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Once 'booming,' Springfield's Eastfield Mall about to become history

The Eastfield Mall in Springfield, a western Massachusetts staple since it opened in the late 1960s, is down to its final days.

A developer has purchased the property and plans to demolish the building and replace it with a more modern space. But for those who still have stores there, or continue to visit, it is the end of an era.

On a recent weekday morning, the mall was mostly quiet. Many businesses have already moved out, or will do so soon. In fact, many of the patrons at Eastfield were using the mall's large indoor corridor to take a stroll and get some exercise.

In the food court, Chris Hatzis, who owns Mykonos, a Greek restaurant, was getting ready for lunch. The business has been in his family for 40 years.

"I grew up in here," Hatzis said. "I was 10 years old when my parents and my family opened up this place. We make a good living out of here and now in my 50s, I have to go and reopen another restaurant."

Hatzis, who said he was still waiting to sign a lease on a new location, remembered when the mall used to be bustling.

"After Thanksgiving, people would be walking around with 5, 6 bags in each hand," he said. "We'd have five employees just working up here, up front. It was booming."

Down the hall, the owner of Da Sneaker Shoppe, Chandler Wilson, said he spent Saturdays at the mall growing up. His business has been at Eastfield for two years and he said he was still looking for a new location.

Wilson said finding the right place is challenging, and being in the mall has had its benefits.

"It's going to be harder for people to access because they're going to have to find a new spot," Wilson said. "I like being in the mall. It's safer in the mall. You never have to worry about stuff like break-ins and stuff like that, the mall's pretty good with that."

 The marquee of the former movie theater at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Adam Frenier
The marquee of the former movie theater at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, Massachusetts.

A group of about 10 older adults sat at tables in the food court sipping coffee, and — as one of them put it — "solving the world's problems."

This is something of a daily routine for many of them.

"We've been going at ever since they opened up coffee shops," said Springfield's Norman Barnard.

Barnard has been coming to the mall since it opened and worked at the former movie theater for a time. He said he's sorry to see the place go.

"It was a beautiful place," Barnhard said. "Very busy, very vibrant and active. Lots and lots of stores and the place was always full of people."

But Eastfield, like a lot of malls, has been dealing with hard times.

The Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough closed a few years ago — and is the proposed site of an indoor marijuana farm.

The Holyoke Mall and Hampshire Mall in Hadley are still up and running.

The new development project in Springfield is under the direction of Onyx Partners, which says it will cost $65-80 million to knock down the mall and rebuild.

It'll take about two years.

"Open-air shopping center, 360,000 square feet, some large national tenants, but a mix of local tenants, as well ... mostly in the restaurant and services side," said Brian Kaplan, vice president of development with Onyx.

Kaplan said shoppers and businesses alike now prefer a different concept instead of the traditional indoor mall, especially after the pandemic.

 A sign on the gate of a jewelry store at the Eastfield Mall, directing shoppers to a new location.
Adam Frenier
A sign on the gate of a jewelry store at the Eastfield Mall, directing shoppers to a new location.

"They want to congregate in a community, and we hope to achieve that by building this center," he said.

Kaplan said Springfield stands to benefit from the project, with more jobs than currently are at the Eastfield Mall and, he said, a boost in property taxes.

In recent years, Eastfield has been home to many small businesses being charged well below market rate rent, said Xiomara DeLobato, vice president and chief of staff with the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts.

DeLobato said the council has been working to relocate tenants. As store owners have looked for new locations, she said, they are also getting something of a reality check.

"When you're out looking at market-value real estate, it was just sometimes three times the amount that they've been paying," DeLobato said.

DeLobato said that’s has led to some frank conversations with owners about the viability of their businesses.

"Is this sustainable? We want to make sure that businesses retain, wherever they go, so that we're not putting them in terrible situations where they just cannot afford where they are going," she said.

Of the more than 40 small businesses the council has been working with, DeLobato said as of late June, about 70% have secured new locations in Springfield or mostly in the surrounding area. But a few of the stores are considering closing for good. The agency has been working with store owners to connect them with financing or grants to help with the transition.

 The fountain in the center of the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Adam Frenier
The fountain in the center of the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In the center of the Eastfield Mall, a large decorative fountain continues to run, a relic of better times for the facility. But on July 15, the water will be shut off and the lights turned out.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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