2018 Stories of the Year: New life at Steeplegate Mall 

  • Paul Foskitt, owner of True Confections Candies & Gifts, stands behind his store's counter in late December 2018. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Mannequins are shown outside the Sears anchor store at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord earlier this year. Sears announced it was closing locations in Salem, Manchester and Portsmouth after filing for bankruptcy, though the Concord location was spared. CAITLIN ANDREWS / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 12/26/2018 3:26:23 PM

When anchor store Bon-Ton announced the closure of its Steeplegate Mall location in February, it seemed like it could be curtains for the once-dominant retail hub.

And when home industry giant Sears filed bankruptcy this fall, we all held our breath to see if another anchor would go belly-up. Locations in Salem, Manchester and Portsmouth were culled from the herd early, but for now, the Concord location seems to be hanging on; it was excluded from a Nov. 8 list that announced 40 more stores that will close in February 2019.

Concord’s struggles aren’t unique: An estimated 1,100 malls were left last year, according to CNN, and about a quarter are expected to close in the next five years.

But amid the financial uncertainty, new life has sprouted this year, too: entertainment and educational parties took a chance on the Steeplegate, citing its plentiful space and competitive rent.

“There’s a lot of good that happens at the mall,” said Paul Foskitt, owner of True Confections Candies & Gifts in the mall. “There’s a lot of employment here. It’s just unfortunate that it seems like a lot of people focus on the negative.”

Ginger Card, manager of True Confections, said she wished people would look at the positive, like how the store she’s worked in for almost 20 years has been around practically since the mall opened; how the bounce house, Altitude Trampoline Park and the Capital City Charter School have all contributed to their business; or how the store’s customer base has never wavered, despite the mall’s woes.

“It’s unfortunate, what’s happened here,” Foskitt said, citing the mall’s foreclosure, bankruptcy and brief bank ownership. “People want to know what’s going on here. Every third customer every day is like, ‘When is the mall closing, when are you closing?’ We have no interest in going anywhere.”

Love it or hate it, what goes on at the mall has always been of interest to readers. Monitor archives from 2002 show even the replacement of the Sbarro for a Roman Delight was worth at least a brief, including how many other locations Roman Delight had in New Hampshire (29 at the time) and how many food stands were in the mall at the time.

But Foskitt said he’s heartened by the arrival of the school and the trampoline park. He thinks diversifying the mall will be its saving grace, focusing more on service uses than retail.

Readers seemed to welcome the new uses. They told the Monitor in May they’d welcome a variety of options at the mall, including, but certainly not limited to, the following:

Condominiums; business offices; a defined indoor walking course; a fitness center; grocery store; a child day care center; a flea market; a farmers market; a hydroponic facility; a business incubator, and much, much more.

Not to mention, space at the mall is cheap, compared to other locations in Concord. The Norwood Group is advertising $10 to $12 per square foot for rental space at the mall, according to the New England Property Exchange, with anywhere from 382 to 66,798 square footage available.

Compare that to downtown, where a spot on Main Street can run around $17 per square foot for a 1,400 square foot space; a 794 square foot space in the Capital Commons costs $23 per square feet, according to the Exchange.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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