JC Penney moved from downtown Fairfield to its present location in 1972 to become an anchor business of a soon-to-be-built mall. “Soon-to-be-built” turned out to be nine years.
According to then-mayor Gary Falati, five developers had taken cracks at making the dream of a mall become a reality before he and others got involved. When the Hahn Company presented a plan to have JC Penney on one end and Mervyn’s on the other with 47 stores between, then-City Manager B. Gale Wilson asked company president Ernest Hahn a question.
“He said, ‘Mr. Hahn, do you like to make money?’ And when he said “Yes,” Gale then said, ‘Well, as a city, so do we. We don’t want this little strip thing, we want a regional mall,’ ” Falati recalled.
To sweeten the deal, Fairfield agreed to create a redevelopment agency and take care of the mall’s infrastructure. In return they stipulated the mall have 1 million square feet of retail space and that the city be granted an equity interest in the venture.
Final details were hammered out in a three-day marathon negotiation session with 21 people present, including the Hahn Company, a city of Fairfield contingent and representatives of the anchor businesses. The ground rules were that negotiating teams could not phone out and that once a page in the document was agreed to, it then could not be changed. After much haggling, the final agreement was close to 200 pages.
The $41 million mall opened to much fanfare on March 19, 1981.
While Falati and others who labored to make the mall a reality were primarily trying to secure a tax base, it also became a social hub for many in the city, county and region.
Locals recall the mall:
Ginger Barrett Sroaf: I worked at Foot Locker located right where you could see the downstairs entrance. I remember standing there in my little umpire uniform and being scared by the people running in the first day the mall opened. Yikes! Talk about pandemonium!
Gina Conyers Antonelli: Everyone was excited to see such a big new mall because we had to go to Sun Valley to get the good clothes; bell bottoms, sailor pants, platform shoes and the famous blue eye shadow.
Mike Lavell: Our Sbarro’s crew played some great games of whiffle ball in the mall after we closed up.
Mark Smith: My first call with the Fairfield Police Department was to the mall for two shoplifters in custody at Sears. The security officer said the subjects (a male and female) didn’t have ID, but gave me their names. I looked at them, said they were lying, then gave their real names. Those two looked at me in amazement trying to figure out how I knew them since they weren’t even from Fairfield. But they were from the Bay Area city where I used to work and I had arrested both of them many times. They eventually recognized me.
Debbie Hafner Parris: I worked in that mall from day one through 1992-93. It was like its own little world once you worked there for so long. Not only were you family with people you worked with, but also with customers and people working in other shops. When my son passed away in 1992, the people at Paradise Bakery found out from my co-workers. The women there knew I loved their broccoli cheese soup and awesome chicken salad so they sent a huge amount of both to my home after my son’s funeral.
Vicky Valentine Proud: Since I didn’t have a car, the mall was my way to “cruise” for guys. Other than that, Comics and Comix was the only store that existed there for me.
Kathy Potts: During our sophomore year, 1981-82, Debbie Ewert and I volunteered to wrap gifts to help out one of the sports teams for Armijo. People were paying for my crappy wrapping. I still can’t wrap worth a darn.
Brian McQuaig: How about going back to when that place was a hayfield and we used to take the hay bales and make forts out of them? That’s how far back I go.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at email@example.com.