Out where the Appalachian Mountains and the Allegheny Plateau diverge, creating a major fault line, sits the town of Williamsport, PA. This area known for the Little League World series lies just west of Pennsdale, PA, and it's legendary Lycoming Mall.
As one approaches the mall, you are greeted by the looming presence of one of the most interesting and unique landmarks I've ever seen adjacent to a mall. I refer to the legendary Hadany Arch. This art piece was designed by prolific Israeli artist, Israel Hadany. The piece was commissioned by former Hess's department store exec Philip Bergman, who was also a noted Allentown area art collector.
The arch is an optical illusion of sorts, bending and shifting depending on what angle the viewer is looking at it from. Originally conceived to span over a highway, the Pennsylvania Highway Department would not approve such a structure, so the entrance road to Lycoming Mall would ultimately be the chosen site for this massive structure. Pilings going 25 or 30 feet into the ground support its weight. It was built by the steel fabricators, McDermott Brothers, based out of Allentown. The firm specializes in such abstract art sculptures.
The steel, originally a dark red color, was designed to withstand the elements, having weathered to a rusty brown color over the years, but the structure remains strong and sound. It stands 100 feet tall. The price tag for this amazing feat was a quarter milllion dollars, in 1978 money.
It can be noted here that Bergman, the Allentown art aficionado that was responsible for the Hadany Arch placement at Lycoming was also responsible for the I-Beam sculpture which appears just outside the Richland Mall, now Richland Plaza, in Quakertown, purchasing another Israeli architect's sculpture, Yehiel Shemi's I-Beam Colossi for that property, which also featured one of his Bon-Ton stores.
Bergman's vision and strong affinity for the arts can be credited for the presence of this amazing feature that welcomes visitors to the mall in a breathtaking fashion. I have yet to see anything quite like it in all my trips to malls up & down the East Coast. You simply have to see it, drive under it, and appreciate it!
Lycoming was worthy of such a unique and interesting piece, because the mall itself is a treasure, situated in the convergence of the Appalachian & Allegheny mountains.
A beautiful Crown American Mall, opened in 1978. very evident by its beautifully and mostly unchanged interior, was conceived in 1975. Its earliest anchor roster consisted of Crown American mainstay Hess's, alongside Gee Bee & Sears.
The mall originally had multiple fountains, now reduced to two smaller ones, and the still-present dark brick and orange-accented planters, as well as dark brick and tile flooring throughout, a dead giveaway as to this particular mall's vintage. Add to that the unique and interesting ceiling architecture and otherworldly skylights, and you have a mall that has had aficionados of the dead mall hobby raving about it for years. Unfortunately, you did read that correctly, despite its amazing appearance and one-of-a-kind features, this mall has been in the troubled category for many years on, as of this writing.
By way of history, the mall opened on July 15, 1978, and our most recent visit there fell during that very week here in 2020. The aforementioned anchors launched the mall at its opening, although Hess's opening was in March of that year, somewhat of a "soft" opening for the mall.
In 1985, several years after it opened, Lycoming was set for an expansion, which would bring The Bon-Ton and over 115,000 extra square footage to the property. In the late 80s, JCPenney decided to close its downtown Williamsport location, in favor of relocating to the blossoming Lycoming Mall.
Interestingly, around this era, another unidentified group sought to potentially open another mall that would have been competition for Lycoming in downtown Williamsport, but, alas, nothing ever came of those plans. Probably a good thing, considering the current state of affairs at the mall. The last thing this area would have needed was to be overmalled like so many other smaller towns throughout Pennsylvania.
Value City, one of the anchors during the mall's mid-period, would eventually shutter in 2008, but that vacancy would not last long, as Burlington Coat Factory would soon fill the void. A Books-A-Million location would join the mall's roster of tenants in 2011, becoming the replacement for Borders, which folded as a company around that time.
The mall was beginning to show some serious issues by this time. Inline tenants were starting to close, some relocating to a nearby shopping center. It wouldn't be long before the mall would be sold off. At some point, Crown American got out of the mall scene, and PREIT (The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust) took over ownership, only to sell it off in January of 2015.
This would be a tremendous blow to the mall, as the dreaded Kohan Retail Investment Group would pay just over $26M to assume ownership of the mall. As people who follow mall inner workings know, Kohan are basically slumlords, doing minimal repairs and failing to pay bills on time, and doing literally nothing to attract tenants to fill vacancies.
Very soon, the 1-2-3 death punch was delivered to the property, with Macy's closing its doors in March of 2017, JCPenney closing a short 4 months later, and Sears exiting after January of 2018. This isn't your classic example of anchoritis, this is an anchor apocalypse, of the highest order. Bon-Ton would also cease operations at the mall, as a result of its bankruptcy as well, that same year. Each of those anchor spaces remain vacant to this day, as of July of 2020.
Macy's empty anchor pad was meant to be turned over into storage, but as of this writing, nothing has transpired there. The problems only got worse as of the latter half of 2018, as Kohan, in its usual fashion, failed to pay the electric bill at the mall, resulting in power being cut to the property for one day. In addition, the mall owed an outstanding balance to the Lycoming County Water & Sewer authority over unpaid water utility bills. Lycoming County sought to force a Sheriff's sale of the mall in February of 2019, due to these unpaid utilities, but Kohan sent a partial payment, forestalling the sale.
As of this blog post, the mall has reopened after the COVID-19 health crisis, with mitigation measures in place such as a requirement for masks and truncated hours of operation. There were several stores that were "Covid-closed", our term for stores that haven't closed for good, but remain shuttered out of caution or perceived inability to properly protect customers and associates under current conditions.
Only time will tell how this already extremely compromised mall will fare, but there were few customers in the mall, and sadly, no need to enforce social distancing, as there is more than enough room to spread out with the lack of foot traffic and storefronts to choose from.
Still, a visit to this beautiful and unique vintage treasure is HIGHLY recommended if at all possible, knowing that the state of things will probably go from bad to worse here. The place is brimming with vintage charm and an aesthetic that is decidedly not of these times, but of a bygone era in which malls used to strive to be unique settings for shopping and socializing. Locals relate that this place used to be THE place to be in the area, and seeing how the place still retains a lot of its old features, one can surely understand why.
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