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Year in Review: 2006

2006 was yet another interesting year of MetroWest retail. Construction of the mall's expansion quickly took shape, with the residential towers close to reaching their full heights by the end of the year, and the long-awaited Lowe's store opening at the year's close. But all was not good: the year took Filene's and numerous other May-owned brand names with it, in addition to several other retail casualities in the Golden Triangle.

JANUARY: Parking Garage B is razed to allow for the expansion to connect to the existing mall; construction of replacement Parking Deck F is announced. Filene's begins liquidation on January 29.

FEBRUARY: The existing Natick Mall is evacuated on February 18th as a construction crew mistakenly hits a gas line. Nordstrom announces that it will open stores in the coming years at the Burlington Mall, South Shore Plaza, and the Northshore Mall, though the Natick location will continue to be the first in the state. The former Exxon gas station on Cochituate Road is re-opened as a Gulf.

MARCH: The proposed condominum towers at the Natick Mall are approved, while renovations to the existing mall begin. The mall's general manager, David Falkner, is sent to Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Arkansas, and is replaced by Frank Lazorchak. PetSmart announces that it will open at Shopper's World in the former OfficeMax. The Natick Mall's Lord & Taylor survives another round of store closings. Filene's closes at the end of the month.

APRIL: Radio Shack announces that locations throughout MetroWest will close; the Natick Mall store survives the closings. Independent Mobile opens at Shopper's World replacing Cambridge SoundWorks, while Paiva opens at the Natick Mall. Framingham/Natick Retail gets a plug in the MWDN's "Surf's Up" column. Macy's existing location closes on April 30.

MAY: Sam's Club abruptly closes on May 1 with no warning to the store's 96 employees. Macy's reopens in the Filene's building on May 2, while rumors begin to take shape that J.C. Penney will open in the former Macy's building. Fresh City opens in the former space of Woodworker's Warehouse on Route 9. General Growth hands over the pad of the Nordstrom store to Nordstrom's contractor, IBEX Construction.

JUNE: Rumors have The Cheesecake Factory heading to the Natick Mall. With parking becoming a mess at the mall, General Growth begins proposing plans for how to best deal with the limited parking during the holiday season six months away. After a three month delay, Club Libby Lu finally opens at the Natick Mall. Heated conversation between Framingham and GGP over the construction of a sewage pipe result in an out-of-court settlement. Recreation World at Sherwood Plaza becomes Brunswick Home & Billiard, Elan Salon moves into the Cloverleaf Mall, and Long's Jewelers moves into the Natick Design Center.

JULY: Gourmet India opens in the Natick Mall food court. The Natick Mall announces that it will drop the "mall" word from it's name as it rebrands to "Natick"; residential components of the project become known as "Nouvelle at Natick". Eastern Arts opens at the Natick Mall; after two weeks of business, police and mall management shutter the store for selling illegal weapons. Thefts at the Sunglass Hut stores at the mall total $8,000.

AUGUST: J.C. Penney nears a lease signing with the mall for the former Macy's space. Two temporary Halloween retailers open: "Boston Costume" in the Oriental Warehouse building near the 9/27 Plaza and "Halloween Outlet" in the former Border's building. The party ends at Sherwood Plaza East as Party City closes; meanswhile, renovation to the Minado, Brunswick, and Town Fair Tire facades begins.

SEPTEMBER: LIFT 9 busses begin service along the Route 9 corridor. Lowe's tries to get a temporary occupancy permit for its Cochituate Rd. store, but shoddy construction leads the planning board to hold off on approval. Federated pulls the plug on Filene's; in Chicago, massive protests mark the re-branding of Marshall Field's to Macy's.

OCTOBER: The Natick Mall holds a "topping-off" ceremony for the retail components of the project. The MWDN reports that Legal's Test Kitchen will be one of the tenants in the mall expansion. Federated CEO Terry Lundgren announces that the former Bloomingdale's women's store in Chestnut Hill will become a Macy's, while the Natick Macy's will receive renovations. Lowe's recieves its temporary occupancy permit on October 13th as expected. Rochester Big & Tall announces that it will open in the second floor retail area of 1400 Worcester Street.

NOVEMBER: Rumors arise that both Burberry and P.F. Chang's China Bistro will be part of the expansion. Massive rains spark an electrical incident which causes $40,000 of damage in the expansion's under-construction parking garage. The new women's Bloomingdale's store opens at The Mall at Chestnut Hill. The Natick Mall releases plans for holiday season parking: a new exit from Parking Garage C and employee parking in Parking Deck F are hoped to fix the issue of traffic for the next month. Framingham threatens to hold off Lowe's occupancy permit once again. Framingham/Natick Retail is there as the Natick Mall holds a grand-reopening ceremony to mark the completion of interior renovations; during the event, models name Louis Vuitton, BCBG, Stil, a relocated Coach store, Lacoste, Oakley, The North Face, J. Crew, Zara, Johnston & Murphy, Martin + Osa, Teavana, Metropolitan Bar & Grill, Sel de la Terre, and Finale Dessert as tenants. The ceremony also marks the official dropping of the word "Mall".

DECEMBER: After many months of having only one way around the mall, Natick Mall Road quietly reopens in a one-way direction going underneath the expansion and past the future J.C. Penney. Lowe's holds a soft opening nearly a year behind schedule on December 11. Mall officials propose one final addition to the project: a 65,000 sq. ft. "streetscape" expansion at the front of the mall that would include Crate & Barrel and The Cheesecake Factory. Natick's website is relaunched at natickmall.com.

If anything, the theme for 2006 was easily one thing: new and old.

Certainly, in the triangle, there was a lot of new. The largest retail project in Framingham, Lowe's, finally opened its doors after nearly two years of planning. The mall expansion, which was a concrete-supported pit at the beginning of the year, has evolved into an enormous two-level corridor with a Nordstrom that looks as if it could open and a Neiman Marcus that's quickly mirroring the renderings; together with two massive residential towers that are becoming the pinnicle of the area's skyline, this was the project of the year, and will certainly be the project to watch in 2007. At the end of 2005, it was hard to visualize what the largest construction project in New England would bring to MetroWest: today, with leases signed with elite international retailers and eateries, and construction that is quickly reaching its peak, the grand opening set for nine months from now has become just that much easier to visualize.

But the year came with loss as well. The area's biggest retail icon, Filene's, disappeared as the merger between Federated and May, which closed last year, finally became visible to the common person, taking with it over 300 jobs at Natick alone. The interior of the Natick Mall, with high ceilings, tile floors embedded with various shapes, and a design that screamed for the high stock prices and positivity of the 1990s, saw its demise to make way for the elite tastes of the third millenium. Sam's Club, Border's, Party City, numerous Radio Shack locations, the Recreation World brand, and other staples of retail in MetroWest will undoubtedly be forgotten by most in the years to come, although they will be permanently enshrined here.

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2007!

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