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Shabby chic: It's called 'Natick Mall' again

Posted by Leslie Anderson  July 14, 2011 07:55 AM

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Bill Polo/Globe Staff file photo

After the Natick Mall's makeover into a luxury retail destination, pictured above in 2007, its name was changed to the Natick Collection. Now the complex has its old moniker back.

The undulating architecture outside Neiman Marcus is still there, and so is the fake birch forest and the wing devoted to luxury stores like Tiffany and Louis Vuitton and Burberry. But the Natick Collection is no more.

The company that owns the retail complex, General Growth Properties, quietly decided this spring to retire the center’s swank name, more reminiscent of objects of art than stores selling shoes and clothes and contact lenses. The new name is actually the old name: the Natick Mall.

‘‘Honestly, it’s for no other reason than to acknowledge tradition,’’ said Jennifer Kearney, the mall’s general manager. ‘‘Many of our shoppers who have grown up here and shopped here have always referred to us as the Natick Mall.’’

It had been called the Natick Mall since opening in 1966. But when it was renovated and expanded several years ago, becoming one of the first suburban Massachusetts malls to attract so many luxury stores, the corporate owners wanted a distinguished new name to match. First they decided to call it simply Natick.

That annoyed local officials, who spent their days running the place that had previously been the only Natick in town. So General Growth retreated, and the retail complex became the Natick Mall again for about a month. But in February 2007, General Growth announced it had decided on the mall’s new, new name: the Natick Collection. And it stuck, if sometimes mocked, for four years.

Until this spring. The change will be gradual, Kearney said. The rectangular orange sign on Route 9 sill announces the Natick Collection, and retailers still use the name as their address. The website www.natickcollection.com still works, though it quickly sends users to www.natickmall.com, where the new — old — name prevails once again.

‘‘It’s been kind of quiet,’’ Kearney said. ‘‘We weren’t going to make a huge announcement about it.’’

She said the name change had nothing to do with the state of the economy, which crashed the year after the mall opened. Many of the luxury condos attached to the mall were later sold at auction.

But Jason Damas, a search engine marketing executive in San Francisco, was dubious that the name change was unrelated to the economic meltdown. Damas, a Rhode Island native who lived in Boston for eight years, also thinks the name might have backfired in a region that adheres to what he calls the ‘‘religion of bargains'’ — something he doesn’t see on the West Coast.

‘‘It makes sense that something as simple as a name would really resonate,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t necessarily need to change the stores. Just change the image. That Yankee practicality is alive and well.’’

Damas, who co-writes ‘‘Labelscar: A Retail History Blog,’’ had been full of praise for the innovative design of the new mall when it opened. But he never was impressed by the name. ‘‘I remember at the time it happened, everyone was like, ‘This is a really silly, froufrou-sounding name,’’’ he said.

Around town, the Natick Collection evolving into the Natick Mall did not elicit strong emotions. Selectman Josh Ostroff was dispassionate about the mall’s return to its first name.

‘‘As long as they don’t name it something that will confuse it with something in town, they can call it whatever they want,’’ he said. ‘‘I would prefer, for example, that they not call it the Natick Common.’’

In fact, it was hard to find anyone who was sad that the Natick Collection name has been retired.

‘‘I think it’s a good idea,’’ said Rodney Renaud of Marlborough, as he walked from the parking lot to the entrance of the Natick Mall. His wife, Marie, agreed.

‘‘That’s what we call it,’’ she said.

Town Correspondent Jaclyn Reiss ciontributed to this report.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

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