Building the “World”

An early sketch of Shoppers’ World. (Framingham History Center)

The future Shoppers’ World would be situated on an area that locals called Wyman’s Nursery.  

Transforming vast farmland into New England’s first mall would not be easy.  Suburban Centers Trust first had to get the city of Framingham on board.   Rawls was quick to assuage the city’s fears as the company promised that “The merchandise sold in the shopping center will not compete directly in large measure with merchandise offered in the already established business areas in Framingham.” 

There was also the question of a name. 

Early ideas included some rather uninspired entries such as “The Nation Center,” “Middlesex Center” and “Merchandise Mart.”  Dissatisfied with those nominees, naming contests eventually were held among staff members of the hired ad agency and at a cocktail party for the press.  Shoppers’ World was thrown in the ring and in a later marketing poll, 124 out of 199 respondents chose the moniker over the other three other options. 

Rawls then brought in the architectural firm of Ketchum, Gina and Sharp to design the look of Shoppers’ World.  By April of 1950, as more than 1,500 electricians, carpenters, steamfitters and detailers got cracking.  Of course, with 20,000 cubic yards of earth to be moved, sixteen miles of electric wiring to be strung, 30,000 tons of concrete to be poured and 1,700 tons of structural steel to be placed, things did not always go smoothly.

For isntance, there was the trouble with cement. 

A Pennsylvania mill strike meant that there wasn’t a single bag of cement mix in the entire New England region.  A frazzled member of the construction team was immediately flown to Great Britain to secure emergency cement for the project.  Indeed, the worksite was quite chaotic at times.  Sidney Shurcliff would later describe the area as “a madhouse of well-intentioned people getting in each other’s way.”  At one point, a distracted truck driver stepped on the accelerator, rather than the brake, as the first carload of plate glass rolled into the Shoppers’ World site.  A promotional brochure would later describe the result as a “minor mountain of broken glass” and told readers that “we will not report what was said on that occasion by several of the parties concerned.”