September 28, 2022

When fashion was tailored and pressed, the Paramus Fashion Center reigned.
Today, it’s stocked with big box shops and the state’s first Amazon Fresh grocery store. By fate — and by design — there are barely any lines.
The Fashion Center was built on 1.3 million pounds of reinforced steel, and launched via a ribbon-cutting led by Gov. Richard Hughes’s wife, Miriam, amid a crowd of queuing shoppers. Opened in 1967 as a modern marvel, the $8 million ($71 million today) mall had two multi-level department stores linked with a then-rare covered corridor. The anchor stores were seemingly transplanted from Fifth Avenue with a clear intent to link Manhattan’s big-label garb with New Jersey’s sales tax exemption on apparel.
On the north end, the 150,000-square-foot Lord & Taylor boasted hand-painted murals and 35-foot-tall arched windows encased in white marble. The mall’s south side welcomed shoppers with the polished wood floors of the 175,000-square-foot B. Altman & Co.
Both stores had trademark brand restaurants. B. Altman brought a clone of its celebrated Fifth Avenue restaurant, Charleston Gardens. Lord & Taylor had a version of the brightly colored Bird Cage restaurant to charm its shoppers.
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Bergen County’s first upscale mall, the 500,000-square-foot Fashion Center defined itself by its exclusivity.Among the specialty shops filling its initial 25 storefronts were high-end furnisher W&J Sloane, upscale shoe store Andrew Geller and tony Danish silverware shop Georg Jensen. For private label apparel, women had Peck & Peck and Ann Taylor. Men had Rogers Peet and, later, Brooks Brothers.
A row of five gold chandeliers stretched across the 615-foot arcade.
At the time when the mall opened, there was a waiting list for merchants seeking to rent out any available shop in the area, Robert Puritz of the Ridgewood Chamber of Commerce told The Record in early 1967. The county’s “northwest market,” which included Paramus, Franklin Lakes, Glen Rock and Wyckoff, was booming. “Where can you find a town without a vacant store?” Puritz asked The Record in January 1967.
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Early advertising capitalized on the trend, branding the mall “The Fashion Center, Ridgewood-Paramus.” Paramus Mayor Charles Reid claimed it was a bad marketing policy to include Ridgewood in the billing for what were claimed to be the finest shops in New Jersey. The Center, after all, was in the budding mall capital of the world. It was the third shopping mall built there within a 10-year span.
When it opened on Feb. 15, 1967, the Center had the world’s largest self-supported acrylic dome perched above a floating staircase and the now-ubiquitous mall fountain. It also had a massive tax bill that funded nearly 5% of the township’s $2.8 million budget. Today, the Center’s annual property tax payment covers about 1.1%.
The mall’s downturn started as early as 1971, around the time another Fifth Avenue stalwart, Best & Company, started work on a standalone 60,000-square-foot structure in the parking lot near the B. Altman to leach off the Center’s success. However, the company went bankrupt before it could finish. Another store, a Britt’s, took over the structure. It survived less than two years.
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When the B. Altman declared bankruptcy in 1989, the end was truly nigh. Owners in the mid-1990s welcomed a Discovery Zone fun center before throwing in the towel with a 1998 sale to Pennsylvania real estate company Willner Realty & Development Co.
By then, Hackensack’s Riverside Square, Paramus Park and the Westfield Garden State Plaza all had more space and boasted their own high-end department stores. The Fashion Center transitioned from bespoke mall to strip mall. Sales went from upscale to at-scale.
With the interior promenade closed and big-box and parent-friendly merchants open, the mall found its modern shape in 2009 with the establishment of a Fairway supermarket. That space is now filled by Amazon Fresh. In an interview with The Record this summer, district manager Emad El-Mubasher said the store employs roughly 100. Yet, few are assigned to checkout. Most stock goods, assist customers and ensure products are placed where the cameras and sensors can see them.
Items are not scanned at the register. Shoppers check in and out using an app before leaving under the shadow of the vacant Lord & Taylor. The department store closed in 2021, officially putting an end to the mall’s fashion era. It begs the question: In 55 years, will Amazon still be fresh?

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