Fredericksburg City Beat

This blog includes news about City Hall, city schools and other 22401 news.

Pamela Gould reports on City Hall. You can reach her at 540-735-1972 or Robyn Sidersky reports on city schools. You can reach her at 540-374-5413 or

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‘Main Street’ for malls?

In the seven years I’ve been writing about cities, one of the story lines that has come up repeatedly is the mall-downtown dynamic, or the story of how malls and suburban shopping centers that became trendy in the 1970s and ’80s sucked the life (and large anchor stores) out of many downtowns. That’s why we have groups like Virginia Main Street today, that try to lead communities through the process of reinventing their central business districts.

Malls have been declining as the retail trend of choice for a while, particularly as big-box shopping centers sprung up around them in many towns. The Wall Street Journal today has a front-page story about how the current recession is accelerating their decline.

The story offers some insight into what has driven malls into decline:

Failing malls didn’t get into trouble overnight, and most began their descent long before the tough climate. Typically, a mall begins to suffer due to job losses and other pressures in the surrounding neighborhood or because a newer mall opens nearby. The loss of key tenants — such as the wave of department-store closures over the past three years — hastens the demise. Also sapping malls’ vibrancy: the increased preference among consumers for big-box stores, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp., which rarely operate in malls.

Developers, in fact, have been moving away from the enclosed-mall format in favor of big-box centers anchored by free-standing giants such as Wal-Mart or open-air shopping centers with tiny parks and outdoor cafes sprinkled among fashion stores.

And in the same way that local governments have tried to figure out how to put life back into downtowns, some of that same thinking is now focused on malls:

 During past economic cycles, dead malls were frequently redeveloped into mixed-use space that includes apartments, offices or parks. Repurposing mall space today will be more difficult. Lenders and investors are moving away from commercial real estate as property values decline and delinquencies rise on debt used to acquire or develop properties. Retail real estate has been hit especially hard, as declining retail sales and store closures hammer mall landlords.

Charlotte city officials have lined up resources to help reinvent the [Eastland] mall, including $20 million in public financing. They acknowledge that finding a developer willing to underwrite the additional $180 million needed to turn Eastland into a mix of housing, shops and parks will be tough.

As for our area’s mall, over in Spotsylvania County, it’s trying to reinvent itself as a "lifestyle center," a concept that the Silver Cos. have also talked about as one of the ideas for Celebrate Virginia. Business reporter Cathy Jett wrote today about some of the stores slated for that development. 





  • lgross

    as the business models for many companies
    were evolving … realizing that “anchoring” might
    be costing them more than they gained.

    This is why we are now seeing stand-alone CVS
    and Rite Aid rather than in Commercial Strips
    and Malls…

    By isolating … their “hook” is their prescription
    service which causes folks to hang around.. and
    so they circulate in the store while waiting… and
    often find something that even if a bit more
    saves them a second errand/trip.

    What’s not helping the mall nor Celebrate is the
    building of places like Cosner’s Corner,
    SouthPointe and Harrison West – all of which are
    “intercepting” folks who used to have only the
    Mall or Celebrate as options.

    I know… I’m one of them. My trips to Celebrate
    and the Mall have seriously declined as most of
    my shopping needs are closer to home and a lot
    less fighting traffic on Route 3.

    I think Spotsy won’t get hurt too much by the
    decline of the Mall for a couple of reasons.

    First.. Cosners, Southpointe and Harrison.. and
    second.. when the connector road gets done..
    there will be another way to get to the Mall
    besides Route 3….