America’s Historic Shopping Mall Is Converted Into ‘Micro-Apartments’—Get a Peek Inside

August 24, 2019 Updated: August 30, 2019

In 1828, over 190 years ago, the Providence Arcade opened its doors. This enclosed shopping center, built in Greek Revival style, with large columns and a large glass atrium that allowed customers to browse many shops all in the comfort of a dry, cozy indoor space, was the prototype for all the thousands of malls that would follow.

But not long ago, this historic architectural monument was in danger of being demolished, like many other buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the nation’s oldest cities. That’s when developer Evan Granoff stepped in with a brilliant idea for making this incredible building come to life again.

“People talk about saving historic buildings, but often the only way to save them is to make them economically viable,” he told Fair Companies. “How can you make this building economically viable when over 50 percent of the space is common area?” The answer to this problem came from an up-and-coming trend in city living, micro-loft communities.

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While the Providence Arcade was a pioneer in retail, grouping together many shops in one convenient place, as time went on, the small shops inside couldn’t compete with big-box alternatives found in the suburbs. The other problem the Arcade had was three floors of retail spaces with no elevator.

By the time the Arcade closed, there were just a few tenants left hanging on. “It had been saved from demolition in years past,” Robine Dionne, director of outreach at the Arcade told CBS, “and people were worried it would be destroyed or taken over by one tenant.”

Thankfully, after considering several different options, Granoff found an undeserved market that needed exactly what the building could offer: small but characterful living and retail spaces with a sense of community in a centrally located, historic building.

Thanks to John A Simonetti Architect LLC for the beautiful photos of the arcade providence!

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To reach these young professionals, emergency services workers, and older people wanting a convenient second or third residence in the city, Granoff made units out of the old stores on the second and third floors. The largest apartments available are just 775 square feet, and most of the units are much, much smaller—only 225 square feet!

To give an idea of how “micro” these “micro-apartments” are, the average American guest bedroom is about 132 square feet, according to Doorways. So these diminutive apartments are fitting a toilet, sink, shower, closets, bed, kitchen, and living area in a space that’s not even double the size of a standard room in a house.

In order to make these apartments meet city building codes, they have to be a bit quirky. First, there can’t be a door between the bedroom and living area, as this would violate minimum size requirements. Second, they’re not allowed to have stoves or open fires in the kitchen, so people do their cooking with the microwave or countertop convection ovens.

The 188-year-old building got a makeover.

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But how do the residents feel about these mini-spaces? In a video with Kirsten Dirksen of Fair Companies, resident Naz Karim, an Emergency Room doctor, explained that the space is perfect for her, since she’s always on the go. Even the closet, which was a challenge at first, proved to be just enough. “The key is to keep it small, you can’t have a massive wardrobe.” Karim loves the big windows looking out and into the atrium. “One of the things I love the most about this space is that it’s really bright and airy.”

Another resident, Sharon Kinnier, who has a house in Washington, D.C., where her husband lives, has rented an apartment to be closer to her job at a organic cosmetics lab in Providence. Living in a micro-apartment “makes you prioritize what is important to you, so it’s pretty self-sufficient.”

For Kinner, the micro-housing concept gets people to ask themselves, “What do you really need to live a comfortable life?” As a businesswoman on the go, the Arcade has been ideal for her.

Shop til you drop….then head upstairs to bed!

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Of course, the Arcade doesn’t only offer very economical (rent starts at $550 per month), cozy, and self-contained living spaces; it also offers a collective living experience.

Residents can enjoy the lofty glass atrium, meet and greet down by the locally owned, independent businesses that occupy the first floor, and generally feel good about living in a community. “We have people in all stages of life,” Robin Dionne told TODAY. “People are always around and hang out with each other.”

Most importantly, these new residents have given this old building a chance to survive, hopefully for another couple hundred years!