Given this new retail reality what is the new model for the sustainability of our village centers? One area that the report highlights is the increasing amount of our meals being eaten at restaurants. This seems to hold some potential as one way for village centers to bring in regular traffic that grocery stores may have once provided. Residential housing such as apartments or condos, as are now being built in the Wilde Lake Village Center, maybe another new use.
You can see many examples of apartment buildings being built today that have retail on the first floor with apartments above that. That may be a win/win because first floor apartments are the least desirable.
I have blogged often on village centers and my thinking has been in the direction of specialty village centers as the change needed now that generic village centers seem to be outliving their original purpose. Today's retail is more niche driven, especially with the development of online shopping. This will be more so with Amazon's big push in the grocery sector soon with Amazon Fresh coming to the Baltimore area market.
My idea for specialty village centers would be along these lines. For Wilde Lake, with the Swim Center as an anchor, the sports and recreation theme would make sense. Too bad Feet First moved out but another local athletic shoe/apparel store would be a good fit. This might be a better place for a store like Race Pace. Maybe a small second hand sporting goods store. Hickory Ridge could be a restaurant themed location as they already have a nice selection of restaurants. Long Reach could be an arts themed location with the Howard County Arts Center moving here, small arts supple store and maybe a store selling musical instruments like what was in Chatham Mall. Stonehouse has always been seen as an arts center and this could be the anchor. Oakland Mills would become an ethnic retail location with ethnic restaurants and ethnic grocers. Maybe an organization selling items for sale from developing countries. Have a community organization like the Foreign Information and Referral Network (FIRN) located here. Ethnic holiday celebrations could be a draw to this center. The Meeting House would host start up foreign religious groups and English as a second language courses.
I am no retail expert when it comes to what might be commercially viable but I do know that some of the niche ideas I mentioned in the last paragraph seem to be closer to where retail is going than where retailing was before the digital revolution. The retail paradigm that has existed in a post World War II suburban community like Columbia no longer exists. What we are seeing with our village centers and the Columbia Mall bear this out.