A sky-high crane dangles over a corner of Franklin Mills Mall these days, but it is more than a towering construction tool: It is a symbol of how necessity is the mother of reinvention at this once-legendary shopping mall.
A Walmart Supercenter is taking shape at the once-pioneering complex, which opened nearly 25 years ago with theme-park anticipation as among the first outlet malls, and the outright largest, ever built. The splashy development, unveiled in 1989, was a gamble befitting its locale, a onetime Northeast Philadelphia racetrack. And early on, its unmatched offerings paid off with packed corridors.
The mall flaunted a 1.2-mile-long, zigzag-shaped concourse, and more than 200 stores hawking discount designer goods, at a time when such wares were available only at out-of-the-way old-factory outlets. Its 1.7 million square feet of bargain buys, right off I-95, was a tourist draw and local sensation.
But the megamall’s early monopoly on outlet shopping has come to an end, forcing Franklin Mills to alter its once-irresistible identity. The Walmart is one of many tenants that now make the monolith, well, a bit more ordinary. And this is by design.