Whenever we discuss Downtown Columbia, much attention (and rightfully so) goes to the redevelopment that will help the community realize Jim Rouse’s vision of a vibrant urban hub. But a fixture of downtown — The Mall in Columbia — also will continue to have an integral role in that plan, even as millions upon millions of square feet of retail, residential and office space, as well as other amenities and attractions, are built up in nearby lots and neighborhoods.
The Mall in Columbia has been an anchor and a centerpiece destination since opening in 1971. It remains a significant draw. It is home to approximately 215 shops and restaurants, and encompasses 1.43 million square feet. The mall quickly became a fixture of the community and the region, back when the building only reached from Hochschild Kohn (now Macy’s) to Woodward & Lothrop (now JCPenney).
Demand has led to the mall expanding — another wing and another anchor (Sears) added in 1981, the addition of Lord & Taylor and parking garages in 1998, a third wing and Nordstrom opening in 1999, and restaurants and a movie theater opening up outside of the mall between 2001 and 2005.
These days, the mall continues to evolve.
It is adjusting to changing times and a changing vision for Columbia’s downtown. Sears now has a smaller footprint, so several new destinations will be opening in its former upstairs space to create a different kind of anchor. An outdoor plaza is a community gathering place as well as a shopping avenue that, ultimately, will help guide those strolling to walk from Downtown Columbia into the mall, then perhaps down to the Columbia Lakefront.
That is the vision — that individuals will go beyond merely visiting the mall or Merriweather Post Pavilion, and will see downtown itself as a destination, experiencing multiple areas and amenities during each visit. Unlike other malls, which are typically set up in places with little around them, the location of The Mall in Columbia will encourage individuals to see both the mall and, well, Columbia.
And they will continue to visit. The mall draws an audience from well beyond Howard County. Between 70%–80% of its customers come from a trade area that reaches into the surrounding counties and includes a population of more than 860,000 people. It has been a place for one-stop shopping, thriving thanks to its mix of shops and restaurants and fun activities, including not only the movie theater, but also the carousel, a play area for kids and an entertainment venue that is soon to open in part of the former upstairs Sears space.
Howard County residents and neighbors in the area have been fortunate to have The Mall in Columbia as an economic driver and as a destination for more than 45 years. I look forward to the day when the new development complements and augments the experience of being downtown, when people come for one-stop shopping and realize how much more there will be to see and enjoy.
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