Greater City Providence

What should go there? Providence Place Borders Edition

Borders Books at Providence Place

Image from Google Street View

Now that it is official, Borders will be liquidating all of their stores, it is time to play our favorite game; What Should Go There?

The Providence Place Borders will be closing down, creating a large hole in the retail environment at the mall. So, what should go there, Barnes & Noble would be an obvious pick, how about an arcade? Indoor roller derby? Reptile house? Russian sub?

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Buddy Cianci Toupée museum?

    In my dream world it would be an independent bookseller slash coffee shop. Heck I’d open one if I had the money to do so…

  • I personally am sad that Borders is closing. Living on Smith Hill does not lend itself to many evening hang out locations, and so many a evening was spent camped in the Border’s Cafe reading, drinking coffee with friends (and enjoying the free wifi and A/C). They also had a decent little open mic night starting up. I never saw the store empty either.

    What should go there? Bleh. I just don’t even know.

  • We can haz Zayres?

    Seriously, I’d love a Job Lot someplace closer than Pawtucket, but I think that might be slightly down market for Providence Place.

  • Surprised no one has said Trader Joe’s…. Or some other grocery store that falls between Shaws and Dean and Deluca. The parking is already is there, and it’s within walking distance of or en route home from a decent amount of stuff.

  • I wonder if Job Lot could have an “upscale” store. I mean, it’s next to Old Navy, which isn’t exactly high brow.

  • And maybe now that Border’s is out of Downtown we can convince Barnes and Noble to fill the vacant space facing Waterplce Park in the GTech building.

  • Is there anyone or any way we can make the Trader Joes idea happen? It would be good for downtown, and it would make my wife extremely happy. They get my vote.

  • Since we are dreaming- lets go OUTSIDE the box. To a real WIN-WIN-WIN idea. Use some kind of stimulus money/private grants to build a Thriving Center for really low cost music and art lessons for kids K- 12 (I don’t believe in free- it gets devalued), AND, during school hours, for lessons and jams for the homeless, unemployed. WITH a low cost recording studio (WITH booths), instrument making room and a small art gallery. Music & art is FOOD for the heart & soul, especially in these troubled times. Schools can’t afford enough programs. Musicians and artists need the work. Bored kids would get a more constructive focus than spending money (or being tempted to steal to keep up with friends who do have money). The city would be making a real public statement of how much they support the arts. AND how innovative Providence can be.

  • Trader Joes would be a great idea. That would be slamming and make a bunch of people happy. It would also work to fill the grocery void in the capital/smith hill area- though it might be to much out of residential density to make a reality.

    and I dig the B&N in the GT space… fulfills my needs for a place to go read and hang out 🙂

  • How about moving H&M to that spot so there can be a men’s department too? Barnes & Noble is an excellent idea, or perhaps there could be a smaller Best Buy store similar to the old Circuit City Express that used to be in Emerald Square Mall.

  • I wouldn’t use it, but it might be a good spot for a gym. I’d prefer Trader Joe’s or a HUGE H&M though 😉

  • it will either become another crappy, corporate, calorie trough, chain restaurant or a best buy.

    to Alissa in Smith Hill: just walk another five minutes towards downtown and you will find plenty of places to sit and read and get a coffee.

  • I think the B&N idea would make the most sense,given it is already set up for a bookstore,but I don’t see it happening.

    I could see H&M or even forever 21(given they are going towards a trend of unnecessarily HUGE stores). I think a best buy would be a great fit there,since there isn’t any within short distance for college students downtown.

    What about the space across from BBY on the skybridge side? I could see a staples or something going there.

  • I’m trying to think through what the logistics of a Trader Joe’s would be, I honestly never thought of that as an option.

    I don’t know what square footage a Trader Joe’s would want, nor what square footage the Borders space is. News reports indicate that the average Borders store is 25,000 square feet. Publishers Weekly says the Providence Place Borders is 26,585 square feet. Wikipedia says the average Trader Joe’s is between 8,000 and 12,000 square feet.

    So, the Providence Place location is oversized perhaps for a Trader Joe’s, which means we could have a Trader Joe’s and…

    I’m trying to think how you get from Borders to the parking garage. I think Cheesecake Factory has direct access to the garage near the Hayes Street entrance, so access to the garage direct from the Borders space should be doable. The mall could reserve a number of spaces there for Trader Joe’s shoppers, which is something I imagine Trader Joe’s would insist upon.

    There is a healthy amount of residential population in the area. Not sure where the Westin or Waterplace are currently on occupancy, but Avalon is also there and the students at Capitol Cove. RISD students would certainly come down from College Hill and from 15West. Then there is the rest of the Downtown population. In an ideal world, it would be better situated on the other end of the mall, where CVS is now, or where Bed, Bath, and Beyond is.

    I’m no retail expert, but it seems doable to me. It wouldn’t hurt for those who would be interested in seeing a Trader Joe’s at this spot to send emails to corporate alerting them of this location’s imminent vacancy.

  • @Jef

    Across from BBY there is a blank space(they use the wall to advertise shows)but I don’t know how large that store is. Would that work,do you think?

