The village center concept is as much a part of Columbia's heritage as the downtown lakefront, walkable paths and community pools. The original James Rouse idea was to give residents a local place to shop, perhaps in walking distance of their homes, where they could get some groceries, have a meal or buy some basics along with their neighbors.
The economy and a change in retail philosophy, particularly by grocery stores, has had an effect on the vitality of the centers. The first sign came in 2006 when the Giant Food store closed its Wilde Lake location because the company didn't believe a store of that limited size was viable any longer. A few years later, Safeway left the Long Reach Village Center. Just this week, proving that it's not all just about grocery stores, owners of the Second Chance Saloon in the Oakland Mills Village Center said it might not get its lease renewed.
The operative word today for business is change. And it really shouldn't come as any surprise. Do consumers shop the same way they did five years ago? Do they bank the same way? How has telecommuting changed the way we live our lives?
So, it's with this spirit in mind that we are pleased by the joint study launched by the Columbia Association, Howard County Economic Development and the county's Department of Planning and Zoning to look at the unique issues facing not only Columbia's village centers but also the Snowden River Parkway-Dobbin Road area.
The key here is unique. Some issues facing Wilde Lake might have been completely different from issues facing Long Reach, for example. Tom Moriarity, the lead consultant hired by CA and the county, told us last week the recommendations will likely be different from center to center because "the village centers were never intended to be duplicates."
That's encouraging. This study has the potential to arm residents, business owners and developers with information that can only make the village centers stronger.