Thursday, February 5, 2009

savings galore and empty stores at wheaton plaza

Don't understand how Wheaton Plaza looks as sad now as it did when the economy was still booming. Good job, Westfield.

I went to Wheaton Plaza (A.K.A. Westfield Shoppingtown, Westfield Wheaton or, for the uninitiated, Wheaton Mall) yesterday to see what kind of recession-driven markdowns I could find. At the "Kiddie Corner" near JC Penney, I heard this horrible creaking sound coming from one of the coin-operated rides. Lo and behold, there was a family surrounding a little kid, heaving his weight into the machine to make it rock back and forth because the parents couldn't give him change to start it up.

It seemed like a metaphor for malls and the economy in general: lots of toys around, but no money to make them go. The corridors of Wheaton Plaza are lined with signs advertising the latest markdowns: 30%, 50%, 70%. "All Jeans $9.99," one sign will say, or "Bras Just $5." I don't need a bra right now, but I was excited by the possibility of intense savings when I visited yesterday. But while it's depressing to see how sparse all of the stores are, reticent to bring in their spring line while getting rid of winter's crap, it's even more depressing to realize that Wheaton Plaza doesn't look too much worse than it did when times were good.

Even a year ago, there were still a number of vacancies, notably the Hecht's left empty when the company was gobbled up by Macy's, who'd just built a new store in the mall. And while owner Westfield entertained a rotating cast of suitors for the space (Kohl's, Steve and Barry's - R.I.P!, etc.), the one store they did snag, Office Depot, was relegated to a box out in the parking lot. Now, of course, Office Depot closed, leaving one big white elephant floating in a sea of asphalt. Meanwhile, the mall's inner corridors are slowly being taken over by "Closing" or "Coming Soon" signs or, worse, places like the "As Seen On TV Store." (To my chagrin, they do not sell Snuggie, the heavily-advertised blanket with sleeves.)

I'd hope that the economic downturn will force Westfield to reconsider its approach to developing Wheaton Plaza instead of treating it like any other shopping mall - or, worse, a smaller version of Montgomery Mall. Their clientele (heavy on immigrants and minorities, but still fairly affluent, given what I see) and their location (inner suburb with the dining options and infrastructure of a city neighborhood) demands a new take on the mall experience, one that'll ensure a low vacancy rate while contributing to Wheaton's quietly growing business district.

But, of course, Westfield let the Montgomery Cinema 'N' Drafthouse go and made a real dick of themselves in the process, so let's hope they just give up the goose and sell Wheaton Plaza to a more visionary mall developer.

11 comments:

Sligo said...

Also, it should be mentioned that Circuit City is now RIP as well. That whole separate section of the mall should be bulldozed and turned into Condos or something. Grayfield development is the way of the future... the way of the future... the way of the future.

Shitty Place was sold to a new mall developer a year and a half ago, and look where that's gotten it - nowhere. It's not really the best time to be expecting any big improvement in retail - malls in particular.

I tried to like the "new" Wheaton Plaza, if just for nostalgic reasons, but I find very little of interest to me outside of Target on the occasions I do go there. (FWIW, the same could be said for Montgomery Mall, but at least it has a Banana Republic.)

saltpig said...

Lots of bad news for Wheaton, it seems, and probably more to come. I just hope a few of the new gems can make it--please support DeJaBel coffee shop and the newly located Nava Thai!

Thomas Hardman said...

Aside from the fact that Wheaton Plaza notably and intentionally caters to the downscale -- especially to the sort of folks dominating the construction industry, who are all out of work -- Wheaton Plaza also has this little image problem of being "the place the gangstas go to beef".

When it's not "local" MS-13 and Vatos Locos throwing down on each other with running knife fights, it's idiots from Aspen Hill (HotBoyz/Shoot 'Em Up) stabbing people in the back at the Metro station, or it's Bloods from Prince George's County coming on down because "everyone knows" that Wheaton Plaza is the place to find some other gangstas.

Long after the shopping center's choice of preferred customers -- and toleration of exclusion of all others -- runs them into the poorhouse and to the auction block, I expect the gangsters will still be thinking that Wheaton Plaza is the turf to claim.

retgroclk said...

I recently heard that Checkers is now closed.

It is indeed a very sad thing to see Wheaton Plaza fall apart.

