Fleeting Retail: Dead Mall in Central Pennsylvania

We begin our series on fleeting retail where we will explore the transition of American commerce from places like malls to largely either online sales, discount retailers, or high end shopping. The middle American mall is fading and Credit Suisse estimated in 2017 that 20-25% of American malls will close by 2022.

Columbia Mall, Bloomsburg, PA.
I’d seen signs for this mall on my many drives across Pennsylvania over the years but never decided to stop until a drive I was taking in November 2018. I’ve followed and have been fascinated by dead malls since my teenage years in the early-mid 2000’s and was always a fan of the very web 1.0 site deadmalls.com. The Columbia Mall has been noted as a dead mall on this site since 2011.

Columbia Mall, Bloomsburg, PA. November 2018. A vacant storefront.

A History of the Mall
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania is a really lovely and quaint college town in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The town is mostly known for a small public college called Bloomsburg University. In 1988, the mall opened and actually was appealing enough for the area JC Penney and Sears stores to relocate from their downtown locations to this new mall along with two other anchors, the Bon-Ton and Hills. Into the 90’s, the mall was valuable enough to sell for $27 million in 1995. The only anchor change during this era was Hills, which became an Ames upon Hills itself going out of business in 1999 (Hills was acquired by Ames). Ames did not last much longer and went under in 2002 taking the Columbia Mall location down with it.

The empty Ames was occasionally used for rotating outdoor and firearm enthusiast trade show events. The mall was then sold again for $14 million to a new owner in 2005 with reconstruction plans in place. Like many malls, it eventually started to rethink and lean on nonretail tenants, such as a health large regional health insurance company, by the early 2010’s, which is quite common for malls of the dead caliber. Dunham’s Sports, which remains in the mall today, took over the Ames space in 2011. The mall was then sold, yet again, in 2013 for just $2.8 million, a fraction of what it sold for less than a decade earlier. Shortly after, the Sears closed in early 2015 and was later replaced by a furniture store and a Planet Fitness by 2017. The JC Penney closed in summer 2017. In 2018, Bon-Ton Stores liquidated causing yet another anchor to close.

From our November 2018 visit, Christmas decor.

BroStocks Visit
On the occasion of this publication’s visit, the Bon-Ton signage was actually being taken down. Apparently, the mall was also renamed Columbia Colonnade around this same time, but the signage did not seem to indicate it. However, all social media for the “Columbia Mall” has been scrubbed, which was not the case when we visited just a year ago. The place was empty with a few walkers and a couple people eating at the Subway. Most storefronts were vacant. Of note, it had an open GNC, Bath & Body Works, Payless Shoes (which also liquidated in early 2019) Bloomsburg’s School of Dance, the Dunham’s Sports, the Planet Fitness, a kid friendly bounce house called Bloom Bounce and well, not much else.

Since our visit, a farmer’s market opened in April 2019, and it was sold yet again in the summer for $7 million. It’s hard to tell what the future holds, all new buyers of mall properties always promise renovations and a turn around, but as of our visit, this place is a true relic of the past. The sale price is triple what it sold for in 2013, but this place would need a major shot in the arm. Enjoy the photos and video from our visit below.

Removal of Bon-Ton signage from Columbia Mall, November 2018.
The Facebook page from that signage has since been scrubbed.
Bon-Ton signage letters being hauled out in November 2018.
brief video from November 2018, apologize for camera quality.

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