Toquinotes: Recalling My Choice as the Most Missed Store in the Long History of Meadowbrook Mall

By Jeff Toquinto on October 06, 2018 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

There is a fascination with new business coming to Bridgeport. Personally, I think it’s a good thing that the community is interested in who is investing their resources – and often their livelihoods – to come into the city.
 
The fascination is actually even more intense when it comes to the Meadowbrook Mall. Any announcement regarding a new retail outlet – particularly one that has a national brand name attached to it – blows up on the Web site. From a retail point of view, it would be hard to argue about the importance that the Mall has had not only on Bridgeport, but much of North Central West Virginia.
 
With that in mind, I decided to think back not to my favorite store today, but to take a look back to the store that I miss the most. 
 
Honestly, I don’t know if I ever utilized a store as much as I utilized Montgomery Ward. Whether it was their auto department, their clothing lines or – in particular – their electronics, if I was at the mall then I was at Wards.
 
Perhaps part of it may be due to the fact that Montgomery Ward was my very first credit card I was ever approved for shortly after graduating from high school. I think I had a limit of $500, but never came close to hitting that even until the day the store announced it was closing shop both locally and across the nation. Whatever problems Wards faced, it wasn’t because of yours truly.
 
Mall Property Manager Marcello Lalama said Wards location at the Meadowbrook Mall certainly didn’t fall in line with the problems it reported nationally that eventually led to its closure around 2000.
 
“It was a great anchor for the mall; an original anchor to the mall. When you consider that and when you consider how iconic of a brand Montgomery Ward was it was sad to see them go,” said Lalama. “I think myself and everyone else remembers the mall location as being a good store.
 
“They did great volume here and they were good for us,” he continued. “I don’t think until the final days when the chain was in serious trouble, had announced the closing and the amount of merchandise available slipped that you ever saw any problems with our store. It was always busy because most people in this area trusted their products.”
 
Ironically, my only major purchase on my Montgomery Ward credit card was my first VCR (for you youngsters, please Google that). I remember looking at a name brand and one that was tagged as “Admiral.” I was assured by the salesman that the “Admiral” was actually built by a major U.S. manufacture (can’t remember the name) and that it was a quality product.
 
That was 27 years ago. A quarter of a century-plus later, I still have my Admiral VCR, which occasionally gets called into duty. Even more astounding, is that I have an original and crisp operating remote control. Perhaps our friends at Specturm can take a look at my VCR remote for some tips on longevity and operations.
 
I may have a suit that I purchased at Wards in one of my closets, but I can assure you it’s no longer operational. That, however, is more a result of my gluttony as opposed to a failed product.
 
Wards is among the first anchor stores that closed due to national problems (before Sears and Elder-Beerman - or Bon-Ton/Stone & Thomas - recently). The other was Ames. 
 
I was never a big shopper of Bon Ton, although I did frequent Ames and actually boycotted Stone & Thomas for a while after it left downtown Clarksburg and left many a person – including family – without their jobs. Until the month it closed, I utilized Elder Beerman, primarily when Christmas shopping.
 
There was one other thing I liked about Wards. You could park outside the auto service center and walk right in. Few people utilized this up close parking and because of that I felt like it was reserved for me. I would pull up, head in, take a drink from the fountain and begin my usual look and don’t buy process at the mall that continues to this day.
 
While that process continues, I just wish Wards was still there. Don’t get me wrong, I love Target and the fact Meadowbrook Mall was able to secure them as quickly as they did speaks volume for the work that Lalama does and that of the Mall’s owners – the Cafaro Company out of Ohio.
 
Yet every time I enter that store I think of Wards. After all, it was in business from 1872 to 2000, which if my simple math is correct is 128 years – not too shabby of a run. It actually closed its catalog business, which was perhaps more iconic than the stores themselves, in 1985. Perhaps that was the harbinger of doom for the chain and on Dec. 28, 2000 – with just 250 stores left including one in Bridgeport – the official closing was announced. Weeks later, it was all gone.
 
Although you can find Montgomery Ward online, it's simply a company that brought "intellectual rights" and other components. The store and its history are a thing of the past.
 
The good news for me is that everything isn’t gone. I’ve still got my VCR. And until technology completely makes it useless or it finally gives out, I’ll always have a piece of Montgomery Wards in my home.
 
As I often do in these types of blogs, I’ll turn it over to the readers. Please feel free to comment below on your memories of Wards or any of the other big anchors that are no longer there.
 
Editor's Note: Top photo is an aerial shot of the Meadowbrook Mall from several years ago, while Property Manager Marcello Lalama is shown in the middle picture. The boarded up picture of this random Montgomery Ward storefront one from the bottom is courtesy of Wikiphotos. The final photo is of yours truly's Admiral VCR and still original remote control from 1991 - both still working.


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