Editor’s note: Along with other happenings illustrated in our photo gallery from 20 years ago this month in Meriden, this story explores several notable commercial projects that were in the news.
MERIDEN — Twenty years ago this month, Target on Chamberlain Highway was a traprock ridge, and the Townline Square on Broad Street boasted a Nobody Beats the Wiz.
In the days before online shopping took hold, retail development was strong in Meriden with companies such as Linen N’Things finding a home in Meriden alongside of Shop Rite, Nobody Beats the Wiz and Dress Barn.
Now all are gone and replaced by a Big Y Supermarket, a credit union and a Five Below. Remember toy stores? Toy Works, once in the plaza corner gave way to a Sleepy’s Mattress store, and is now Once Upon a Child consignment shop.
Route 5 traffic at Townline Square has helped the plaza fill storefronts despite a fickle retail industry. But the west side is a different story
In 2000, a developer eyed one of last of the city’s large commercial tracts for a Target on Chamberlain Highway. Construction meant months of blasting through the Hanging Hills to build the big box department store off Interstate 691, and near the newly built MidState Medical Center.
The development was supposed to come with a Lowe’s home improvement center and plaza on Lewis Avenue.
At the time, some in the city thought it could cash in late on the trend of major stand-alone retailers seeking new locations close to the big malls by wedging the Target on 15 acres between the rocks.
"That just shows you how land-poor we are," said Dominick Caruso, Meriden's director of planning at the time. "We need to plan" particularly carefully because of the limited possibilities for commercial development in the area immediately surrounding what was then commonly known as Meriden Square.
"You're going to see a lot of things happening," said Planning Commission Chairman Roger DeZinno. "People are actually coming into City Hall looking to develop projects in that area. That wouldn't have happened five or six years ago."
DeZinno envisioned a break-out of development to complement two successful expansions of the mall, the addition of Lord & Taylor; and the opening of MidState in 1998.
"It's a very dynamic industry and it's always changing," said Randy Kamerbeek, the city’s economic development director at the time. "We, as a city, don't spend a great deal of time and certainly money working on retail and food service development, but focus mainly on winning industrial, office and other projects - on which developers have wide choices about location.”
A planning report completed by Caruso and his staff identified 55 acres of vacant land in a study area covering part of the immediate mall area.
But only 19 acres of that were considered immediately usable for development because other sections were state-owned, possibly too steep to build on, or protected as environmentally sensitive.
Caruso had objected to the new hospital’s construction on prime commercial land.
To the south, the interstate highway bordered the mall - but immediately beyond is Columbus Park and the former Little Italy neighborhood that would be destroyed to make way for the shopping center proposal.
The shopping center failed and the area around the mall remained primarily residential.
DeZinno said at the time, his board and political leaders "probably should have" addressed the issue sooner.