But as I have stated in other blogs, it is not the safest place to be after sundown.
Until they improve security, and clear out some of te riff raff it will slowly become a skeleton of what it once was.

On another note, this is for you Dan--It appears that the U.S. Senate is considering adding an amendment to the stimulus bill that will offer 30 year 4% mortgages.

This sounds kind of familiar.

Delegate Alfred Carr said...

Dan,
Thanks for the continued coverage of Wheaton.

I wish I had taken a picture of the message that the Cinema and Drafthouse owners left on the marquee - it said "It's a Wonderful Life - Thanks Westfield"

Visited the mall this past weekend and stopped in at both Circuit City and the Office Depot. Circuit City was pretty busy with deal-seekers. Office Depot was more quiet.

In a previous life I was involved in opening a store on the Westfield Wheaton property. I have some ideas for ways to encourage investment that I will be sharing in the near future.

Dan Reed said...

I got this comment in the mail:

Wheaton Plaza would make an excellent site for an MCPS high school. Food court is there, lots of classroom space. All those portables sitting at Blair and
other schools, it'd be cheaper for MCPS to purchase Wheaton Plaza then expand schools.

Sligo said...

Alternatively, they could convert it into a prison.

Thomas Hardman said...

They could turn it into a High School AND a Prison.

That way the drop-out students could save other people a lot of time, effort and grief. And they could save themselves bus-fare because it's such a short walk from the Hs they drop out of and the prison they'll end up in.

Sligo said...

Or the Circuit City could be turned into a high school.

PotomacSecretAgent said...

The poor economy is touching ALL economic strata. Stores are closing in Cabin John Mall in Potomac and Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Foreclosure and short sales now abound in Potomac, which many of us thought would be spared from the economic drama.

Cash is king these days. Savings rate is up, and the economy will continue to retract. Those in the market for a home and have the ability to buy one can be a winner in this market. Prices are WAY down, and bargains are rampant.

Someone wise once said to buy while there is blood in the streets. Someone investing now, will reap big rewards when the economy recovers.

Some bargains here www.potomacsecretagent.com

Thomas Hardman said...

Heh, I'm voting with my feet, as it were.

I think I shall follow some short sweet and simple rules.

Keep in mind folks, that I am far from wealthy but that could change.

Still, I have been operating on a cash-only budget basis for the last 12 years and have no debts whatsoever and really very slight recurrent expenses.

While everyone else is drowning in debt and can't get new loans and have probably gone "upside down" in their mortgages and are waiting for the Repo Man to come and get their oversized SUVs, they are put in the position of having to buy at whatever place will still accept their maxed-out credit cards. They have to accept whatever deal the stores are giving.

Not me!

I decided I was going to drop in and eat at Urban BBQ over in Rockville. I've heard so much good about it. So I drove over there and first off I couldn't find convenient parking, Started to go around back but here come some MS-13 types all pimped out giving me the thug face, and right into Urban BBQ they go like they owned the joint. Guess who will never be getting my business?

Same thing with Wheaton Plaza. If I drive up there and see thug-ass gangstas all hanging out dressed like their lookin' to cap someone, I guess I can find some place else to shop.

There is never a better time than a major economic downturn to force a little bit of "the customers is always right" down the throats of the merchants. It becomes a matter of economic life or death to them, and by extension to their communities and the elected and appointed officials.

Simply stated, if they can't keep order on the grounds or in the interior, they should get no business until they can, and they need to be on notice to do so.

Back when the country was awash with funny-money counterfeited out of the inflated values of houses that everyone treated like ATMs, even the shiftless layabouts and thug-ass gangsta fools had pockets full of cash and could spend their way into the good graces of the merchants. However, nobody's hiring day-laborers at $100/day any more and nobody's buying "product" from the dealers 'cause there's no more money flowing endlessly from flipping option-ARM mortgages every six months or running a line of revolving credit at the home-equity loan company.

In other words, the previously desirable now have no redeeming characteristics.

But I, with cash to spend and "stuff" to buy -- you know, stuff like cellphones and computers and clothes -- do have a redeeming characteristic.

So, facility managers, pick your fortune.

Pick the cash paying honest customer, or leave the flat-broke hooligans to hang around and run off the people with cash to spend.

I humbly request all who read this to adopt the policy: we don't spend money around assholes.