Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. is a shopping mall that's also an outdoor shopping center and even features a train ride for children and adults. (Patrick Brannan/Carroll County Times)
The decline of shopping malls across America has made headlines for several years now. The cultural shift to online shopping and the rise of outlet shopping centers is wreaking havoc not only on retail stores but on the malls themselves.
I rarely go to a mall. Frankly, I try to avoid them as much as possible, especially around the holidays. When I do go to a mall or shopping center, it's almost always for a specific item or purpose.
The rise of Amazon has dramatically changed how many people shop. It's easy and convenient. And if you have Amazon Prime how can you argue with two-day shipping and all the other benefits that come with the program? There's just something about knowing if you need something around the house you can quickly order it and know it will arrive within two days.
Unless it's really an urgent need, online shopping beats going to a store, having to search for an item, hoping it's in stock and dealing with the crowds, etc.
I recently signed up for my first Amazon subscription item so that dog food arrives every two months. It was cheaper and it will save me a trip to the store even if that purchase is infrequent. I thought I was going to have to go to PetSmart to get a small bag of food before the first shipment arrived, but as if Amazon knew, the shipment moved up a few days and saved me that hassle.
It's almost like Amazon has a camera in your home — and I don't have an Alexa, although it took major restraint during the recent Prime Day not to order one.
Growing up in Baltimore, I remember when the malls in Hunt Valley and White Marsh opened in 1981. And I've seen the change and re-development at Towson Town Center over the years.
In a lot of ways, you went to a mall for the experience as much as the shopping. The Hunt Valley mall closed in 2000 and was redeveloped into an outdoor shopping center with Wegmans as one of the primary tenants. I rarely go to White Marsh mall anymore, spending more time at the outdoor center that opened across the street or the Ikea next to the mall.
According to the TownMall Wikipedia page, it's the only mall that features both northeastern retail chain Boscov's and southern chain Belk's. Maybe TownMall should play off of that and offer Civil War re-enactments for entertainment.
Last month, my family and I attended a wedding outside of Richmond, Virginia, and stayed at a hotel on the northwest side of the city next to Short Pump Town Center. I wasn't really sure where the hotel was, but in doing some Google Map searches of the location I knew it was next to a Dick's Sporting Goods. I thought that was a little odd, but guessed it was near some kind of shopping center.
When we arrived fairly late at night, I thought it was odd that there were buildings but I didn't see a lot of signs designating what they were. When we had time to explore the next day before the wedding, I discovered what I was looking at was the back of a shopping center that is designed as an open-air, two-level mall.
According to that mall's Wikipedia page, it opened in September of 2003 and features more than 140 stores and several restaurants are across the parking lot on one side of the mall next to the main road. I found the design to be very nice and even though it was a hot day in late June, it wasn't unbearable while we were walking around and there was plenty of shade.
Certainly, the types of stores and brands available make a big difference in drawing someone to a shopping center. Macy's, Dillard's, Nordstrom and Dick's Sporting Goods were the anchor stores but there was a wide variety of stores and restaurants across the other levels including an L.L. Bean.
There was even a small branch of the Children's Museum of Richmond and a trackless train ride parents and children could enjoy. There was also a large outdoor fire place that I could imagine is popular in the late fall.
I haven't heard of or seen, any other open-air malls like Short Pump. The open air shopping centers that are popping up in many places may be nice but can struggle to truly offer a nice shopping experience. Indoor malls do offer the feature of being weather independent in that bad weather doesn't impact your experience. But like I said, while it was a hot summer day, it wasn't unpleasant.
Who knows what will come of TownMall, but it's an opportunity for the mall managers to work with the community and develop something that fits well in Carroll and might just become a destination to attract others to come spend money here.