"It's happenin' now at
Penn Can Mall!"
-Penn Can Mall History-
Penn Can Mall opened on March 25, 1976 after nearly two years of construction by the Winmar Company of Seattle, WA and Eagan Real Estate. The phone book listed the mall as “Penn Can Shopping Mall, Circle Drive, Clay, NY 13041 – (315) 458-4917”, although (according to the large towering sign shown on the main page) the mall was actually in the town of Cicero, NY. Penn Can was the first enclosed mall built on the north side of Syracuse. The mall was built with room for 86 regular stores and one anchor store (which was originally Sears) and had a smaller upper level which contained a 3 screen movie theater, a restaurant, an arcade, several small stores, and the mall offices. The center of the mall contained a large antique clock where shoppers would often meet their family or friends. By the time the 1977 issue of the Dickman Directory came out, only 28 stores were listed as being in the mall. By the same time the following year, that number moved up to 72. On October 24, 1983, Hills opened on the north side of the mall to become the second anchor store. On October 31, 1984, Marketplace Mall opened right across the road (Hogan Drive S.). Marketplace was a much smaller mall and was considered more of an "outlet center", so it did not take away from Penn Can’s business. On September 18, 1986, Chappell's opened as the anchor store on a new wing on the east side of the mall. The new wing, which extended the food court and included many smaller stores, opened on November 12, 1986. Penn Can Mall was more popular than ever. In 1989, the Wilmorite Company forged a partnership with Eagan which (among other things) gave them control over Penn Can. The 1989 issue of the Dickman Directory had 121 stores listed in the mall, which at this time employed about 3000 people, and it seemed like the mall would keep growing and growing.
Penn Can saw a slight drop in shoppers when Great Northern Mall opened in September of 1988 and a less significant drop in January 1990 when New York state banned smoking inside indoor malls. However, the beginning of the end did not come until Carousel Mall opened in September of 1990. Slowly but surely, fewer shoppers came to Penn Can and stores were leaving on a more regular basis. In 1992, Penn Can tried to remodel the mall with an “old movie” theme, including “old movie” style posters promoting the mall. During my 2002 tour, I found posters in the upstairs offices that showed pictures of a planned renovation of the mall (with “An American Folk Art Theme”) that was supposed to have been completed in the summer of 1993. Obviously, this never happened and stores started leaving on a more regular basis. By 1996, Bryant & Stratton, which was now located in the upper level of the mall, stayed open for several months (presumably to finish their current semester). The other wings of the mall were roped off, and one could only come in a single entrance and go straight upstairs to Bryant & Stratton. The Sears wing was now occupied by Burlington Coat Factory and Office Max, which both stayed open for several years. Hills also stayed open for several years and was purchased by Ames in 1999. For about 4 years after it closed, the mall was relatively unguarded and was broken into and vandalized on several occasions. Wilmorite kept insisting that they would tear down the mall and turn it into a strip mall, but never did. The Equitable Companies (which is an investor in malls from New York City) assumed control of the mall from Wilmorite and sold it to Land Lease Real Estate of Atlanta in the summer of 1998. Hired by Land Lease, LaSalle Partners became the new managers of the mall and planned to lease out the stores on a month-to-month basis, which also never happened. In late 2000, Roger Burdick purchased the property and slowly turned it into an “Auto Mall”. The newer east wing and center court of the mall are now part of the Auto Mall, but the two side wings of the mall have been completely torn down. The famous clock still stands in the middle of center court.
The clock was built in Boston, MA in 1876. It spent 3 years in Boston and was then shipped to Tacoma, WA to stand on the base of a pier near a mall. When Land Lease bought the mall in 1998, Wilmorite took the clock to Shoppingtown Mall and put it in storage. In 2000, the Burdick Auto Dealership bought the clock and brought it back to Penn Can to be cleaned and reconditioned. It was then put back up in 2003 and still stands as a reminder of the old Penn Can Mall, and a time when you would tell your friends or family to “meet you at the clock”.
Sources: Syracuse Post Standard, The Dickman Directory and my own memory. Thanks to Kelly K. for her help in editing this page.
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