Amid holiday hoopla, silent nights for Hanover Mall
HANOVER — The hollow sound of recorded music bounces off the bare storefronts of Hanover Mall as loudspeakers pump out All-4-One’s 1990s hit “I Swear.”
For better or worse, till death do us part, I’ll love you with every beat of my heart.
But there is almost no one around to hear the vow.
On Black Friday, a day of frenzied consumerism, this old mall off Route 53 will be eerily empty. It’s set to soon be torn down to make way for a complex of stores, restaurants, and apartments called Hanover Crossing. Meanwhile, the space remains open to the public, even though nearly all of its shops are closed. Most days, a smattering of mall walkers come in for exercise while a few maintenance workers make preparations for the demolition.
“It’s kind of depressing,” said Miriam Maslanik, who stopped in on a blustery day to take a stroll with her mother. “It’s like the hand of time pulling back the curtain.”
The only big retailer left inside the old mall is Macy’s, which will remain following the redevelopment planned by PREP Property Group of Ohio. The company envisions a retail area with outdoor storefronts, sidewalks, and patches of green bounded by plenty of parking. Think Legacy Place in Dedham or Colony Place in Plymouth.
Many malls have made way for this type of development in recent years — they’re sometimes called “lifestyle centers” — but Hanover, which opened in 1971, has been in suspended animation for years. It hasn’t been anywhere near full occupancy since before the Great Recession, and the stores that survived have been filing out since 2016, when its new owner announced plans to rebuild.
But Hanover Mall also isn’t quite dead yet; it’s more like the place is on life support. The daily scene is somewhere between commercial and funereal. A rare spot of vitality remains in the sun-splashed atrium, where pothos, bamboo, and ivy have grown thick in their planters.
“Everything changes, right? Nothing stays the same,” Cheryl Getty said as she walked through the nearly empty structure with her husband, Bob.
The couple used to take their kids here to sit on Santa’s lap. Now they’ve all grown up. On a recent morning, the Gettys stopped in to stretch their legs. The walking’s still good, even if the shopping’s not.
In a sure sign that the end is near, the retailers who hung on during the long years of decline are pulling their security grates down for good, their darkened windows advertising only the addresses of the stores’ new locations.
Janet Bibeau, owner of the children’s bookstore Storybook Cove, was one of the last holdouts. She said business really dropped off when Walmart — one of the mall’s anchor stores — left in late October.
Until then, she said, the mall had been good to her business. The lease was flexible and affordable, and for a time there was still enough foot traffic to make things work. She heard from other merchants about the mall’s short-lived heyday a generation ago, when it was a retail attraction that drew shoppers from miles away.
“People talk about the days when it was full of people,” she said. “It’s been good, but it’s not like it was in the ’70s and ’80s.” Back then, however, the closest mall competition was the much larger South Shore Plaza in Braintree, and online shopping did not exist.
Bibeau has moved her business to a space behind 775 Washington St. in Hanover, about a mile and a half down Route 53.
Old-school malls such as Hanover have been dying for decades, a spiral that accelerated with the rise of Amazon and other online retailers. Customers who still like to shop in person prefer stores they can drive up to, rather than those that require a stroll though a massive enclosed space. It’s the reversal of a trend from earlier times, when people became enthralled by the idea of not having to brave the elements to go shopping.
Hanover Mall, with about 800,000 square feet of commercial space, never had the draw — or the marquee brands — of regional behemoths such as South Shore Plaza and Northshore Mall.
But for people who lived nearby, malls like this were at the center of suburban life, a kind of community gathering place.
Joanne Smith, of Norwell, grew up in New Jersey, a land of many malls. Walking through the husk of Hanover Mall recently, she recalled the important role malls played in teens’ social lives during the 1980s and 1990s.
“Basically, your parents drove you there and you were on your own, and you felt very independent,” Smith said. She reminisced about going to the mall to meet boys, or sometimes just to see who else was there. “We didn’t have cellphones, so the mall was just a cool place to hang,” she said.
Smith has four children between the ages of 11 and 15. They don’t need to travel to find out what their friends are up to. That’s reflected in their shopping habits.
“Now, it’s just, ‘I’m going to the mall because I have to go to the Apple store’ or whatever,” Smith said. “They’re using their devices to socialize. A lot of times they don’t even need to be in the same room together, which to me is odd.”
PREP Property Group hasn’t said when it’s going to knock down the old mall. The project remains before the local planning board, which could decide on the proposal next month.
The company’s plans call for building 600,000 square feet of commercial space — less than in the existing structure. It would also include four, four-story buildings with 297 apartments.
While many of the old mall classics are gone for good (there’s no pretzel stand in the current plans), the developers would keep some of the attractions that have endured. The movie theater is slated to remain open during construction, and a cinema complex is planned.
Several detached structures on the property (including Trader Joe’s and Buffalo Wild Wings) are also set to remain.
On the small second floor of the existing mall, general manager Ed Callahan has his hands full with preparations for closing it and opening the new complex. He has run the property for almost 25 years, and in a way, he said, it’s a wonder Hanover Mall lasted as long as it did.
On top of the market pressures all malls have to cope with, Hanover Mall faced a specific set of financial challenges.
In 2008, Walton Street Capital paid $100 million for the property, when it was nearly 98 percent leased. But just two years later, the company was hit with foreclosure proceedings amid a rash of retail bankruptcies, and the mall wound up in the hands of its bankers.
All the while, the storefronts were becoming more difficult to lease as shoppers’ interest waned.
“It’s been sad to see the downfall, never mind reminiscing about the past,” Callahan said. “But it has to be done.”
Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.