The History of the Cape Cod Mall

A postcard from the late 1950’s/early 1960’s showing the Storyland amusement park which stood where the mall is today, courtesy of Dan Goodsell

Thanksgiving has ended and the Holiday Season is in full swing. This means it is the time for shopping for the perfect gifts for friends and family. Although online shopping has become a very popular alternative there are still the majority of people who prefer to drive to their favorite stores to buy these gifts hand-on. For many here on the Cape this means struggling to find a parking spot at the crowded Cape Cod Mall, a difficult process at this time of year. However, did you know that a half century ago the Cape Cod Mall was nothing but an idea sketched on a few sheets of paper? In the days before the traffic and the waiting lines the area occupied by the Mall was home to an amusement park and forest. This is story of the origins of the Mall way back when.

Hyannis in the 1960’s was far different from today. Much of Route 132 was undeveloped save for the Hyannis Drive-In and pockets of businesses mostly closer to the Airport Rotary. The area which today houses the 821,000-square-foot mall was far different back then. Many from the Baby Boomer generation will remember the days when the area was home to Storyland. This was an amusement park of sorts which specialized in fables and nursery rhyme characters such as the Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, Little Red Riding Hood, and others. The nine-acre park was filled with fantastically colored miniature buildings and other whimsical exhibits. It was the brainchild of George Spalt who built several of these small amusement parks in Massachusetts in the 1950’s including ones in Plainville and Newbury.

However by the late 1960’s Hyannis was growing in population and as a business district. The time had come for a large shopping center in town. Rumblings began around 1965 with firm plans being concocted in 1968. First there was a battle on exactly where the shopping center would be built with the final three coming down to the future Airport Plaza where K-Mart sits today, an undeveloped site on Buck Island Road in West Yarmouth, and a forty-six acre tract of land including Storyland and an Abercrombie & Fitch store. In July 1968 the winner was announced and Storyland would be torn down with Abercrombie’s store being hoisted up and moved across the street. The winning bid was announced by Davenport Realty Trust along with Equity Management Inc. of Boston representing David Mugar, the cost, $6 million ($43.6 million in 2018). It would be the largest private construction project in Cape Cod history at the time.

The prized tenant of the new shopping center would be Filene’s which had operated a store on Main Street in Hyannis for the previous forty years. They would be coaxed to the new location by the promise of a store four times the size of their current one. It would also be front and center in full view of every vehicle entering the parking lot. Also being brought in to anchor the new shopping center would be Woolworth, Sears, and Star Market; there was estimated ti be room for thirty odd smaller shops in the 340,000-square-foot property with the parking lot having room for upwards of 2,000 vehicles. The new shopping center was given the appropriate name Cape Cod Mall.

Photo of the mall from the late 1970’s looking toward the original Sears location, courtesy of FrameImage.org

The new mall was opposed by many smaller businesses located in Downtown Hyannis as they believed that their business would be siphoned off. In fact mall anchor stores Sears and Woolworth, in addition to Filene’s all were moving from the Main Street area to be included in the mall. The skeleton structure of the mall began to rise from the ground during the summer of 1969 with the first section of the complex opening to the public on Tuesday August 4, 1970. Twenty-eight stores would open that day bringing a culmination of the four and a half years from planning to completion.

The mall was an immediate success bringing in thousands of customers and creating between 300-400 new jobs. Some of the other original tenants inside its walls included CVS, Falmouth National Bank, Kennedy’s Family Apparel, P.M. Wilson Boutique, Anderson-Little, Friendly’s, Kinney Shoes, Booksmith, and others. Due to the high volume of traffic in and around the new mall Route 132 was widened in 1972-73 with traffic lights and islands being added. The Airport Plaza anchored by K-Mart would be built across the street not too long after. Some of the other mall tenants who came along during its early years included Bass River Savings Bank, Mr. Slacks, Cherry & Webb, Roundup Steakhouse, and Jordan Marsh.

The arrival of Jordan Marsh led to the first expansion of the mall in 1978 to accommodate the 119,000-square-foot department store. It included a $500,000 second floor. The addition brought in nearly two dozen new businesses and the incredible success of the Cape Cod Mall only continued to grow. By the end of the 1970’s owners of the Mall stated that so successful was the venture that only two stores had left the complex during its first decade and neither was due to a lack of sales.

Though some other local businesses were dismayed at the fact that many younger people preferred being a ‘mallrat’ than spending their time and money at their establishment there was no denying that the Cape Cod Mall had changed life on the peninsula for the better. Mugar sold the Mall to the Simon company in 1998 and a second larger expansion would be completed in 1999 modernizing the Mall and creating the look it has to this day. Though sadly with the imminent closing of Sears, to be replaced by Target, the last remaining original tenant will be CVS.

Today it is hard to imagine a day when Hyannis along Route 132 was a sparsely populated area. However a half century ago there were more trees than people and Storyland was the main attraction on what is today a thriving business district. Things changed drastically when the Cape Cod Mall came along and though today it has become an afterthought at times its creation was a landmark moment in the modernization of Cape Cod.

By Christopher Setterlund



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