To any resident of Greensburg and Westmoreland County, Greengate Mall was best known for the Christmas displays each year in Center Court. Ghostly memories of the 30-foot tree, decorated with yards of lights and surrounded with gifts and mounds of snow are reminiscent of Greengate’s golden days. Today, at the former site of the once lustrous mall, construction has long since begun to make way for Greengate Centre, which will be the home of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, a hotel and other numerous retail stores and restaurants.
The mall, which was designed by world-renowned mall architect/inventor Victor Gruen and developed by the Maryland-based Rouse Company, opened in August 1965. It was built along Route 30 on a 90-acre plot of farmland between Jeannette and Greensburg in Hempfield Township, southeast of Pittsburgh. At the time, it was the premiere shopping destination for Westmoreland County and the surrounding areas. Composed of approximately 650,000 square feet of retail space on two levels, Greengate was home to nearly 90 stores. Over the years, major development has occurred in the vicinity of Greengate Mall, including the Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass, a toll road which connects Delmont and New Stanton. Five miles to the east is Westmoreland Mall, which is twice as large as Greengate with over 170 stores and nearly 1.3 million square feet of space. (I’ve heard that the reason Westmoreland Mall was built was because when Kaufmann’s were interested in moving into Greengate, the Rouse Company didn’t want to spend the money to bring them in, so they built Westmoreland, and business was then split.)
In William Kowinski’s book, the Malling of America, he mentions that Greengate was unique because it had a family atmosphere to it. About a third of the stores in the mall were locally owned, which was James Rouse’s philosophy that a mall should contain a mix of locally and corporately-owned stores. As time passed on, this connection between mall employees grown into a clique, and some even ended up having relationships. Although the mall has gone by, the former workers still have fond memories which they love to share with each other. What made Greengate special was that it was a part of us. An otherwise typical suburban mall, it was a community landmark.
Greengate Mall was at its peak in the 70s and 80s, with Horne’s, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward as anchors. Other stores included G.C. Murphy and Co., National Record Mart, Radio Shack, Kay Bee Toy and Hobby, Spencer Gifts, Waldenbooks, The Limited, Marianne, Kamps Shoes, Lang’s Fashions and many others, while restaurants and fast food outlets included Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sbarro, Baskin Robbins, Arby’s, as well as Elby’s Big Boy. In the early 90s, Ladbrokes opened an OTB center, which was unique since it was the first of its kind in a mall. All was good until a few years later.
When J.C. Penney announced that they were going to shut down the Greengate store and move to Westmoreland Mall, that was the beginning of the end. Still, Greengate officials were optimistic of a full recovery. (I’ve read somewhere that J.C. Penney decided to leave Greengate because it lost parking to Ladbrokes. Odd to believe because they only occupied a small portion of the mall, and J.C. Penney still had a big chunk of parking lots all around the perimeter.) Slowly but surely, stores began to close, first with G.C. Murphy, then Elby’s. Two, actually three long fixtures of the mall were now gone, but the mall was still booming. The former J.C. Penney space was transformed into an expo center, which was used occasionally for shows. In 1994, Horne’s was sold to Federated Department Stores and became Lazarus; the blue tile backdrops with the Horne’s name were gone soon after and the store itself was renovated in time for the holiday shopping season. With about 70 stores left, including Lazarus and Montgomery Ward, Greengate Mall was put on the market in early 1995 by the Rouse Company, claiming that it wasn’t performing to their standards. Many bidders had expressed interest, but nothing had been finalized. In late 1997, with more vacancies than ever, Lazarus decided to call it quits and close its underperforming store at the troubled mall. As Lazarus vacated its store, more stores, including Lang’s Fashions and Kamps Shoes closed their stores. A few years later, the mall was sold to a New York-based developer for a rock bottom $1.6 million. With a new owner at hand, it seemed like a miracle, but ironically, the new owners led the mall to its demise.
A new nightclub called the Twilight Zone opened in the former Lang’s space in May 1999. While combining entertainment with retail seemed like a good idea for Greengate, the nightclub became a haven for violence, with stabbings and shootings frequently, the place was becoming a nuisance, and the club, now known as Club Cabana was shut down in early 2001. The same owners of the nightclub opened Bellisario’s Italian Restaurant in the former Ladbrokes betting parlor, which folded a year before, and reopened the club, now called Panama Jim’s, this time, alcohol-free. Montgomery Ward closed its store soon after marking a milestone for the nearly empty mall. This is when the owners started a plan to attract companies that dealt with telecommunications; the mall was dubbed NetTech 30 to promote the facility. That plan, of course, didn’t work, so the owners sent out eviction notices to nearly every tenant in the summer of 2001, excluding the Italian restaurant and the club, which both closed down eventually. The mall remained closed for the next 1½ years, and in the winter of 2002, THF Realty announced that they were going to acquire the vacant mall and demolish it to construct a new shopping center in its place, which is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2005.