Back When The Mall at Short Hills was Out in the Open

The Mall at Short Hills started out as an open-air mall Credits: Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society
The Mall at Short Hills had a walkway to the parking lot in 1962 Credits: Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society
Artist rendering of B. Altman and Company Credits: Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society


that the Mall at Short Hills was originally an open-air mall? And that in the late 1960s the NJ Symphony Orchestra performed on the mall for an audience of more than 5,000 lawn chair-carting fans?

It all began in 1949 when the Prudential Insurance Company of America purchased the land where the mall now sits, including a parcel that is now part of the Canoe Brook Country Club. Seven years later, B. Altman & Company, an upscale department store chain, relocated its East Orange store to the Mall property. In 1961 Bonwit Teller became the second anchor store. Stouffer’s Restaurant along with 35 smaller stores including FAO Schwartz, Brentano’s, Jugtown Mountain Smokehouse and a branch of U.S. Post Office completed the Mall at Short Hills by 1962.

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The mall was comprised of a landscaped, shaded campus-like setting 52 feet wide by 435 feet long. Set on two levels, stores were located in four separate air-conditioned buildings connected by sidewalks, stairways and escalators. The buildings were a light grey-beige brick, all with a uniform depth. The two department stores were three stories high and situated for visibility from the two highways passing by to the south, Route 24 and JFK Parkway.

Advertising for the new mall touted it as “5 th Avenue in the Suburbs” and featured a caricature of a limo driver in uniform riding a 4-seater bike with two wealthy ladies and a young boy seated behind him.

In 1967, Bloomingdales became the third anchor store at the mall. It was Bloodmingdales’ largest branch, with one whole floor dedicated to furniture and home décor.

As the local population grew, the highway system became more developed, leaving shoppers with more options. This, coupled with competition from the new enclosed Livingston Mall that drew customers from a broader income range, caused business to suffer at the Mall at Short Hills. In the mid 70s, Prudential teamed with The Taubman Company (the current owners of the mall) to consider the feasibility of enclosing the Mall.

In 1980, after two years of construction costing $100 million, the enclosed Mall at Short Hills opened with new retailers including Gap, The Limited, Godiva Chocolatier and Black, Star & Frost. Abraham & Strauss joined as the fourth anchor store the following year. The new multi-level enclosed mall linked the anchor stores through a zigzag configuration, totaling approximately 1.2 million square feet of gross leasable space. Food operations in the new Mall were limited to restaurants serving sit-down food with re-usable plates, avoiding the food court scenario.

In 1990, B. Altman & Company filed for bankruptcy protection and closed all of its stores, including the Short Hills location.

The Mall at Short Hills began a major two-phase expansion in 1993. Phase one brought the addition of Saks Fifth Avenue, a complete renovation of Bloomingdales and the conversion of A&S to Macys. The second phase in 1995 premiered two new anchor stores, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, plus an infusion of new specialty stores including Tiffany, Fendi and Polo Ralph Lauren.

In the fall of 2016 Saks Fifth Avenue shuttered its Mall at Short Hills location and plans to open a store in the American Dream Meadowlands (formerly Xanadu) sometime in 2018. Local curiosity remains high as to what store/stores will move into the vacated Saks space. At this time, The Taubman Company has released no details about plans for that space.

Local color is written by Sharon Knightly, who grew up in Chatham Township and returned years later with her husband, Jack, to raise their family here.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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