In Concord, a changing mall heads into holiday shopping season

  • Ron Palmer plays with his daughter, Leena, in the trapeze pit at Altitude Trampoline Park in the Steeplegate Mall. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Sarah Palmer watches her son, Ronnie (center), play in a foam pit at Altitude Trampoline Park in Concord's Steeplegate Mall. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Ron Palmer plays with his son, Ronnie, in a foam pit at Altitude Trampoline Park in Concord’s Steeplegate Mall this week. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • The entrance to Sears in the mall on Tuesday. By GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/22/2018 7:47:26 PM

The noisiest corner of the Steeplegate Mall these days isn’t the food court or one of the two remaining anchors, but a trampoline park.

Even during a snowy morning earlier this week, the Altitude Trampoline Park – newly opened in the former home of Circuit City – had a few families present for toddler time.

Sarah and Ron Palmer kangerooed across a wide stretch of trampolines in pursuit of their children, the giggles of 5-year-old Leena and 4-year-old Ronnie proceeding them like a heralding band in Medieval times.

They, along with Sarah Palmer’s childhood friend, Leah Lundquist, and her children, took turns plunging into foam pits and encouraging their children to leap from trapezes and high dives.

The Capital City Charter School preceded the trampoline park by a few months, and founder Stephanie Alicea said a few of her students and their parents have taken to visiting the mall around drop off and pick up times.

But with retailers like Bon-Ton out and remaining anchors Sears and J.C. Penney struggling to stay in the game, it’s a different shopping experience on the Heights during this critical shopping season.

None of Concord’s large retailers feels the pressure more than Sears, which made a big investment going into the Thanksgiving week. According to Bloomberg, the bankrupt retailer secured a high-interest $350 million loan this week. That money is critical to keep its remaining stores – including, for now, the Concord location.

Many people who visited the mall this week said they were glad to see new uses popping up. But whether those new uses will drive traffic into mall stores and keep it afloat remains to be seen.

Tuesday was the first time Sarah Palmer, who grew up in Concord, had been to the trampoline park, and the first time in a while she’d been to the mall. She said the mall is too unreliable to make shopping trips.

“You’re lucky to find a pair of socks there,” she said, noting stores tend to leave with little fanfare.

Lundquist said she hadn’t been to the mall since getting her girls’ ears pierced a year ago. If she goes shopping, she usually hits up downtown, she said.

Both said they would use the mall more if it offered a variety of options.

Palmer said she usually heads to Manchester to entertain her children. Sometimes, she’ll even head to the Mall of New Hampshire to use its indoor play area, saying the space is open and clean and offers more things to do, like eating and shopping.

But Palmer she doesn’t want to spend a lot of money, and “every time you head below the tolls, anywhere has a whole bunch of people.”

Lundquist, leaning back, noted the mall has a lot of height. She thought a rock climbing gym, or other active options for children, would be a huge draw for the mall.

There’s certainly more children in the mall these days, albeit separated by a divider.

Alicea, who founded Capital City Charter School, said about six to eight students will usually hang out in the mall after school.

The school had Thanksgiving week off, but had they been in session, Alicea said you’d find her students at the food court and candy store, or occasionally at Hot Topic or Bath & Body Works. When their phone screens break, they head to Lum Hajdari’s cell phone repair shop.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, the school makes use of the food court, dominated by Hajadri’s pizza spot and Terrasini Pastry.

Kim Whalen, whose daughter attends the school and lives in Concord, said she walked around the mall the other day after sending her daughter to the park. She, too, said she rarely visits the mall.

“It was my first time since school started,” she said.

Like Palmer and Lundquist, Whalen said she thought more kid-friendly attractions are the answer to the mall’s problems. She noted many of the stores, like the Verizon retailer and the Gamestop, have duplicates in Concord.

“If I’m going to go to Gamestop, I’ll go to Fort Eddy Road,” she said.

But even though the mall was quiet – not even Santa’s throne was occupied – not everybody had a dismal outlook.

Patty Langille of Concord and Mary Patten of Hillsborough drove to the mall in the middle of Tuesday’s snowfall just to walk around. They plan on doing some of their Christmas shopping at Yankee Candle and J.C. Penney.

Though they remember the busier days of years past, both said the quiet feel of the mall is a plus.

“I like that the school is there,” Langille said. “Rather than tearing the building down and putting up something else, they’re using what is there.”

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