Rest in Peace, Eastfield Mall
The Eastfield Mall has officially passed into history.
And this passing certainly prompts some reflection — on what has been and what is to come at the sprawling site on Wilbraham Road.
As for what has been … well, the mall was something of a marvel when it opened back in 1968. This region hadn’t seen anything quite like it. The indoor mall was new and totally captivating.
Someone could park the car once and go shopping, get a meal at one of several restaurants (including the famous Flaming Pit), get a haircut, watch a movie, take a walk, do some people watching … all of that and more.
Before Eastfield, people went downtown to shop, be it in Springfield, Holyoke, Westfield, Chicopee, Amherst, or Northampton, visiting a host of different stores and buildings as they did so. This was a completely different kind of experience, and the mall drew people from all across the region.
Eastfield ceased being a wonder in relatively short order. Other malls, which collectively doomed the region’s downtowns, save for Northampton’s (and even it struggled until the early ’80s) were built in downtown Springfield (Tower Square, then known as Baystate West, was a center for retail), Chicopee, Hadley, and Holyoke. It was the Holyoke Mall, which was much bigger and featured many more stores, that pushed Eastfield to second-tier status.
Still, Eastfield persevered on the strength of its anchors and an eclectic mix of national and local stores and remained a destination.
Until … the retail world started to change dramatically, especially with the advent of online shopping. One by one, the anchors, including Sears and JCPenney, disappeared from Eastfield — and many other sites as well. Then, the theaters closed, and some of the smaller shops did as well. While other malls found new uses for their retail spaces — everything from trampoline parks to bowling alleys — Eastfield struggled to do so.
Eventually, its massive, all-but-empty parking lot became a symbol of a changing retail landscape.
For years, there has been talk about what will come next at the site — a 21st-century facility that will be mixed-use, blending a residential component with retail, hospitality, and support businesses. Work on demolition will begin soon, and construction on what is expected to be a $65 million to $85 million facility will commence soon after.
Meanwhile, most of the 40 or so businesses and nonprofits that were in the mall have found new homes. Many have relocated to other sites in Springfield, but others have put down roots in surrounding communities, including Wilbraham, Ludlow, and Holyoke.
This is a developing story, and an intriguing chapter in the Eastfield story, one in which the businesses that gave the mall its character and charm will live on.
As for the mall itself, it will live on in memories. Like old ballparks, malls (most of them anyway) can’t become something else. They have to be destroyed because their useful life is over.
This was a sad but predictable, and inevitable, end for what had been, and still is in some ways, a landmark.
Rest in peace, Eastfield Mall.