Are urban big box stores good or bad?

by David Alpert

Topher Mathews found out what Vornado plans for the now-closed Georgetown Park Mall. They hope to attract 2 restaurants for the side of the building overlooking the C&O Canal and have lined up a number of large chain stores for the rest: TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Michaels and an expanded J. Crew. Is this news welcome or disappointing?

Malls were designed to replicate the main street experience; when there’s already a main street, it’s just a less-trafficked side street, and its 3 levels, winding paths and dark layout made it inconvenient and unappealing.The chain retailers will each have entrances on the street rather than an interior mall-like layout, as was the case before. That makes sense because Georgetown already has a main street to walk along and see shops: M Street.

Mathews isn’t so enthusiastic about which stores will fill the space. He says:

Essentially, when Vornado is done with it, the bulk of the mall will have been converted into a couple big box stores that have all the charm and destination-appeal of Rockville Pike.

Design is the biggest problem with most big box stores

The biggest problem with Rockville Pike, though, is its urban form. Each shopping center has a giant parking lot between itself and the road, and there often aren’t any connections at all between centers. That means it’s very difficult to shop there any way other than driving to one center, parking, driving to another, and so on.