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TownMall seeking new tenants
The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce organized a TownMall Crawl "Grab and Go" Breakfast at TownMall of Westminster Wednesday morning, June 17, 2015. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

For entrepreneur Sean Bowman, the mall used to be not just a place to shop, but also the place to gather with friends, especially for young people.

In the 1980s, people went to the mall for their shopping and to hang out, Bowman said, creating a "mall culture" that does not exist anymore.

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"Literally, you could spend four or five hours at the mall," Bowman said. "It was like high school without teachers."

Despite the decrease in foot-traffic, TownMall of Westminster is still where Bowman wants to open his business, BDLM Micro Speedway, which would allow people to race toy cars on a race track. Because there are fewer patrons, the mall cannot charge as much in rent as was once the case, he said, which puts the rates within his price range.

Bowman was one of a handful of business owners who attended the first TownMall Crawl event, organized last week by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. The Crawl offered two tours of the mall, showing off its six storefronts ranging in size from 800- to 4,000-square feet available for rent for people looking to start or expand their businesses, said Susan Seaman, specialty leasing manager for the TownMall.

"We just felt that this was a perfect year for us to showcase our prime location and how the mall is the heart of the community," Seaman said.

TownMall Vice President and General Manager Robyn Clark said gathering with family and friends is still the No. 1 reason people come to the mall, even if the so-called '80s mall culture doesn't exist in the same form it once did.

The "good ol' Carroll County mall," as shopper Gary Debold of Westminster called it Friday, is a friendly place where people are likely to see their neighbors.

"The high school kids still come here on Friday nights," Debold said.

A group of four 13-year-olds meandered through the mall Friday afternoon, laughing and peering into stores. Alex Glover of Westminster said she and her friends visit the mall once or twice a week to hang out.

The entertainment opportunities, such as the movie theater, also draw people to the mall, Clark said.

"It's not just a shopping destination anymore," she said.

In the past 18 years during which Clark has worked at the TownMall, it has gone through different periods of businesses.

"Retail has this ebb and flow factor," Clark said.

A business' success, however, depends mostly on the business model, not its location, according to Jonathan Weetman, business navigator for Carroll Business Path.

"It has to be a solid business model, mall or not," he said. "If the model is flawed, it won't do well anywhere."

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The most important steps to developing a business are the early stages of planning and research, which is where many Carroll County businesses slack, said Roger Voter, Bowman's business consultant who works for America's Small Business Development Center in Carroll County.

The patrons and the businesses depend on each other, Weetman said. The businesses are needed to draw people and the people are needed to draw businesses to keep the mall running.

Because businesses in the TownMall cannot rely on foot-traffic, they have to use marketing techniques to draw people into their stores if they expect to survive, Voter said.

For CHANGE, Inc., an organization that rents a space in the mall, the partnership has been terrific, Teresa Perrera, director of development for the nonprofit. Perrera attended the Mall Crawl to tell other businesses how great the mall is, she said.

"We need to get some traffic in here and you can't do that without businesses," Perrera said.

As a TownMall patron since it first opened as Cranberry Mall in 1987, Charlene Fitzgerald, of Westminster, said she has seen a lot of great stores come and go.

"I think sometimes it's a little too small, or the stores close," she said while shopping Friday afternoon. "Otherwise I'm glad it's here because it gives me a place to shop."

Businesses that typically do really well at the mall are jewelry and clothing retail stores as well as service centers for cell phones, Weetman said.

The mall has plenty of space for Bowman's business to grow and enough parking to accommodate lots of people, Bowman said. He said he hopes his business becomes a hub where everyone can meet, recreating that sense "mall culture."

"If it's a solid model and people come, they are sure to prosper here [at the mall]," Weetman said.

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