Last summer, I took a rather extensive trip down to the mid-Atlantic to build up a large stock of photos and content to keep Labelscar going through the winter. I saw an awful lot (and was disappointed at the time that I couldn’t see more) and clearly overestimated how much I’d get done during the cold and supposedly slow winter months. So much for hunkering down with steaming cups of hot cocoa and cranking out three posts a day–I’m still working through that backlog.
One of the more curious malls I visited, and one that I initially planned to post right away, is the General Growth-owned Laurel Mall in Laurel, Maryland, a suburb about halfway between Washington, DC and Baltimore. This fading mall had signs then warning of an impending renovation and revitalization, something that was very clearly in dire need. While the mall was not in awful shape and still had a fair number of tenants, it seemed to be doing surprisingly poorly given the strategic location between two major metropolitan areas.
The 663,000 square foot Laurel Mall opened in 1977, although the present-day mall cobbles together pieces of two older outdoor shopping centers. Laurel Shopping Center housed a Giant Foods and Hecht’s, while a standalone Montgomery Ward was a block away. New York mall developer Shopco bridged the two with the large, two level enclosed mall in 1977, also adding a JCPenney store. By most accounts, the mall did fine through the ’80s and ’90s, although it was less-dominant than area malls like Columbia Mall and White Flint Mall. Then, in 2001, trouble began. Like many malls throughout the country, Laurel Mall was dealt a severe blow by the bankruptcy and closure of Montgomery Ward, and the simultaneous troubles of JCPenney made matters worse, causing the mall to lose two of its three marquee tenants within a year. Customers dwindled and favored other malls and the situation grew increasingly bleak, placing Laurel Mall in receivership a few years back. Today’s anchor stores are Macy’s, Burlington Coat Factory, and International Furniture Liquidators. Note that, as my photos were taken in July 2006, Hecht’s was still around.
According to a recent Washington Post article, the mall is due for a major facelift. The center’s foreboding parking deck, which creates an ugly (and unphotographable) facade along US1, will be demolished and replaced by an outdoor promenade with stores and restaurants. The interior of the mall will remain during Laurel’s reinvention, and will be given a facelift: new owner Somera hope to add a bookstore, movie theatre, and other lifestyle-oriented tenants, while also incorporating decorative elements such as a fountain (it’s outdoor, kids; don’t get too excited) and a clock tower reminiscent of the nearby B&O Railroad station.
It remains to be seen how it turns out, but this relatively charmless mall could certainly use something. Plagued by vacancies, a dingy appearance, and (possibly unsubstantiated) fears of crime, it seems worn out. It’s more successful (and slightly larger) than most typical “dead malls,” which is likely why its getting a deserved second chance. We look forward to seeing how the new plans progress, and are glad that, for once, a revitalization project will focus on maintaining the enclosed portion of the mall while modernizing the center.