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Forgotten Michigan
Hampton Towne Centre, Essexville, Michigan


Hampton Towne Centre, though not exactly my first dead mall, is the one that got me interested in the phenomenon of dead malls. Since it died so long ago, however, there's very little info about it available, so I thought I'd add what I know.



History

Hampton Towne Centre, then known as Hampton Square Mall, was built by Ramco Gershenson in 1975 on the far east end of the Bay City area, at the southeast corner of M-25 (Center Road) and Pine Road outside Essexville. At the time, the mall featured two anchor stores: Kmart at the east (given the large size of this Kmart, however, it might originally have been something else), and Wiechmann's, a chain based in nearby Saginaw, at the west. Attached to the property was a 28,000 square foot A & P supermarket. The mall remained largely unchanged until 1990, when a short northern wing was added, bringing in a somewhat small JCPenney which had moved from downtown Bay City as the third anchor. When JCPenney was added in 1990, the mall was up to 248,868 square feet. I've been told that an eastern expansion was also planned at this time (presumably, it would've involved demolishing or gutting the Kmart and building a new one) but these plans never got off the ground.

Hampton Square Mall, in its heyday, featured a fairly typical roster of chains, such as B. Dalton Bookseller, Lerner New York, Zales Jewelers, RadioShack, Circus World, Fashion Bug, Fanny Farmer, et cetera. Local and regional tenants included DOC Optical, Grondin's Hair Salon, an arcade, and the only mall-based location (at least that I know) for Sagebrush, a short-lived clothing chain started by Meijer. It also included a Li'l Chef restaurant and a drugstore owned by Perry Drugs.

Hampton Square's fortunes would soon change when Bay City Mall was built on the other side of town in 1991, with Sears (which also moved from downtown Bay City), Target (which opened in 1990, before the mall), and H.C. Prange's (which became Younkers in 1992). Bay City Mall had a multiplex theatre on site, and a food court, and nearly twice as many stores.

In 1992, JCPenney moved from Hampton Square to the newer Bay City Mall, after only two years at the older mall. The same year, Midland got a mall as well, one about the same size as Bay City Mall (and even sharing three of the same anchors!), albeit without a theater.

Many longtime Hampton tenants flocked for Bay City Mall, although there was some overlap as late as 1994 if not later. Eventually, the Bay City Mall locations won out. Wiechmann's apparently went bankrupt around 1993, closing its three stores in Saginaw, one in Owosso, and of course, Hampton Square's. The adjacent A & P closed just as the chain underwent a sort of restructure, closing older stores in Michigan and changing others to Farmer Jack. The mall, re-dubbed Hampton Towne Centre by the mid-1990s, was then minus two anchors. However, it limped through the 1990s and even gained a couple new tenants, such as a local dollar store. A McDonald's briefly opened in the mid-1990s in the center court, replacing a nearby location which was torn down. This mall-based McDonald's got decent sales for a while (no doubt from mall staff), but it later became an independent restaurant called the Dougout before closing. Since then, McDonald's has opened a new store in the mall's parking lot, complete with playplace. Perry Drugs was replaced by a newer Rite Aid across the street when Rite Aid bought out the chain in 1995. Wiechmann's became a Living and Learning center for Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District, and JCPenney became a Family Independence Agency office.

The mall closed on September 30, 2010.

My visit

I first discovered the mall in 2002, just as Kmart announced its Chapter 11 closings. This was the closest Kmart closure to where I live, so I figured that it would be a good store to check out — not knowing at the time that it was a mall anchor. At the time, there were still a handful of actual retail tenants left, including Hallmark, Spring Crest Drapery, and a Chinese restaurant. Other non-retail tenants were numerous, including a storefront church, an Edward Jones Investments offices, an allergy clinic, a gym, a weight loss clinic, etc. That was enough to pique my curiosity, and several times over the next few years, I visited the mall again and again. Over time, I saw Hallmark leave in December 2002, as well as the drapery shop in 2004.

Although the Bay County library occasionally uses the mall for annual used-book sales, it was almost entirely vacant the rest of the time. Even most of the non-retail tenants had left, including the gym, storefront church, weight loss clinic, and even the Edward Jones offices, while a thrift shop called Do-All, Inc. opened up in 2006 in the long-vacant former A&P. A bingo hall took over the old Perry Drug, and another storefront church took the old Edward Jones slot. Even the Chinese restaurant finally left in 2009.

