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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Columbia Village Centers 2.0

      Last week saw the release of the second report from the consultants hired to look at how the changes in retailing are impacting the Columbia village centers, the retail stores along Snowden River Parkway and Gateway.  The changing retail trends seem to be impacting the village centers the most.  The report noted that the  a grocery store being the hub of our centers may no longer be a strong enough draw to sustain the viability of village centers.  The grocery business has changed greatly since the centers were originally created.  Twenty or thirty years ago most of us did our weekly grocery shopping at a grocery store in one of the village centers.  Back then our choices were fairly limited to Giant or Safeway.  With the development of the big box stores such as Sam's Club, BJ's and Costco offering food at close to wholesale prices the retail grocery chains faced severe competition for the grocery dollars of consumers.  Add in stores like Wegman's, Trader Joes and Whole Foods and you have a situation with a much different retail scene for the old standby grocers.  Add in drug stores, gas stations and convenience stores and you can see how the competition for your food dollars just continues to grow.
      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.

Fundraising event for the benefit of the Howard Community College Student Scholarship Fund.



martin catt said...

wow....that's good idea.i like this.thank you for your kind information.

Anonymous said...

Your ideas are sound for the most part, but the "ethnic" village center skates very close to various civil rights laws. I'm sure that is not your intention and Columbia should be proud of it's integrated community. But from a distance, such as a federal courtroom, the concept could be twisted into something illegal.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't this defeat the whole concept of Columbia as a community of differing races, educational and economic backgrounds. It would appear that you are trying to recreate all the exclusive restrictions that exist in other residential areas, what you really want is a Wegmans and segregation based on income.

Adam Paul said...

Nice concept to try to think outside of the box that might benefit from some fleshing out.

Living in Clary's Forest, I use both Harpers Choice and Hickory Ridge at least once a week, and am glad to have a store in walking distance in the former.

Each of the Village Centers has their own dynamic and challenges, from nearby competition, age of location, catchment area, and demographics. As such, each could serve a niche most appropriate to its surrounding area and amenities.

Though admittedly a Costco member, I also tend to despise the whole Costco experience, starting with the drive (and necessity to drive there) and the "sheepy" procession into the parking lot. It really does tend to be very counter to the "people scale" that Columbia was initially known for.