Tuesday, October 24, 2006

au revoir, hometown mall

White Woods Mall, RIP
Amherstburg can join the list of towns across North America that have a dead mall. After 30 years, most of them known as Fort Malden Mall, White Woods Mall will breathe its last within the next few months, to be replaced with a power centre anchored by the Bentonville Behemoth.

For most of its life, the mall was filled with small local businesses and Windsor-based chains. Few national retailers passed through its doors over the first half of its life.

The original portion of the mall, the east corridor, opened in 1976, with A&P and The Met (Metropolitan stores) as its anchors. The Met was a second-tier discount chain owned by Gendis, who later converted it to a SAAN store. For several years, both chains operated across the street from each other. Don't really remember much about the Met, other than Dad used to pick up cutout records there and Amy and I had childhood portraits taken there. It was considered ultra-low-end shopping by late childhood. The only other Met locations I ever remember seeing were in Leamington (in a plaza that later housed No Frills) and Wallaceburg.

White Woods Mall, Southeast Entrance
The southeast entrance. The Met once occupied this entire portion of the mall, but the space was carved up when it became SAAN. Mark's Work Wearhouse occupied the near-corner for a time.

SAAN Iluminated
The interior entrance to SAAN. In its Met days, this was a typical, wide-open frontage.

PharmaPlus On The Move
Over the years, the drug store was home to Fort Malden Drug Mart (whose logo was similar to the black & white Shoppers symbol), Shoppers Drug Mart, vacancy, Pharmasave and PharmaPlus...which was nearing completion of its new location uptown when these pictures were taken.

***

After a 28-year run, A&P closed its doors in 2004. The store was aging and its prices did not compete well with two other town grocers that had undergone major changes: No Frills (formerly Valu-Mart) and Sobeys (formerly Rocco's). My family had not shopped there regularly for years, preferring to grab most of our groceries in Windsor.

Ironically, I shot these pictures in what would have been the store's 30th anniversary month. Happy birthday - let's look at the ruins!

White Woods Mall, Northeast Entrance
The northeast entrance to the mall, next to A&P. The RBC branch will move into its own outlot, where the initial demolition is occurring.

Ghost of an A&P
The front of the store, where the grocery pick-up was located. I used to love playing with the rollers, giving our order a push in the large red bins.

We're Not Fresh Obsessed
The interior entrance, with the mall announcement board. Note the empty phones and early-days-of-Ontario-Sunday-Shopping hours.

No Skating
I have my doubts as to how well this sign is obeyed.

Not-so-Fresh Produce
The remnants of the produce section, on the south side of the store. I don't recall this layout, so I suspect it dates to the early-to-mid 90s. Growing up, this was the bakery section, full of middling-looking Jane Parker products. The meat section was along the north end, with produce to the east. The main A&P products I remember buying were snack crackers and giant tins of fruit drinks (mostly pineapple-orange to guzzle, or fruit punch for Mom's punch). This was also were we used to buy the world's lowliest soft drink, Chateau Cola, which tasted like syrup with a little water added and require a beer opener to puncture drinking holes for a straw.

***

The Last Flea Markets Demolition Corridor
On the northeast door, a list of the last Sunday flea markets was posted. Growing up, these occurred monthly and later alternated/were mixed in with antique or sport card shows. I built various collections through these sales over the years, from Dad going through stamps (from a dealer based out of the Yonge-Eg area) to me building up my collection of 70s hockey cards and comics.

The closed-off section on the right is the north corridor, where the demolition started. Halfway down is where the original mall leads into the early 80s addition, the entire west half of the building. Unfortunately, most of my interior shots of this side of the mall didn't turn out, but Labelscar has pictures from 2004 in its profile of the mall.

North Side Demolition
What remains of the north corridor from the outside. The north side was home to a steady turnover of store in front, a workshop for the mentally challenged in back.

***

Projections Crane View
Two views of the northwest anchor space. Originally, it was the Garrison Cinemas, then closed after a few years, then reopened with a massive advertising campaign as the Bijou, which quickly gave way to the Fort Malden Cinemas. The earliest movies I clearly remember seeing there were Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Great Muppet Caper. Amy and I occasionally went to Saturday matinees, usually with whatever oddball kid flick the management could dig up. One that sticks in my mind: The Christmas Martian, my introduction to (dubbed) Quebecois cinema. Evenings, the theatre was a first-run two-plex in all of its incarnations. It closed for good around 1988-89 - I think the last movie I saw there was The Naked Gun.

After that, it became the town bingo hall. If you belonged to a high school organization or team, it was almost inevitable that you had to work a fundraising shift or two at the smoke-clogged bingo. Non-smoking area? Hah! Players would sit with half-a-dozen dabblers and mounds of rabbit's feet, puffing away as the numbers were called. After I headed off to university, the space did a 180, as the bingo was replaced by the relocated town medical clinic.

White Woods Mall, Northwest Entrance
The northwest entrance. The Buck or Two location saw a steady stream of bargain stores over the years - Big Top, Bargain Harold's, BiWay, etc. I applied for a job at BiWay before it opened, but failed the required multiple-choice personality test - it seemed I was too honest to work for BiWay. The Book Bin was next door, with the mall restaurant nearby (Gary's for most of my childhood).

Ghost of Reitmans
The former Reitman's store in the south corridor, dating from the early 90s.

Total Fitness
Finally, the southwest entrance and the only part of the mall that may remain when demolition is finished, Total Fitness. Though it has undergone several name changes, starting with Vintage Courts, the health club was the steadiest tenant in the west side of the mall.

***

For the first few years after I left town for university, little changed. I'd come home and it felt like a time warp. Then slowly, I noticed the odd business closed or in a new location, new equipment in parks and the trees looking much taller in my old neighbourhood. The century turns and boom! Local factories shut. Large grocers step in. Long vacant buildings downtown come down to be replaced by condos.

Even though I could count on one hand the number of times I'd been in Fort Malden/White Woods Mall since I stopped dropping off high school yearbook pictures for developing, its looming disappearance is the thunderbolt that shows my childhood landscape is starting its vanishing act.

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