Annapolis, Maryland is a historical city of about 35,000 people and the capital of Maryland. Located on Chesapeake Bay in the southeast corner of the much larger Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area, a region which houses over 8.2 million residents, Annapolis is roughly 30 miles from both downtown Washington, D.C. and downtown Baltimore.
Annapolis has a rich history which spans from the pre-Colonial era to the present, and was even the nation’s capital for about six months in the 1780s. Today, a modern Annapolis is an important regional node in the Baltimore-Washington area and thrives off revenues from the sailing and tourism industry, as well as from being a hub for military infrastructure and commercial and agriculture distribution. In addition, Annapolis is a super-regional retail hub, due in part to its almost predestined importance spanning back throughout history, but also due to an opportunistic market seizure in 2007 on the part of Westfield’s Annapolis Mall – or, Westfield Annapolis as they officially call it, but don’t worry, we won’t.
Opened in 1980, Annapolis Mall is currently the largest mall in the state of Maryland, including the area surrounding metro Baltimore and the Maryland side of the Washington, D.C. area. However, a whopping four malls on the Virginia side of metro D.C. are bigger than Annapolis Mall: Springfield Mall, Tysons Corner Center, Potomac Mills, and Fair Oaks Mall. Springfield Mall, which we’ve covered here, is a troubled red giant in a crowded (and fiercely competitive) retail galaxy, but the Tysons MegaMall Googolplex, Potomac Mills and Fair Oaks are certainly formidable super-regional destinations in their own right.
Annapolis Mall has weathered many anchor changes and two significant additions since it opened 30 years ago. When Annapolis Mall originally debuted, it was anchored by D.C.-based Garfinckels, Hecht’s, and Montgomery Ward. In 1987, an 84,000 square-foot JCPenney store was added at what was then the east end of the mall. In 1990, the Garfinckel’s closed, and the site was eventually repurposed into a Borders Bookstore. In 1994, an expansion and Seattle-based Nordstrom were added to the northeast end of the mall past JCPenney, adding 200,000 square feet of retail space, and in 1998 Lord and Taylor was added on the northwest side, across from JCPenney. The next year, in 1999, Montgomery Ward closed amid bankruptcy. To replace the Wards store, Sears moved from nearby failed Parole Plaza, an outdoor center, in 2002. Finally, in 2006, Hecht’s, a May Company store, was sold to Federated/Macy’s, which converted Hecht’s and all the other May nameplates to Macy’s in September 2006.
Even with all the anchor changes and additions, the biggest change at Annapolis Mall in its 30-year history took place in 2007, when an expansion added 220,000 square-feet of retail space to the mall, nearly doubling the in-line space. No new anchors were added, but the Lord and Taylor store, which the new corridor runs through, was renovated. The new expansion is called the “west wing”, and the older, original configuration of the mall is called “east wing”, even though from an aerial perspective they look like they should be aligned more north versus south, respectively.
Annapolis Mall’s current configuration is now quite unique and far more interesting than it was prior to the 2007 expansion. The older part of the mall, which consists of a straight shot of in-line space in a corridor between Macy’s and Nordstrom, is twinned with a new, parallel corridor that goes from Macy’s, through Lord and Taylor, up to Nordstrom again. In addition, a smaller diagonal wing connects the Borders/Sears end of the mall with Macy’s, and the entire mall is one level. Confused? A complete directory is located here.
The decor at Annapolis Mall isn’t at all seamless between the original mall and the expansion, with the expansion having a more modern look with higher ceilings and atriums, while the older part of the mall looks more traditional and even slightly dated (hey, that’s not so bad…). The older part of the mall also contains several fountains, though curiously they are all apparently newer than expected, as all of the old fountains were ripped out in a mid-90s remodel.
The dominance of Annapolis Mall can be analyzed in at least a few ways. First, the lack of dominant, super-regional retail centers in the south suburbs of Baltimore and the eastern suburbs of D.C. created a void that Westfield saw fit to fill in 2007. Most of the malls in the eastern suburbs of D.C. are smaller and more neighborhood/regional oriented, and this is likewise for the suburban area south of Baltimore. Furthermore, none of them are upscale-oriented like Annapolis. Arundel Mills, which was the largest mall in Maryland before Annapolis Mall’s expansion, is an immensely popular mall but fills a niche of a different kind – it’s an outlet mall – and therefore provides a different type of consumption. The expansion at Annapolis brought in many more upscale stores, and thus provides a different type of shopping experience than Arundel Mills. In short, the two can probably co-exist due to low overlap.
The addition of almost solely upscale stores in the expansion leads us to another analysis for the latent dominance of Annapolis as regional retail heavyweight. Annapolis is wealthy, and so too are many of the enclaves nearby. In addition, wealthy people from both the eastern suburbs of D.C. as well as the southern suburbs of Baltimore will go out of their way for the offerings and selection here. Also, Annapolis Mall has weathered the recent economic meltdown extremely well. Even with the crash of the economy, beginning in 2008, the loss of stores has been held to a minimum, and quite a few of the losses at that were the result of failed experiments on the national level and not limited to this specific location (Ruehl, Martin+Osa).
This expansion has also inspired synergy, resulting from the neighboring retail areas around Annapolis Mall working with it instead of competing against it. The 2007 expansion at Annapolis Mall came just one year prior to the total redevelopment of a failed outdoor mall, Parole Plaza, located just a few blocks away. Parole Plaza was a decades-old outdoor mall, anchored by D.C.-based Woodward and Lothrop and Sears. Most of it died in the late 1990s and was torn down in 2004, to make way for an upscale lifestyle center called Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole. Featuring New Urbanist features like forced density, different styles of housing, grocery, and upscale shops and restaurants, this new development is working in tandem with Annapolis Mall to acquire and keep upscale shoppers busy in the area. Developers of the new lifestyle center realize that working with Annapolis Mall, while at the same time keeping the same upscale theme, will help them rather than hurt them, as Annapolis Mall delivered crushing blows to Parole Plaza a decade earlier.
Annapolis Mall and its environs are also convenient vacation stops for many D.C. and Baltimore residents as they make their way to shore destinations such as Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and Ocean City. In similar fashion, Annapolis Mall is also the closest large, super-regional mall for many residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the nine counties in the state east of Chesapeake Bay, and to those in southern Delaware. Delaware may be tax free, but those wishing to visit Nordstrom or many of the other upscale retail stores at Annapolis Mall would come here – at least until 2011, that is, when Christiana Mall in northern Delaware will give birth to Delaware’s first Nordstrom.
We visited Annapolis Mall in Summer 2009 and took the pictures featured here. As usual, feel free to leave your own comments, experiences, historical facts and any other clarifications.
P.S. I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos. My digital camera broke in the middle of this trip so I had to use my iPhone. I didn’t actually realize they were this terrible until I uploaded them just now.