  • You mean along the hallway to the skybridge? I’ve heard there is retail space back there, but don’t know how big of a space it is. I think the closer to Downcity, then better. Someone who doesn’t walk much might scoff at the distinction between one end of the mall and the other, but it takes a significant amount of time to traverse the mall, especially because of all the changes in levels you need to make.

    Imagine dragging your grocery cart up two escalators from Borders to the main level, down two escalators from the main level to the skybridge level, down another escalator to the street level so you can catch a bus near the Convention Center. Now imagine exiting near Bed, Bath, & Beyond and taking the one escalator from the skybridge level to the street.

    That would not help the people on Smith Hill, but there are more transit connections if you leave via the skybridge. Of course, that could change if the streetcar goes to the train station, then you could simply leave out the front door and walk over there.

    And I looked up Best Buy, they currently build stores of 20,000, 30,000, or 45,000 square feet depending on the market. So, they could move into the Borders space.

  • There’s more residential near the mall than there is at the Trader Joe’s location in Warwick. That shouldn’t be an issue at all.

    I don’t think Borders had an exit to the garage, but Cheesecake Factory does in the back of the restaurant.

  • I believe that a hard right out of the Borders interior entrance leads you to a set of doors to the garage. It seems like Borders and the garage share at least part of a wall, so they could probably be connected.

    While we’re talking about vacant space, though I would rather see a market than a Best Buy in the mall, I would also rather see a market in the Arcade. The Arcade is closer to downcity residences, as well as college hill (but farther from Smith Hill). Realistically though, the Borders space has the damn parking and I’m guessing that more trips (with which grocery shopping could be combined) pass through the mall and by the Border’s spot on a given day. Then again, a market could be a magnet for trips and help out retail near the Arcade.

  • @SP

    I wonder why they’ve never been able to rent that space. It seems prime. I’ve also always thought they should put some vendors in the walkway to the skybridge. A coffee kiosk with seating in that little octagon at the top of the stairs to CVS seems to be an obvious fit for the space.

  • Since Trader Joe’s doesn’t need all that space, how about a few curling sheets? Yeah, curling, that Olympic sport that everyone (who doesn’t play) likes to make fun of. Ocean State Curling Club could use 7,500-14,000 sq ft, give or take. Imagine how great it would be to curl, then buy groceries at TJ’s.

  • I realize this is a wishcasting thread but given that TJ’s blatantly rejected downtown PVD in the past and that there is still plenty of suburban strip mall with parking retail available, I would leave it in the wishcast bucket.

    If you got the GA to allow them to sell alcohol, you would be onto something that might entice them. But of course, if you do that then you have to let Shaw’s and S&S do it too and then the private liquor stores go all red in the eye and demand referendums, etc. So probably a wishcast there as well.

    @Stephanie, ironically enough, before all of the demo for the mall, there was a gym roughly in that exact spot. But with BSC established on Westminster, I’m not sure we need another gym (especially since rents in the mall I assume would make it a more high end one).

    I guess I’m just a black cloud today.

  • A market won’t fly there, unless there is some parking fee exemption, and ease of finding spots near the store, which is never easy. Would it be nice to have a TJs there, yes, but I think a full size H&M is a better fit and would do really well.

  • There are plenty of places in Providence where you could put a Trader Joe’s. For example, the former Staple’s in Eagle Square is big enough and has parking.

    But TJ’s doesn’t want to dilute the sales at it’s Warwick store. So keep praying.

  • • Full scale, Men’s, Women’s & Kid’s H&M

    • Trader Joe’s

    • Target Express (with Starbucks)


    • Split into multiple stores: i.e. Dean & Deluca, Chipotle and a bigger H&M with mens and kids.

  • There’s also available [retail] space above Borders. Add an elevator and an escalator while subdividing the space and allowing retailers to build vertically too.

  • Jef; I compare the space in the walkway towards the skybridge to the planning behind Cathedral Square (site work done by I.M. Pei) –

    …originally intended on being this grand space for festival activities, shops, pedestrian activity, nightlife, etc… and the sight of it today is the complete opposite. Vagrants, rubbish, broken pavers, desolate. Just my opinion in the planning for the mall back in the ’90s.

    Now for Borders, I love the Trader Joes idea. The Renaissance Hotel has an agreement for parking spaces at the mall – therefore, it is certainly attainable for TJ’s to achieve the same type of agreement: parking reserved near the entrance from the garage. PLUS: there can be modifications in the garage to allow direct access from within the garage (for those not seeking to actually enter the mall I suppose).

    As a resident on the West Side, I will gladly take a walk or a quick bus ride to the mall to buy groceries there – the area grocery stores are difficult to get to, and let’s face it: PriceRite is not appealing to everyone (I avoid it personally). The same appeal to TJs may be the same for students on the east side and etc..

    So who knows what will happen!

  • I’ll miss the Borders. Due to the size of the space and mall lease rates, an independent book seller would not likely fill the space. B&N would be the next best choice.

