From the President

November 2009 - The Repeating History of Megamalls


Judy Schwank

Dear Friends,

As a veteran observer of opposition movements to large retail developments, I have watched as citizen groups have become more organized over the years. In the early days citizens were rarely fortified with legal assistance and political support. Elected officials appeared to be out of touch with constituent interests. In the end, the big money always won.

Wait a minute, has this process changed at all?

Last weekend the Berks Arts Council held its annual Greater Reading Film Festival. One of the featured films was “Megamall”, a documentary that depicts the story of a citizens group in New York State who battled a giant mall proposed for their community.

Filmmakers Sarah Mondale, Roger Grange and Vera Aronow lived in the community of West Nyack, New York in the late 90’s. Although they were not active in opposing the development, the filmmakers couldn’t help but notice how the proposed Palisades Center Mall was impacting their town. They decided to document the process.

It was fascinating to watch the story of the development unfold. Told partially through the eyes of one activist who rallied the community over the years, the arguments with hapless solicitors, raucous public meetings, technical setbacks and other mishaps that befell the citizens trying to stop the project seem like a page torn out of countless other stories of unsuccessful battles against unwanted developments. This tale had some interesting twists with rumors of toxic waste seeping into the building, the developer deceiving the public officials and building another level on the structure without their approval and a few other misdeeds.

In the end, the mall was built, and today it stands as the tenth largest mall in the country. The film also depicted the impacts of the mall on surrounding businesses and local government. The other retail centers in the region fell into decline as their anchor stores moved to the big new mall. The town center suffered as shoppers migrated to the superstores. Promised jobs turned out to be minimum wage, part-time positions. Public safety costs soared for both West Nyack and surrounding communities. To handle the increased criminal activity, the police department had to fund a new evidence room staffed by a fulltime officer for merchandise stolen from stores in the mall.

It wasn’t a complete loss for the activists. The citizens were able to hold back some of the later expansion plans of the development company, and they learned a great deal about the land use planning process.

At times amusing and at times disheartening, the film documents how a single development changed the community forever. There were many lessons to be learned from the film. One conclusion that I drew is that not much has really changed in how we plan for future growth. While continued development is needed in many communities, unchecked growth has unintended consequences. We keep repeating the same mistakes.



Judy Schwank
President and CEO
10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania 

Please feel free to contact me in the Harrisburg at the central office of 10,000 Friends. My email is, or call me at 717-234-6070.

From the President Archive

October 2009 - A Ribbon "Tying" Ceremony
September 2009 -- Synergy Among 10,000 Friends Projects Is Emerging
August 2009 -- There's More To The Budget Than Meets The Eye
July 2009 -- It's Time to Think
May 2009 -- An Opportunity for High Speed Rail in Pennsylvania
April 2009 -- Welcome to Spring in Pennsylvania