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Forever 128

Risks are high when a mall changes its name

A designer’s rendering depicts how the former Chestnut Hill Shopping Center — recently renamed The Street — is expected to look after a $50 million overhaul is completed.

WS Development

A designer’s rendering depicts how the former Chestnut Hill Shopping Center — recently renamed The Street — is expected to look after a $50 million overhaul is completed.

What’s wrong with simply calling the latest retail hot spot a mall or shopping center?

Well, if you are one of the developers building a new generation of luxury retail bazaars in communities along the Route 128 corridor, apparently everything.

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The Street is not a new action film, or some online tip site featuring hot stocks. Instead, it is WS Development’s new name for the old Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, at the Newton-Brookline border on Route 9, which is in the midst of a dramatic, $50 million revamp.  

And it’s also part of a larger trend in which “mall” and “shopping center” are fast becoming retro terms replaced by more upscale designations, such as square, place, marketplace, and, now, street.

Not far from the former Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, another local company, New England Development, is turning the old Omni Foods retail center into Chestnut Hill Square, a mix of specialty shops, restaurants, housing, and office spaces.

WS Development also has Legacy Place in Dedham, and its MarketStreet Lynnfield complex is slated for completion at the end of next year.

“The project has a new, powerful, cutting-edge configuration and group of specialty shops, dining establishments and entertainment,” David Fleming, corporate marketing director for WS Development, said of the revamped Chestnut Hill center.

“Rebranding it as The Street more accurately reflects the sophisticated offerings and urban experience our customers can find here.”  

But while shoppers may like the glitzy stores and restaurants in these sleek new retail centers, there’s reason to wonder whether they will take to the flashy new names at some of the malls.

A short drive along Route 9 from Chestnut Hill to Natick can provide an example of how a hip-sounding new name can backfire.

General Growth Properties, a national mall giant, learned this lesson the hard way back in 2007 when it discarded the decades-old Natick Mall name in favor of the Natick Collection.

It was part of a dramatic overhaul of the 1960s-era mall that brought a bevy of trendy new stores and restaurants, as well as a condominium tower next door sporting downtown-Boston-style luxury units.

The stores and restaurants have done just fine. But the Nouvelle at Natick condo complex had to scrap its pretensions and halve its prices to get buyers — one penthouse on the market for more than $1.6 million sold at auction for $626,000 — while the mall’s new name didn’t do much better.

The Natick Collection, with no apparent reference in its name to its role as a retail complex, caused a lot of head scratching, and most people kept on calling it by its old name.

General Growth finally got the drift, quietly switching back to the original last year. No press releases this time around to alert its customers to the change.

“It didn’t resonate with them, and quite frankly a lot of them never stopped calling it the Natick Mall,” said J. Lynn Josephson, the mall’s marketing manager. “We thought it was appropriate to return back to our roots.”

The new name, among other things, was simply confusing for shoppers, said William Cronin, senior vice president at New England Development.  

After all, who has ever gone shopping at a collection?

“I don’t know what the collection means,” Cronin said. “I am not saying that from a professional standpoint, but from a customer standpoint.”

So will The Street face the same fate?

Certainly taking Chestnut Hill out of the name was a bold move — it’s as upscale a place name as you will get, while also telling you where it is.

But Dick Marks, an executive vice president and partner at WS Development, offered up a case for the change.

This wasn’t some spur-of-the-moment decision, he said, but rather the product of two years of internal brainstorming and outside consulting help as well. Nor is he concerned that The Street could prove confusing to potential shoppers not sure what it is.

Legacy Place was also a new name, but after two years in business, there is no uncertainty about its offerings among local shoppers. The same will be true, contends Marks, of The Street.

“I think as soon as people experience, as soon as they come to The Street, they will associate that experience with the name,” he said.

Nor is the Chestnut Hill name being discarded, he said, but will be displayed prominently as a tagline in the complex’s signs.

Moreover, there was also little sense in having a third shopping venue in the area with Chestnut Hill as part of its name, Marks noted, pointing to the Mall at Chestnut Hill and Chestnut Hill Square, slated to open next fall.

And frankly, calling it a shopping center just wasn’t going to cut it any longer, Marks said.

“I don’t think that name, shopping center, really distinguishes you,” he noted.

Shoppers will likely have the final say.

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at ­sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com.
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