TownMall of Westminster has been quite the conundrum both for the business community and for consumers in recent years. Mark Twain might have said reports of its imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated, but the reports do keep coming — every time a business closes its doors, every time a customer walks through and posts in an online community about how empty the mall is, every time we write a story that includes no specific comments from ownership about the mall’s future.
“If you believe all the different rumors that you hear, you would have thought [TownMall] would have closed a couple years ago,” Mike McMullin, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, told us. “But the fact is they are still out there and working diligently to keep that place active, open and to bring different types of business in there. I’m excited about it.”
On Monday, a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for five new businesses in the mall. Skayl, a defense contractor, Battleground, a video gaming lounge, Sweet Additionz, a bakery, The Mermaid Movement, an experience-based company focused on ocean conservation, and Hackney Haunts, an upcoming haunted house, were welcomed. That is good news for the mall itself and for Carroll countians who would prefer to drive to one spot and take care of three or four items on a checklist rather than driving to multiple locations or relying solely on online commerce, which might be fine for some retail needs but doesn’t help if you want a coffee or some food while you are browsing for sporting goods at Dick’s or for clothes at Boscov’s or Belk.
Having those new stores opening may help the mall’s viability, though recent losses of Chick-fil-A, Sears and long-time tenant The Mustard Seed — among others — certainly have hurt foot traffic. And the mall has yet to replace sit-down restaurant/bars Casa Rica and Legends Cafe, which closed in 2016. At one time, these restaurants and previous incarnations provided other stores with traffic from people waiting for tables, walking off meals and made full-scale date-nights that included a trip to the movie theater possible.
So, is mall management actively seeking new restaurants? Or is the new model to bring in more tenants like Skayl, a global communications solutions company that provides little in the way of customers coming in but would pay the rent and have employees who might walk to Villa Pizza or Asian Bistro for lunch or The Treat Shop, Auntie Anne’s or, now, SweetAdditionz for snacks.
Hard to say, as management has never been forthcoming about plans. A statement to the Times last week was optimistic, if not particularly insightful.
“We continue to believe that the mall is the preeminent retail property in Carroll County,” Sam Himmelrich, president of the Baltimore-based real estate firm Himmelrich and Associates, which has owned the mall since December 2017, told us via email. “We strive to continually improve the property and over time we’ll likely embark on a larger scale redevelopment but those plans are not imminent. ... We’re thankful for the community’s continued support of the mall and are excited about its prospects going forward.”
It seems they are following the national trend of bringing in more experiential businesses for millennials and youths with Battleground, Hackney Haunts and The Mermaid Movement joining the likes of COB51 in that vein at TownMall.
“Here’s the thing: people aren’t going to malls anymore to shop, they are going to have events,” Aly Glover, owner of The Mermaid Movement, told us. “The mall, I noticed, was opening places like Battleground, or the Fit and Fun ... people go there to have experiences. I wanted to add to that.”
We are always glad to see new businesses opening in Carroll County and we believe TownMall plays an important role. We just think management could ease concerns of customers and potential tenants and maybe even drum up some excitement by revealing a long-term plan.