In the coming weeks, Columbia Patch will publish a series of stories on the 10 village centers that have served as a hub for commerce, community and activities in Columbia, the planned community that came to be in 1967.
We will explore the various issues the centers face in the ailing economy, asking questions about whether the village center model can thrive in a world of big box stores and online shopping--perhaps a world developer Jim Rouse couldn’t have begun to imagine when he was planning what was to be a cutting edge city that was deemed in its inaugural ad campaign the “Next America.”
In Columbia’s formative years, up until the early 1970s, village centers were patterned after small European towns. They each had a small grocery of about 25,000 square feet, bank, service station, dry cleaner and about a half dozen distinct shops selling products such as cheese, flowers or meat, according to Rouse Company documents.
Over the decades, some of those village centers have struggled as businesses have left. Most recently, for example, Michael's Pub closed last spring after 25 years in King's Contrivance and many shops were shuttered following the exodus of the Giant Food once it left Wilde Lake in 2006.
But in recent months, there have been signs of a rebirth.
Michael's Pub has been replaced by Corner Stable, a restaurant known for its barbecue. Wilde Lake is in the midst of discussing its future and redevelopment. And other centers are shining in their own unique ways: Harper's Choice was recently recognized for putting on the top National Night Out party in the country.
Blogger Duane St. Clair is among those who have raised questions about the feasibility of village centers in a Walmart and Wegmans world.
“The addition of Wegman’s will further weaken the retailers in village centers,” he recently wrote. “If grocery stores no longer bring residents to the centers, how will the smaller retailers in the centers survive? Will village centers have to develop a niche to survive against the big box retailers?”
What do you think? If you are a retailer, a board member, a resident, or just someone interested in the issue of village centers, please email reporter Cindy Stacy at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas or post below.