'Memories flood back': Eastern Hills Mall to close interior this weekend


Staff member
Lori Allan took one last walk around the Eastern Hills Mall last week.

“I’m hearing from friends who had their first job there, and you just know the memories that flood back,” she said. “When we walked around last Friday, we kept saying ‘Remember this? Remember that?’ “

There is not much left at the Clarence mall besides fond memories. After its last day Sunday, Eastern Hills will go the way of cassette tapes and aerosol hairspray.
Most stores with exterior entrances will remain open, but, starting Monday, the corridors will be empty and closed in preparation for demolition that will make way for a town center project – a walkable mix of residential, retail, restaurant, green space and hotel uses.

And though it will continue operating in a new form, it is the end of the Eastern Hills Mall as we know it. And that has fans, such as Allan, a Depew resident, thinking back to the mall’s heyday decades ago.

Back then, Allan’s family would meet in the food court every Friday night.

“It was just known we were meeting, so different members of the family would just show up,” she said.

She was sad watching the mall change over the years, but said the slower pace and thinner traffic made the experience more comfortable than at other malls.

“I remember going with my aunt and cousins in the ‘80s on Black Friday. We drove around the parking lot for 30 minutes trying to find a parking spot,” she said. “Then the Walden Galleria opened, and it seems like Eastern Hills became yesterday’s news.”

When we think of malls, we think of their heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s. And those were certainly glory days for the Clarence mall. Mobs of teens packed the food court and flitted across the pink, zigzag tile from Kaufmann’s to Jenss to the Eastern Hills Mall Cinema.

But many Western New Yorkers’ memories of the shopping center stretch farther back to 1971, when the mall opened. Back in those halcyon days, Eastern Hills was anchored by such long-gone department stores as AM&As, Woolworth and Hengerer’s.

Janice Vallon of Cheektowaga used to go to the mall every week with her sister, Marlene, while her husband, Fran, worked the afternoon shift at Seneca Steel.

“It was my night out with my sister. I remember all those old stores, AM&As and Hengerer’s, and then AM&As became Bon-Ton and Hengerer’s became Sibley’s,” she said.

Taking one last trip to say goodbye to the mall had her ready to cry – both for the mall and for times gone by.

“It is so sad. Why do things have to change?” she said. “But such is life. And life goes on.”

Vallon and her sister always started in the food court with a meal, then moved on, walking up and down the corridors and into shops. Fashion retailer Lerner was a favorite.

“We would just walk into all the stores and look around,” she said. “Not to say we ever bought a lot, but it was it was fun just looking.”

In recent years, shoppers’ habits changed. The internet took over and national tenants began moving out one by one. Big outdoor retail plazas, such as Boulevard Consumer Square in Amherst and Quaker Crossing in Orchard Park, became the new places where big chains wanted to be. The mall took on a new life with an eclectic mix of small, local businesses and nonprofit groups.

Without the high rents charged in other retail real estate spaces, independent businesses had space to grow and flourish, like the Raff and Friends toy store, which started as a small storefront and expanded into a sprawling wonderland filled with children’s treasures and a dramatic Playland that included everything from a mini grocery store to a tiny police precinct.

The giant mall – Eastern Hills was the region’s biggest before Walden Galleria opened – had space for all kinds of nontraditional uses, from a billiards hall to batting cages to a fully functioning television studio. Manager Russ Fulton fostered a family atmosphere and kept the mall near or at 100% occupancy, with events coordinator Dalton Drake staging events such as coffee and cars dealership shows, psychic fairs and craft festivals that brought in tens of thousands of people.

Some people, such as Owen Doud of Niagara Falls, liked Eastern Hills’ latest iteration best. A 2005 renovation gave the mall a warmer look, with a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired logo and theme, adding soft seating, flat-screen TVs and fireplaces.

“Oddity shops always made the Eastern Hills Mall memorable,” he said. “I loved exploring. Just being able to go out with friends and looking was fun enough.”

Doud loved the magical mix of offbeat collections to be found at Eastern Hills’ collectibles shops such as Vaughn and Hobby Spirit, and antiques stores such as What’s in Your Attic and Niagara Emporium.

“There were certain niche stores that offered collectibles and brands that do not exist in Western New York – Japanese toys, model kits, board and war games,” he said.

The mall was often quiet because of stores’ varying hours, and the halls were mostly occupied by mall walkers, but there was still plenty for shoppers like Doud.

“Even though you wouldn’t buy something every time, the place always had us coming back,” he said. “Great variety and rare items always had my friends and I coming back in fairly regularly,” he said.

But it wasn’t enough to keep Eastern Hills going.

Seeing the mall’s corridors shuttered will be tough for Doud, 27, who has been visiting the mall since he was a kid living in Williamsville.
“I will miss the experience,” Doud said.
My mom dated the owner of The Careless Navigator, which was a really nice restaurant across from the entrance to the Cinema.

My brother and I would go with her on Fridays and run around the mall after it closed, since the restaurant stayed open til 11 and it would be almost midnight before we left.

Even before it closed, I would wander from store to store. National Record Mart and Cavages were my favorites, along with Jenss - where my mom worked part-time, and Spencer Gifts. Plus we would see every movie. I saw Jaws, A Star is Born, The Warriors and a bunch of others while my mom would hang out with Joe in the restaurant.

We spent three days there during the Blizzard of 77.

Now Joe Parente, my mom and the Navigator are long gone, and so is the mall. :(
I spent 100’s of hours in that mall in the mid ‘70’s.

saw countless movies.

my wife’s aunt also worked at Jenss there for years, I bet she knew your mom 👍😊
I spent 100’s of hours in that mall in the mid ‘70’s.

saw countless movies.

my wife’s aunt also worked at Jenss there for years, I bet she knew your mom 👍😊
Maybe so. My mom worked in Cosmetics
My parents would take me up there when they got bored with the Lockport Mall. Hill's, Child's World, Sears, Electronics Boutique, and Aladdin's Castle were my go-to's. That was back in the 80's-90's. I stopped by back in 2009 and I could already tell its days were numbered. It seems malls are going the way of the dodo now that everybody can lay on their asses and have their goods delivered to them. Hasselhoff