After a change in ownership in 2017, 2018 was, if not a return to form, then an evolution to a new form for TownMall of Westminster.
“What’s unfortunately happened is, I think a lot of people think the mall is dead, and it’s not dead,” said Mike McMullin, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. “If anything, they are working hard to bring a renaissance to the mall.”
While malls all across the country have seen a retreat of larger, national retailers, TownMall began welcoming smaller, local businesses in early 2018, with three grand openings in April of the kind of businesses that do not compete head-to-head with Amazon.com in scale or logistics, according to McMullin.
“We were especially happy when we did our triple grand opening there. It was Cob51, The Gym and Westminster Barbership, all at one time,” he said. “When you look at the mall, it’s kind of like a self-contained Main Street.”
In May, Reisterstown-based R/C Theatres purchased the mall’s movie theater from the national Regal Cinemas chain, lowered the prices and announced the future installation of reclining seats, a much requested feature among TownMall moviegoers.
It was a return to local ownership with a history in Carroll County, noted R/C President Scott Cohen, whose grandfather once operated the Monocacy Drive-In theater in Taneytown.
“I am third generation doing this — I grew up in it. I was going up to Taneytown with my grandfather on Saturdays as a kid,” Cohen told The Times in May. “Then when he died, I ran the theater. Most kids had a high school life. I got home at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. in the morning.”
R/C now manages theaters in 10 other area locations, including the Hanover 16 and Gettysburg 8 in Pennsylvania.
Now named RC Theatres Movies 9, in mid-October the mall theater began the conversion to recliner seats, and ticketed seating — the wide, plush chairs reducing the total number of seats in the nine-plex from 1600 to about 650.
Another local business, Origo Coffee, serving Ethiopian-style coffee roasted locally in Hampstead, arranged to allow moviegoers to take coffee drinks with them into the theater.
And another, The Mustard Seed Christian book store, celebrated its 15th anniversary on Oct. 1.
“We’re really excited to have been there so long,” owner Janes Yates told The Times. “I feel very blessed that we have so many people that have been loyal customers.”
“The coffee shop folks are definitely members of ours,” McMullin noted, referring to the Chamber of Commerce. “So is the mall itself, the move theater … some of the larger ones like Belk. Really when you stop and look at it, there’s an experience that you can get from shopping locally, either on the Main Street or anybody in Carroll or the TownMall, that you just can’t get from going on Amazon.”
Amazon may or may not have played a role in one key departure from the mall announced in 2018, that of legacy department store Sears, which announced in October that its Westminster location would be one of five Maryland stores closed by the end of the year.
“We’re not shocked given Sears’s ongoing size reduction, we certainly were not surprised,” Sam Himmelrich, president of the Baltimore-based real estate firm Himmelrich Associates that now owns the mall, told The Times in October. “We continue to look forward to opportunities to improve the mall, and this doesn’t get in the way of our current thoughts on how to reformat and improve the space.”
McMullin, for one, is pretty curious, and even optimistic about what could replace Sears once it fully leaves TownMall.
“Obviously they took up a lot of space, but I never really looked at them as being a real draw,” he said. I am kind of excited to see who will go there.”
But in the meantime, the holiday season is not over, and McMullin, proud to endorse shopping local, said he plans to do just that.
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“There’s a lot of really nice shops out there, especially this time of year,” he said. “I have lived in this area for 29 years now, and we Christmas shop at the mall every year.”