Years ago, a roll of quarters went a long way at Fun Time Amusements at the Billerica Mall. A short walk away, the pet store offered kittens and puppies for Billerica to adopt. Just outside and down the sidewalk, Billerica caught movies like “The Lost Boys,” “E.T.,” and “Top Gun” at the Billerica Flick. When it was still enclosed, the Billerica Mall of the 20th century had some 40 stores.
Today, the mall still stands just off Boston Road and south of the Town Center. Fun Time is gone. The pet store left too. The Flick has been gone for years. Papa Gino’s and Kmart, both long-time tenants that outlasted their neighbors, packed up and left as well, after decades at the mall.
Standing in the parking lot today, it’s hard to remember the Billerica Mall of the 1980s and 90s, even with the mall’s recent renaissance. Today, if you go to the Billerica Mall, you find a strip mall instead of the enclosed shopping mall. Now called the Shops at Billerica, it’s not even the Billerica Mall anymore.
But, thanks to its redevelopment, the mall seems to have emerged, once again, as a vibrant member of Billerica’s commercial community. According to a recent article from the Billerica Minuteman, the mall reached 90% capacity in 2019.
Before the Mall: Musgrave’s Dairy
When Musgrave’s Dairy closed in the late 1960’s, the Billerica Mall rose in its place. By 1974, construction of the mall began on land acquired by developer J. Everett Farmer. Excitement surged around Billerica as the mall rose up on Boston Road across from Charnstaffe Lane. Planners reported that the L-shaped mall would border St. Theresa’s on the north, and the town’s massive water tank on the south.
Townspeople prepared to welcome the mall’s two anchor stores, the A&P and K-mart. K-Mart, the mall’s largest store, boasted some 84,000 square feet of retail space. The A&P, the second-largest tenant at 50,000 square feet, would be the chain’s third Greater Lowell location, after re-entering the area following seven years away.
When the Mall Opened
Planners announced an August 1975 opening that got delayed to October. In addition to the A&P and K-Mart, forty more shops were planned, including some familiar tenants like Radio Shack, Papa Gino’s, Fanny Farmer, and Fun Time Amusements. Others like My Store for Levis and Smart Look opened too, but didn’t stay nearly as long.
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Architects purposely designed the mall to reflect the latest trends in 1970s-era architecture, emphasizing the mall’s relationship with its community and its commitment to aesthetics and the environment. Designers were careful to avoid the complaints leveled at other malls of the time that claimed malls represented rampant, careless sprawl and growth.
Inside the mall, designers kept hallways purposely narrow so that shoppers would stay close to the store’s products as they walked the mall’s interior corridor. They also staggered the storefronts so that shoppers wouldn’t see a monotonous sea of glass.
The Billerica Mall … Then & Now
Billerica embraced its mall, which thrived through the early 1990s. Stores came and went. The A&P became Market Basket. Almy’s evolved into a Burlington Coat Factory. As time wore on, falling foot traffic, and later a failing roof, cost the mall additional tenants.
Today’s mall, known as the Shops at Billerica, still has the Burlington Coat Factory and Market Basket, but lost K-Mart, an original tenant, early in 2020. Attempts to revive the aging mall in recent years–including a new facade–have started to pay off, with the mall’s once-empty spaces now filling up.
Note: This Oct. 2012 post was updated in Oct. 2020 to improve flow, add new photography, and include new details/information.