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Washington Mall celebrates half a century of retail

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Happy Birthday: From left Washington Properties deputy general manager Lisa Summers, Select Sites Chris Williams, La Trattoria chef Angelo D’Amato, The Harbourmaster owner Sheilagh Robertson, David DeSilva of Mall Studio and Julie Mayor, Washington Properties concierge. Missing is Lucy DeSilva of Mall Studio, and Paul Slaughter, Washington Properties general manager (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

The Washington Mall’s 50th anniversary on November 3 feels particularly poignant to the building’s longest-running tenants who have made it through Covid-19 – one of the worst retailing periods in Bermuda’s history.

“It is nice to know we have survived what has been one of the worst periods globally,” said Sheilagh Robertson, owner of The Harbourmaster, the mall’s oldest retail shop.

“But this downward retail trend started long before the pandemic.”

Top is an artist’s imagining of the planned Washington Mall in 1970, and below is the building today from the Reid Street side (Top photograph supplied, bottom photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

Since opening in the Hamilton shopping mall in 1975, she has outlasted larger, more established local retailers such as Trimingham’s, HA. & E. Smiths, and A. S. Coopers.

“Since 2007, retail has really been struggling,” she said. ”In some ways, as a smaller business we can be a little more resilient because we are reliant on ourselves,“ she said.

David DeSilva said his wife Lucy DeSilva had been working with portrait outfit, The Mall Studio, for 42 years. The couple bought the business in 1993.

Mr DeSilva credited a large part of their success to the mall itself.

“Our studio was like Bermuda’s Facebook,” he said. “Everyone walked by and looked at all the beautiful photographs in our window. A lot of that has changed now because of the internet. People are constantly WhatsApping and e-mailing photographs to each other.”

But he said they were surviving.

La Trattoria Restaurant opened as a takeout shop in the Washington Lane in the late 1970s and expanded, bit by bit.

La Trattoria chef Angelo D’Amato said times had been challenging since Covid-19 began, and the restaurant owned by MEF Ltd is now battling supply chain issues.

“But we are still here, so the best is yet to come,” Mr D’Amato said.

The restaurant is planning a three-course meal and a gold-leaf pizza to celebrate the mall’s birthday.

Washington Properties general manager Paul Slaughter said things had been rough during the pandemic with vacancies in the mall, but things were getting better.

“We are now at 85 per cent occupancy,” Mr Slaughter said. “We have a total of 66,000 sq ft of retail right now, and 56,000 sq ft is occupied. The Gibbons Home Store is one of our major retailers.”

But he said things were looking up with several new tenants scheduled to move in shortly.

“A lot of companies are having their staff come back to work in town, which has a positive impact on foot traffic in the mall,” he said.

Anniversary celebrations organiser Starla Williams, of the Select Group, said that for a half a century the mall had played a crucial role in the economy of Hamilton and the lifestyles of Bermudians.

“There really isn’t another mall in Bermuda,” Ms Williams said. “It has a variety of shopping, restaurants and other businesses. I think the combination of those things in the mall are so convenient, particularly to people working in Hamilton. So this is a celebration of 50 years of delivering to the Bermuda public.”

In was in 1968 that news first broke of a new million-dollar mall planned for Hamilton. Part of the property had previously belonged to the estate of furniture store owner Chesley White.

On September 25, 1968, The Royal Gazette reported that the site was being managed by Washington Properties, and would be called the Washington Arcade. It would house 30 shops with 40,000 sq ft of shopping space.

Businessman William McPhee launched the project, but took on Cyril Black as a partner after a year. While it was initially expected the shopping mall would open in 1970, it was not until November 1972 that it was finally up and running.

Washington Properties bought other buildings and increased the mall’s square footage in the early 2000s.

Washington Properties will celebrate its anniversary with a week of celebrations starting on Saturday, including discounts, gift certificate giveaways, music, a scavenger hunt, Gombeys and more.

For the full schedule see the Washington Mall Bermuda’s Facebook page.

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Published October 27, 2022 at 7:48 am (Updated October 28, 2022 at 7:48 am)

Washington Mall celebrates half a century of retail

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