When fashion was tailored and pressed, the Paramus Fashion Center reigned supreme.
Today, it’s filled with big-box stores and the state’s first Amazon Fresh grocery store. By fate – and by design – there are virtually no lines.
The Fashion Center was built on 1.3 million pounds of reinforced steel and launched via a ribbon cutting led by Governor Richard Hughes’ wife, Miriam, amidst a throng of shoppers queuing. Opened in 1967 as a modern marvel, the $8 million ($71 million today) mall featured two multi-level department stores connected by a then-rare covered hallway. The flagship stores were apparently relocated from Fifth Avenue with a clear intention of tying Manhattan’s big-name apparel to New Jersey’s clothing sales tax exemption.
At the north end, the 150,000-square-foot Lord & Taylor featured hand-painted murals and 35-foot-tall arched windows covered in white marble. The south side of the mall greeted shoppers with the 175,000 square foot B. Altman & Co. polished wood floors.
Both stores had branded restaurants. B. Altman brought a clone of his famous Fifth Avenue restaurant, Charleston Gardens. Lord & Taylor had a brightly colored version of the Bird Cage restaurant to charm its customers.
Bergen County’s first upscale mall, the 500,000 square foot Fashion Center has defined itself by its exclusivity. Among the specialty boutiques that filled its initial 25 storefronts were high-end supplier W&J Sloane, high-end shoe store Andrew Geller and Danish silverware Georg Jensen. For house brand clothing, women had Peck & Peck and Ann Taylor. The men had Rogers Peet and, later, Brooks Brothers.
A row of five gold chandeliers spanned the 615-foot arcade.
At the time the mall opened, there was a waiting list for merchants looking to lease any available store in the area, said Robert Puritz of the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce. The record in early 1967. The county’s “northwest market”, which included Paramus, Franklin Lakes, Glen Rock, and Wyckoff, was booming. “Where can you find a town without a vacant store? Puritz asked The record in January 1967.
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Early advertisements capitalized on the trend, calling the mall “The Fashion Center, Ridgewood-Paramus”. Paramus Mayor Charles Reid claimed it was bad marketing policy to include Ridgewood in the billing of what were claimed to be New Jersey’s best stores. The Centre, after all, was located in the nascent mall capital of the world. It was the third mall built there in 10 years.
When it opened on February 15, 1967, the Center had the world’s largest freestanding acrylic dome perched above a floating staircase and the now ubiquitous mall fountain. He also had a massive tax bill that funded nearly 5% of the township’s $2.8 million budget. Today, the Centre’s annual property tax payment covers about 1.1%.
The mall’s downturn began as early as 1971, around the time another Fifth Avenue mainstay, Best & Company, began work on a 60,000-square-foot freestanding structure in the parking lot near the B. Altman to build on the Centre’s success. However, the company went bankrupt before it could finish. Another store, a Britt’s, took over the structure. He survived less than two years.
When the B. Altman declared bankruptcy in 1989, the end was truly near. In the mid-1990s, the owners hosted a Discovery Zone recreation center before throwing in the towel with a 1998 sale to Pennsylvania real estate firm Willner Realty & Development Co.
By then, Hackensack’s Riverside Square, Paramus Park, and Westfield Garden State Plaza all had more space and boasted their own high-end department stores. The Fashion Center has evolved from a bespoke mall to a strip mall. Sales went from high-end to large-scale.
With the indoor promenade closed and the big-box and Friends of Parents merchants open, the mall found its modern form in 2009 with the establishment of a Fairway supermarket. This space is now occupied by Amazon Fresh. In an interview with The record this summer, district manager Emad El-Mubasher said the store employed about 100 people. Yet few are assigned to the fund. Most store goods, assist customers, and ensure products are placed where cameras and sensors can see them.
Items are not scanned at checkout. Customers check in and out using an app before heading out into the shade of the vacant Lord & Taylor. The department store closed in 2021, officially ending the mall’s fashion era. This begs the question: in 55 years, will Amazon still be fresh?