By Thomas Grillo, Real Estate Editor, Boston Business Journal

BOSTON (CBS) – When the Atrium Mall opened in 1989, a valet parked your car, a doorman greeted customers and a complimentary personal shopper made suggestions on what to buy at the swanky, 66-store shopping center.

But on a recent visit, no one was there to greet the few shoppers, the service desk was empty, and the mall was virtually empty with just a dozen stores and three restaurants that still remain open.

The 364,169-square-foot mall on Route 9 in Newton has been on the decline for years.

Its demise commenced with the opening of the Natick Collection up the road and its situation worsened when Legacy Place’s 80 stores in Dedham debuted.

The mall’s occupancy rate has fallen to less than 50 percent while the net operating income for its owner, Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest real estate investment trust, plummeted by nearly 36 percent to $4.7 million last year, down from $7.3 million in 2009, according to Bloomberg data.

In December 2010, the $41 million commercial mortgage-backed security on the property went to a special servicer, and Simon has been late on three of its $323,000 monthly payments, the Bloomberg data indicate.

Leasing at the troubled mall peaked in 2006 with a 95 percent occupancy rate and average asking rents of $32.64.

But as of last Sept. 30, the most recent data available, the occupancy rate had fallen to 61 percent with an average asking rent of $27.12, the special servicer handling the property wrote in a note including in a filing.

“It’s sad, the mall is dying,” said Muhammad Irfan, owner of Decor Mantra, a home furnishing store that has leased space for three years.

“Until the mall owners tell us what they’re planning to do, we don’t know what we’ll do. For now, we are hanging on until the end.”

So far, the landlord isn’t talking.

Les Morris, a spokesman for the Indianapolis-based company that owns or has an interest in 337 retail real estate properties in North America with 14 in Massachusetts, said Simon does not comment on leasing negotiations, or on acquisitions or dispositions of its malls.

“We will share specifics as plans are finalized,” he said in an email.

Jennifer Polk, manager of Grettacole, a salon and day spa, said she’s heard lots of rumors about the mall’s future, including the possibility that a big-box store would take the first two floors, while the upper floors would be converted to medical office space.

Traffic to the salon, she said, stems from being at the location for more than a decade with a stream of loyal clients.

“We are a destination and do a fantastic business because Grettacole has built up clients over the years,” she said.

Michael Tesler, a consultant at Retail Concepts in Norwell, said the Atrium has been headed downhill for years.

With the exception of Second Time Around, a used-clothing store and the Cheesecake Factory restaurant, many of the mall’s retailers have been hurting.

“That vertical mall format was introduced more than 20 years ago with valet parking, but it doesn’t work any more,” he said.

“Simon has given up on it as far as retail goes, and ideally, the mall could be reclaimed for some kind of mixed-use use. It appears their goal is to sell it and get out of the retail business and invest in the Chestnut Hill Mall property that they own across Route 9.”

James McCaffrey, managing director at Eastdil Secured, a firm that sells retail properties, acknowledged the Boston company was hired several months ago to sell the property, but declined to comment further.

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.

Comments (19)
  1. Scooby says:

    WHY is this considered news? Why waste time & energy on such a short piece. When I was in school a paragraph always consisted of a minimum of 3 sentences.

    1. sullyinma says:

      Then don’t read it. It’s as easy as that idiot.

    2. FireGuyFrank says:

      Scooby, it’s news because malls as we knew them are becoming passe. There are too many restrictions on stores. In a strip center, they can operate at hours that make sense for them, not just what the anchor stores do, or what the mall says.

      It’s news because it’s about the state of the economy. Who wants all those bells and whistles that cost money. Frankly, the rent is very low. That no retailers want the space is news worthy, too.

    3. Sandra says:

      This style of writing is also what has become considered web-styke writing, because it moves the eye, and facilitates scrolling and vertical page use. Very few of the rules of grammar and writing that we once learned in English classes are valid, anymore. Get used to it.

  2. L A Graham says:

    You don’t pay the outrageous prices for high-end items online either.

  3. Rob Cleary says:

    The clientele has taken a turn for the worse over the years.

  4. Scooby says:

    That may very well be but they could have gone into a bit more detail.

  5. bp says:

    I don’t feel bad for the malls. They destroyed Main St. mom and pop stores 30 years ago. What goes around comes around.

    1. dan says:


  6. sean says:

    A story about the soldiers that returned home in Braintree today would have made for better news!

    1. SL says:

      Yes, but it wouldn’t make sense for Thomas Grillo, Real Estate Editor to write about soldiers returning home. What’s the real estate connection there?

      And regarding the style of writing and level of detail, what else is there to report? Simon isn’t talking, the reporter cited a lot of sources and quoted a number of tenants and consultants. I thought it was a good piece on how the economy and shopping trends are affecting local commercial real estate.

  7. PC says:

    That piece of crap is closing because these idiots couldn’t figure out that its middle class America spends the most money and not the rich. Even if you go Natick collection now, the cheaper stores are mostly full and then when you go to the “rich part” the store are mostly empty except for a few.

    1. dan says:


  8. S. Palpatine says:

    Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy!!!!

  9. Gigi says:

    The vertical mall concept was never a hit. Parking was always difficult: the spaces were small and you went around in circles. I stopped going there years ago, not because of the stores or prices, but because it was annoying. I wish Valle’s Steak House were still there!

  10. mamom says:

    Ironically, I was just there yesterday and went to the only two places there that make money – Second Time Around (my daughter’s favorite store) and Cheesecake Factory for dinner. It is sad to see all of the darkened stores. Hopefully if it does shut down, Second Time Around finds a new location nearby.

    1. Rob Cleary says:

      And the Nasty Cheesecake Factory simply goes away

  11. Hugh Carres says:

    If the place is so dead, why don’t they just turn it into a super sized mausoleum like they have in California or New York? Seriously. It’s 3/4 ths the way there…and decorated like one too!

    You could offer spaces like ‘The halls of Tiffany’, or ‘The Borders of Eternity’ or ‘The Everlasting Home Sanctuary of Pottery Barn’, or even ‘The Court of the Queen of Sheba’ Every space could be a remembrance of past merchants there. They could sell family rooms/estates to the locals.

    Just keep the Cheesecake Factory and Bertucci’s there. Mourners need someplace to eat after the entombment or visit.

  12. urmythrill says:

    Turn it into condos & apartments above, with stores below, bring in organic food markets & moderate to high end organic restaurants.if not zoned for this split use – change the zoning, or approach the likes of Ikea & Cosco as anchors.

    Layout is an issue for many shoppers who don’t have all day to browse & discover all shops tucked away in back corners.People are less casual with their spending, so less likely to impulse buy,maybe,while poking around a mall for hours, which many people did when these places were a novelty.

    There is, frankly so much competition, you must rely more on the local population, probably, so see what the demographics are within 20 – 30 miles & try appealing to what they buy or would like to see in their community.

    I’d imagine a moderate cost spa could do some business there, with a gym, chiropractors, hair salons & estheticians & a few plastic surgeons – all within proximity.

    Add to that some adult night classes / adult ed, & some office space.

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