It was a relic, still clad in 1970s earth tones and the dusty, dated storefronts of chains that no longer exist. Retailers have gone mostly to the north side of Bay City along Wilder Road, save for a very isolated Meijer just south of this very mall.

Photo gallery

The really bad photos were taken in January 2003 (my camera was starting to break), and the slightly better photos were taken in March 2003.


Camelot closed way before TransWorld bought out the chain. At the time of this photo, it was the fellowship hall for the storefront church, whose auditorium was the former Marianne (I think) clothing store next door.

A sign for the gym that was at the other end of the mall. The sign, and the gym, are both gone.

St. Germain Jewelers in ugly green and gold. I’m pretty sure this used to be a Shifrin-Willens, a Detroit-based jeweler. Their claim to fame was that they sponsored "Bowling for Dollars" in the 1970s. The chain seems to have gone out of business sometime around 1993.)

One of the east entrances. Notice the Kmart trim and labelscars, although this entrance actually leads into the mall itself. Kmart's only entrance was through the mall, and as is apparently common for Kmart-anchored malls, the entrance(s) closest to Kmart are given fronts resembling Kmart storefronts. Alpena Mall still has a pseudo-Kmart trim on the main entrance, even though its corresponding Kmart moved in the late 1990s.

A map showing the walk routes for mall walkers.

Originally, McCandless' Hallmark was located here, and I think it was another gift shop later on. To the right is McCandless' second location, which still retains its signage, as it was never occupied after Hallmark left that spot.

And here is a look inside McCandless' third location in the mall. Hallmark was the last national chain to have a presence in the mall, hanging around until December 2003. The store seems to be used for storage.

Facing east, looking into what used to be Kmart.

The outdated sign outside. It says:

(painted-over Big Kmart sign)...(Family Independence Agency)
All-Weather Seal
TMS East/Mandarin Chinese
Fashion Bug Plus/McCandless' Hallmark
Grondin’s Hair Center/The Dougout
Bay Allergy & Asthma Clinic
Quarter Play/St. Germaine Jewelers
Radio Shack
Q-Temps/Edward Jones Investments

Q-Temps was one of those temporary employment services, and Quarter Play was an arcade. No idea what TMS East was; most likely another office.

Looking down the west hall, Hot Sam in the foreground. Last I checked, most of the equipment was still in there. Behind Hot Sam, there was a 9/11 display in the space that I think was Kinney Shoes. That space was also being used for storage.

Two different views of the former JCPenney/now former Family Independence Agency wing, Notice the Christmas decorations. Again, I say I took these pictures in March.

...What other fine stores?

Former RadioShack "plus computer center".

Here's an approximate map of the mall as it looked in 2006.

This next set of photos was taken December 2004 with a small digital camera that I bought at a dollar store. No, really.


No idea what this store was. I'm told Circus World.

The Kmart wing, looking toward the center court. Fashion Bug Plus (it was only a Plus store) and Sagebrush were on the right, and Hallmark was on the left.

Western Connection and Sagebrush. Sagebrush was one of three short-lived, standalone clothing store chains founded by Meijer (a hypermarket chain based in Grand Rapids) in the late 1970s. Meijer later sold the chain to someone else, and they were closed off by the early 1990s. This is the only mall-based one that I'm aware of.

Fashion Bug Plus, again.

Hallmark's third store, Kmart in the background.

Hallmark's second store.

Western Connection was a Western clothing store. It almost looks like it might have been something else before that, although I'm not sure what chain had trim like this. Lerner, perhaps?

Town & Country was a family clothing store, I think. The intricate design of this store seems to indicate that this was an original tenant.

Outside shot of the former JCPenney.

Here are four more shots, taken October 4, 2008.


Closeup of the northwest entrance. Bay-Arenac ISD is in the foreground, and the bingo hall in the former Perry Drug is in the background.

Do-All, Inc., a charity thrift shop in the former A&P. I've been in here twice, and it was one of the dirtiest, most rundown thrift shops I'd ever seen.

This is the entrance on the northeastern side. Kmart was on the left, and the Chinese eatery was on the right.

This was taken from across the street, looking east towards the mall. The former JCPenney anchor is to the left. Note also the McDonald's in the parking lot.

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