Ask longtime residents of Plattsburgh about the mall “back in the day” and memories come flooding back of the ground- breaking indoor shopping center that opened its doors in the mid-’70s, years before even the rumor of closing Plattsburgh Air Force Base began to circulate. The Pyramid Mall’s early inhabitants—including Vermont-based Magrams, Fays Drugs, Friar Tuck Book Shoppe, Fannie Farmer Candies, Record Town, and more— have a place in people’s psyches, from the teens who roamed its ramps to the grownups who had never seen its like in person until then. It was 1975, and Plattsburgh was catching up with the rest of the country, acknowledging the changing consumer landscape that deemed a nondescript exterior and bustling interior the new, improved way to conduct commerce and the way of the future for retail.
THE ROLE OF THE MALL BSM (BEFORE SOCIAL MEDIA)
“I recall as a teenager in the ’80s and ’90s, you went to the mall on your first date or for your first job. I have many fond memories of hanging out at the mall every Sunday with my best friend,” said Champlain Centre marketing director Emily Moosmann. “Music stores would be filled with teenagers with headsets on, listening to the latest CD. Before Myspace, AIM, and Facebook, the mall was the only way to get together with your friends.” Originally from Webster, NY, a suburb outside of Rochester, Moosmann graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. “I fell in love with the North Country and stayed in the area to explore job opportunities.” Her first job out of college was an entry level position at the Champlain Centre as a customer service representative. A promotion to marketing assistant was followed a few years later by the marketing director role.
Moosmann is proud of the roots of the Champlain Centre, its role in the region, and its owner. “Pyramid Management Group is one of the largest privately-held shopping center developers in North America,” said Moosmann. Headquartered in Syracuse, NY, Pyramid boasts 16 properties located throughout New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, BABY
Pyramid Mall opened in Plattsburgh in the spring of 1975. It was rebranded and named Champlain Centre South in 1987, in anticipation of its sister mall, Champlain Centre North, which opened on July 1, 1987. Unfortunately, by the late 1990s the malls had a “this town’s not big enough for the two of us” moment and Champlain Centre South closed its doors as its newer sibling began to thrive at its Smithfield Blvd. location. Its roots were strong, and the “if you build it, they will come” mantra has held true. Even those who were wary of the mall’s impact on Plattsburgh’s downtown retail environment soon became converts to the mall’s conveniences. The older generation of downtown shoppers became the new generation of “mall walkers,” walking the length of the mall back and forth for exercise and then grabbing a cup of coffee with friends at Green Mountain Roasters and sitting for a spell.
Strategic moves, exciting anchors, and a sunny environment have kept the Champlain Centre a viable part of the Plattsburgh retail community since those early years. It was amid great fanfare that the retail, dining, and entertainment hub celebrated its 30th anniversary in July 2017. The Champlain Centre celebrated by holding a myriad of social media contests and giving away over $1,000 in prizes. The mall also displayed a photographic exhibit of its his- tory. While many other businesses have come and gone, Moosmann thinks the Champlain Centre owes its longevity to a variety of factors. “Champlain Centre, like many malls, has had to adapt to attract a new generation of shoppers. Shoppers interact frequently on their mobile devices,” explained Moosmann. “Our mall is on all social media platforms and recently we had new digital directories installed. Shoppers are craving entertainment and experiences that can be incorporated into their shopping. Champlain Centre has answered the call by adding new tenants like Escape Room, Kids Zone, and Lake City Hobbies.” Generations of children and parents alike have stood in front of the now-famous “Gizmo,” also known as the “Ball Machine,” created by George Rhoads. It’s been there since the mall’s inception, greeting wide-eyed children who try to figure out its inner workings.
In addition to rolling with changing times, Champlain Centre’s proximity to 2.4 million Canadian shoppers in Montreal and surrounding towns has been a boon to business. “Our owners saw the value of placing our center close to Montreal. Canadians have long made Plattsburgh a traditional vacation destination, from visiting our outdoor attractions to visiting our center,” said Moosmann. “The Champlain Centre continues to attract Canadian shoppers as we provide them the opportunity to shop at retailers that are not present north of the border.”
Shoppers have gotten somewhat used to the changing interior of the mall as the popularity of some the smaller retail chains ebbs and wanes and new ones rise to the top. Ritz Camera may have gradually fallen off due to the rise in cell phones and digital cam- eras, making film developing and camera repair somewhat obsolete. Tape World was, well “Tape” World! But strong anchors like Target have pulled Vermont shoppers across the lake for years, although with their own “Tar-Jay” (as it is affectionately referred to) in the works will that reverse traffic trend continue? And how does the mall survive the loss of anchors like Gander Mountain?
“Gander Mountain left the mall due to bankruptcy,” explained Moosmann. “They made the following statement (in the St. Louis Business Journal) about the closing: “Gander Mountain experienced challenging traffic patterns and shifts in consumer demands resulting from increased direct-to-customer sales by key vendors and accelerated growth of e-commerce.” Champlain Centre management see Gander Mountain’s exit as an opportunity to offer new and exciting ten- ants to the region’s shoppers. “Pyramid has talked to numerous prospective tenants about the vacant Gander Mountain space and they see the value offered by this location,” said Moosmann. With online retailers like Amazon changing, and challenging, the way brick-and-mortar stores do business, Pyramid management has declared, “challenge accepted!” “People continue to shop, and strong brick-and-mortar properties will always be a large piece of the omni-channel retail experience,” said Pyramid Management Group sources.
A PILLAR OF THE COMMUNITY
One way the mall stays relevant is that it offers a variety of events throughout the year that encourage traffic and community engagement. “We recently held our inaugural Family Fun Day in partnership with the Child Coordinating Council. The event surpassed our expectations with over 400 people in attendance,” said Moosmann. The event consisted of performances from local kid’s entertainment groups such as the Dirty Diaper Band and Pipsqueak the Clown. During the summer months the mall holds kids’ events every Tuesday at 1 p.m. through the months of July and August. Marty’s Summer Kids Club events include a Bird of Prey show, Pirate and Princess Party, Make Your Own Terrarium, Superhero Day, and many other exciting activities. “We love to pro- vide entertainment opportunities that can bring the community together,” said Moosmann.
The mall holds over 90 community-based fundraisers a year supporting local organiza-tions like the Honor Flight, Elmore SPCA, Relay for Life, Literacy Volunteers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, American Legion, Hospice of the North Country, Adirondack Dance, Make a Wish, The Seton Schools and many more. “The Champlain Centre has always shown a strong commitment to the health and welfare of the Plattsburgh community by providing a venue for supporting causes and groups,” explained Moosmann. One very special event is the ARC Festival of Trees fundraiser, one of the organization’s largest fundraisers, which raises thousands of dollars and awareness for the group. During the Festival of Trees, com- munity groups and businesses decorate a Christmas tree that is displayed in the mall for a few weeks. Throughout the fundraiser shoppers buy raffle tickets to enter to win one of the trees.
THE NEXT WAVE
The future of the mall looks bright, according to Moosmann. “Our owners, the Congels, are visionaries and have been in the business for almost 50 years. They saw the need early on to diversify their properties with great traffic-generating entertainment, recreation, dining, and retail uses,” she explained. “Pyramid is an industry leader in combining the best elements of traditional retail with world-class dining and entertainment, all under one roof. The mall as a concept is not dying. Pyramid has been on the cutting edge of incorporating new and unique uses—it’s the reason Pyramid malls are thriving.”