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Remember This? Auburn’s Montgomery Ward becomes Auburn’s first shopping mall

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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“Remember This?” and Gus Thomson can be reached at

or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.

 

Malls were a thing in 1974. Still a little new and different for Auburn.

But contractor Greeley Herrington had a plan.

Herrington, fresh into retirement after a contracting career that included developing much of the Skyridge residential area, bought the vacant Montgomery Ward building on Lincoln Way with an eye toward remodeling the structure to turn it into a shopping mall with 20 businesses.

By the end of the year, he had transformed the building for about $200,000 in construction costs into what was labeled Auburn’s first mall.

On the steps of what would be renamed the Gold Country Mall by the end of 1974, Herrington would meet with former Montgomery Ward manager Pat Corzin and real estate sales agent Sid Dennison to seal the sale of the store with a photo for the Auburn Journal. The building had been vacant for 18 months. The picture would run June 19 of that year, showing Corzine presenting a key to new owner Herrington.

Herrington vision

For Herrington, it was a return to his early construction roots. He recalled to Journal reporter John Trumbo that he “put in some hours as a college student in 1929 toting some two-by-fours when the building was under construction.”

The meeting on the stairway was symbolically significant. Herrington had plans to take it out entirely and open up the main floor area for foot traffic and shoppers.

By November 1974, the Journal was trumpeting in a center-page spread the grand opening of the Gold Country Mall.

The opening was an exciting day for Auburn, with more than a dozen new businesses opening in the center and testing the local marketplace with special offers. Owner Don Bechelli and The Ice Cream Shop, on the High Street side of the mall, was scooping out 99-cent banana splits for the grand opening. Rick and Lisa LaCombe’s Burneys Old Fashioned Hot Dogs provided a coupon good for one free 35-cent drink, with the purchase of a hot dog. Leisure Times advertised a complete waterbed kit for $120.

Entrepreneurial proliferation

Other businesses in the mall included Lorraine Brown’s Auburn Travel, Janet and Jim Van Eaton’s Leather Or Not craft shop, Sharie’s Gift Chalet, owned by Sharon Skinner and Marie Lewis, and Mountain Mama, owned by Carole Purin-Parkinson and Judith Gordon-Margolies.

The business mix has changed substantially in the mall over the years but it continues to provide space for entrepreneurs both established and new to Auburn in the city’s core business district.

“Remember This?” and Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or 530-852-0232.

 

Journal archives photo John Trumbo

Contractor Greeley Herrington, former Montgomery Ward manager Pat Corzine and real estate sales agent Sid Dennison were in on big plans for the Lincoln Way building in Downtown Auburn that would make the switch from department store to mall.