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Arcade’s reopening gives historic mall new lease on life

All 48 of the landmark’s apartments are currently leased, with over 300 applications received for shops

With its ornate facade, curling iron handrails and marble walls, the Arcade Providence has long maintained a sense of class and old-fashioned glamor below a half-decade thick layer of dust.

Construction workers remain at the historic site, finishing paint and plaster. But simultaneously, new shops and eateries hope to soon restore the historic location to its former glory.


A landmark location

Built in 1828 by Cyrus Butler and The Arcade Realty Company, the Westminster Arcade was the oldest operating indoor shopping mall in the United States until its closure in 2008.

The Arcade was originally a “speculative venture” intended to unite “many shops under one roof,” according to the statement of significance that marks the building as a National Historic Landmark. The Arcade was built to account both for design and function, combining granite, iron and marble to mimic a Greek Revival style, according to the statement.

Since then, the Arcade has changed hands multiple times, having been separately owned both by the Rhode Island Association for the Blind and Johnson and Wales University, though the building has retained its commercial purpose, said Paul Wackrow, director of preservation services at the Providence Preservation Society.

The Arcade’s current owner, Evan Granoff, purchased the building from Johnson and Wales in 2005.

The building was closed in 2008 because the second and third floors of the mall struggled to find tenants, Wackrow said, adding that these properties were “less accessible to the street.”

Neighboring buildings were also redeveloped or demolished during that time, he added. Since then the Arcade has remained closed.

But in 2011, Granoff announced plans to reopen the Arcade, repurposing its second and third floors as micro-lofts instead of shops.

The response was immediately positive, said Robin Dionne, the mall’s director of outreach and client relations.

“There’s a long waitlist” for the building’s properties, she said. The micro-lofts on the second and third floors are still under renovation, but all 48 apartments have been leased, she added.

The first floor shops have also been in high demand, Dionne said, adding that “there were over 300 applications” to occupy them.

The Arcade boasts a long list of historic accolades, including being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and being named National Historic Landmark in 1976.


Business breakthroughs

The Arcade reopened its doors Oct. 21, after five years of closed shutters. Though some of the building’s 17 businesses have yet to welcome customers, most are already making sales.

Manga Shuman, owner of the Adirah gallery in the Arcade, opened his business in downtown Providence last January but decided to move into the Arcade once its reopening was announced.

Granoff is “very into arts,” Shuman said, adding that many of the Arcade’s businesses have an artistic bent.

Many of his customers have been lawyers, bankers and businesspeople from the surrounding area, Shuman said, describing the location as an advantage.

Shuman said he appreciates the “close environment” of the Arcade.

“The unique shops … feed off each other,” he said.

Jessica Ricci, a Providence native who owns an eponymous jewelry shop, said she opened her store solely because of the Arcade.

Local stores encounter lots of difficulties in spite of Rhode Island’s “art-based economy,” Ricci said. She praised the Arcade’s focus on “local, small” shops.

But Ricci said parking is the site’s biggest problem, comparing the Arcade’s parking facilities to that of the larger, less expensive facility by the Providence Place Mall.

“Customers feel parking lots are a little bit overpriced,” she said.

Nevertheless, Ricci expects restaurant openings and residential move-ins to bring more “foot traffic” which will further improve the Arcade, she said, adding that she expects the residential project to be “fabulous.”

Looking forward

Though the Arcade is nestled away downtown away from campus, some students and local residents expressed interest in the building’s revival.

Daniela Cote MPH ’11 described the Arcade as “a piece of art,” adding that she was particularly fascinated by facts and details such as the amount of marble used.

Cote said she plans to move into one of the building’s apartments with her boyfriend once it opens.

Hasan Friggle ’14 said he knew about the residential project because he wrote a comparative essay in an art history class about the Arcade and the Providence Place Mall last year.

The apartments “seem really small,” Friggle said, but “the location is good.”

Richie Leng ’14, said the Arcade is “a very nice shopping area” but added that he does not plan to visit because the shops seem pricey.

Other College Hill students have already visited the building, including RISD student Linnea Kilpi.

Kilpi said she learned about the reopening from a friend who works at one of the shops. Though she did not know about the residential project, she said she plans to visit the Arcade frequently.

“The stores are cute,” she said. “It’s just nice to walk around.”


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