and constructive. I shall try.

The mall — and I shall refer to it as “the mall” because a former editor of mine was fond of saying, “Stamford is not a town and that place is definitely not its center” — opened in 1982. This marked the latter stages of the downtown “urban renewal” effort to clear out low-rent housing and bring higher paying life into a beleaguered business district. But with almost no obvious entrances for foot traffic or visible windows, the mall resembled less of a place for frivolous spending and more of an impenetrable fortress. If you lived through the 1970s here, that strategy at the time made total sense.

Part of this was corrected a quarter century later when the section along Tresser Boulevard was redone to successfully create a livelier, more inviting restaurant plaza area. Meanwhile, the Broad Street side, where original anchor tenant Macy’s still resides and many more passersby actually pass by, remains a barren concrete barrier that makes international borders jealous. You’d think by now Macy’s would have finagled some faux windows for seasonal displays. At a minimum, it should project “Miracle on 34th Street” on that dingy wall nonstop from Black Friday to New Year’s Eve.

Cars were, and still are, the main mode of transportation to the mall which explains why the parking garage was, and still is, the best in town. Multiple entrances and exits! Wide travel lanes and parking spaces! Oh, and the acoustics! The ceilings, resembling the coat of aging sheepdog, muffle engine roars and tire squeals with an efficiency that should be reserved for cable news panels. I am disappointed the corkscrew ramp in the rear leading to top floors has long been closed. Millennials with deep credit lines would be lined up for blocks if it was converted into a thrilling luge ride.

Still, many locals complain about having to pay to park at the Stamford mall. For those upset at the dollar for two hours price, why not set up the meter stations to be more like slot machines. They can occasionally pay off in a free space or a coupon for one of those Wetzel’s Pretzels hot dogs because those, my good businesspeople, are a mall skinflint’s filet mignon.

As for what’s inside ... well, it’s a mall. Same Victoria’s Secret, same Gap, same Lids you’ll never enter but still find in most other malls like it. Some find this comforting, some find it infuriating, I find what I really need online.

In terms of décor and architecture the place looks pretty much like it did when it opened 37 years ago. Lots of polished metal and marble, lots of white walls, lots of escalators and side stairs all built around a carpeted amphitheater pit that I refuse to make an obvious joke about here. At least the place has gotten rid of that roaming mime problem that plagued it when the mall served as a main set for the 1991 Bette Midler/Woody Allen film “Scenes from a Mall.” Who says progress is impossible?

Stamford native and resident Kevin McKeever, whose nationally award-winning column appears here every other Friday, is a freelance writer for hire. Email him at kevin@writeonkevin.com.