    Any food retailer could work, but Downcity, the least sympathetic part of the city to auto culture, might be a better area since it has a high concentration of apartments not served by a supermarket. With the loss of the Food Basket and Weybosset Market decades ago, it’s never made sense that Downcity area residents have to get into a car or take a bus to do weekly food shopping.

  • I was actually just having a conversation with some friends this past weekend about the lack of technology retail in the center of Providence. Sure there is Apple, the Staples on N.M. and Radio shack, but for the tons of students/tech people/residents looking to get new wireless routers, laptop maintenance, cables, and other tech gear, I think a small Best Buy would be a great addition to the mall.

    What about a sporting goods store like Dicks? A Target would make a killing. Lane Bryant, Torrid, Pink Berry, Maurices, “Only in Rhode Island,” I’m just trying to think about places where an inconvenient bus ride is required, or that have been seemingly successful at other malls around NE.

    @Matt: I’m definitely open to suggestions, but where can I walk to in DownCity where I can grab some books or magazines and lounge around for a few hours with a few friends drinking coffee and not be bothered by some sort of wait staff/game night/drum circle?

  • @Alissa,

    A dicks would be awesome! I think they could use that space to its fullest potential.

    I still think best buy would be ideal for that spot

    What about an off broadway or DSW..We all know how popular shoe stores are

  • Journal story about the closing:

    At the mall, they’ve had “a number of very qualified people” looking at the big retail space, Dunbar said.

    Given the ongoing state of Borders’ financial troubles, [Mark] Dunbar [Providence Place General Manager] said he has been anticipating that he might need to fill the bookstore’s space at the north end of Francis Street. The selling floors in Borders stores, nationally, average about 25,000 square feet.

    It’s too early to say whether a single retailer will fill the spot or if the mall might break up the space to accommodate a combination of stores and restaurants, he said.

  • @Alissa, there are a couple nice looking cafes on Westminster St. one is right next to Sura. i can’t remember the names of them. i’m not sure what the wait staff does but one of those might work for you. AS220 is pretty lounge-like. Symposium Books may have some reading space but i’ve never been in. that’s all i can think of, hmmm maybe there isn’t that much as a Border’s replacement downtown…

  • sidenote – The space across from BB&BY was a comedy club when the mall opened. I would love to see more nightlife options with the mall. In the 60’s and 70’s nightclubs where a standard element in shopping malls.

    For Borders – REI. They would work well in that space and its a little more upscale than a Dicks. Someone mentioned that there is retail available upstairs from Borders as well – What space is that exactly? I thought Nordstrom was directly above… If there is indeed space there REI has a great 2 level layout in Cranston… Maybe have kayaking demos in waterplace….

  • A Target Express would qualify all or most of these things i.e. sporting goods, groceries, apparel, furniture, cafe, housewares, hardwares, etc.

    Do we really have a strong enough market in the immediate Providence core that would support just an REI or Dick’s? Total waste of urban retail.

    Students would pick up a lot of gear at a Target Express where also orders could be made and shipped to store for pick up. I see plenty of students walking with Bed, Bath & Beyond bags from Providence Place to the East Side at any given time.

    Or sub-divide the entire space into multiple retailers.

  • I dont think REI would do it just because of Cranston…

    I do have one thought – OldNavy is moving to a new smaller format (like at the Warwick Mall). What would be the sqft of Old Navy & Borders combined? That could almost be a small full line Target.

  • Great idea, Liam. Though Borders and the Old Navy spaces are separated by Panera Bread, the State Side pedestrian entrance and P.F. Changs. 🙁

    However, a smaller Old Navy and a subdivided Borders would allow for even more retailers. Its a typical trend, with the current economy, unemployment and environmentally progressive and cost saving business tactics are creating a climate of big-box-retailer downsizing.

    The big-box-retailer downsize is actually somewhat of a blessing in disguise for traditional urban centers in cities nationwide by: decreasing auto-dependence, reduction in urban-sprawl, more multi-industry and business employment over workforce stockpiling via large corporations for cheap pay, more storefronts accessible to greater pedestrian traffic, etc.

  • I heard through the grapevine that Cheesecake Factory was looking into making the space soon to be vacated by borders into a valet parking lot for their patrons.

  • I hope something else will happen, but given the environment, would anyone be surprised if Walgreen’s or Rite-Aid went after this spot? Two of the three seem to need to be right next to each other at all locations.

    The way things have been going I will guess Rite-Aid with a drive-thru pharmacy in the garage with an exit onto Francis St. which will make them have to take down the windows and put up blank concrete wall.

    Actually Jen and I were talking and while it creates a hole elsewhere, this would be a good spot to move Crate and Barrel if they wanted to expand and carry furniture. The reason I like the C&B idea is that they usually care about their window displays and the like. Also their store now is so cramped.

  • I think that there used to Books-a-Million (or something very similar) near the Arcade. 2000 ish. Anyone remember a bookstore there?

  • That was Buck-A-Book, which, from personally visiting a number of Buck-A-Books, and just visiting Book-A-Million’s website, I can say are two completely different animals.

    Buck-A-Book was the Building 19 of bookstores. I found it a good place to buy tempra paint and poster board though. Perfect if you were organizing a protest.

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