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Nation’s Smallest State Boasts the ‘Smallest Mall’

January 22, 1985 GMT

EXETER, R.I. (AP) _ Two battered gas-pump sentries stand guard outside a tiny wooden building. A solitary soda machine leans against the structure near a shaky bench and an American flag.

An easy place to miss - if not for the sign.

″Welcome to the Exeter Mall,″ it boasts in a sunburst of yellow and blue.

Come one, come all. Step right up to a purely American curiosity.

On the edge of 200 acres going brown in the nation’s smallest state is what its owner claims is the nation’s smallest shopping mall.

By now, most people are familiar with malls: giant conglomerations of stores serving kids to kittens, selling everything from shoes to shingles.

The Exeter Mall is something quite different.

″There’s not too many stores like this left,″ 41-year-old ″mall″ owner Costas Papadopoulos said proudly. ″I call it a mall because here you can find anything you want. You want cat food? I got. Work shoes? Diesel fuel? Anything you want.″

Papadopoulos, a large balding man with a Greek accent, is close to the truth. He’s got almost everything.

A stack of puzzles and games teeters next to a shelf of mustard, relish and apple sauce bottles. ″Home-style″ cookies share a spot with dog food, and work boots hang above cereal boxes. Wiffleball bats stand in a rack below post cards singing the praises of the Ocean State.

″People are always surprised at all I’ve got here,″ Papadopoulos said as he let fly with a booming laugh.

To get an idea just how small the store is, consider this: the Exeter Mall takes up about 1,700 square feet, including an old trailer Papadopoulos attached to the main building after he bought it in 1981.

The Danbury Fair Mall in Connecticut, which when complete will be New England’s largest, covers 1.2 million square feet.

More than 700 Exeter Malls would fit into the one Danbury Fair Mall. That’s a small mall.

Because of its size, or lack thereof, tourists who travel Route 2 through southeastern Rhode Island and pass the mall on their way to the beach are ″always taking pictures of the sign to show their friends. They know they won’t believe it.″

But that won’t always be the case. Papadopoulos has big dreams and an ambitious plan.

Someday, he and his wife, Pota, hope their 28-month-old son, John, will be the well-to-do owner of a major shopping center here.

Papadopoulos recently bought the 200 acres behind his store, and an architect has drawn up plans for a ″real″ mall.

Blueprints show the layout for a credit union, eight retail stores, a U.S. post office, a pizza house and restaurant, 246 parking spaces and, of course, Papadopoulos’ own general store.

″People, my customers, don’t like the idea too much,″ he acknowledged. ″I guess people are reluctant to change.″

As an example of that reluctance, Papadopoulos tells a story about his decision to put tile over the mall’s wooden floor.

Over the objections of a dozen or so of his patrons, who said a tile floor would change the mall’s rustic atmosphere, he went ahead with the first step toward modernization. But the fuss his customers made convinced him to drop the idea of installing a new ceiling to go with the shiny new floor.

So he can just imagine what they’ll say when they hear of his plans for the future.

″They think it may lose some of what makes it special,″ he said quietly, with a touch of melancholy. ″I guess they may be right.″