Thanks to the long weekend, I was able to take a day trip up to Vermont to visit a few of those crazy upnorth malls. Now, going to Vermont to see malls is a bit like going to Florida to see penguins, but, hey–even Florida has Sea World!
Vermont is possibly the most rural state in the country, and it’s one of the few places left that barely has any Wal-Marts or Home Depots or things of that sort. Similarly, the state has done a fantastic job of maintaining its quaint, well-preserved downtowns packed with local character. Because of all this, it feels strange that we at Labelscar are cheerleading their malls–I actually think they’ve done an admirable job of keeping them out, thankyouverymuch. Still, I can appreciate all kinds of shopping centers and even downtown shopping districts (as we’ll be discussing in a future post about downtown Burlington), so to us, all retail districts, especially pedestrian-friendly ones, are created equal.
There are but five enclosed malls in the state of Vermont (at least that I know of) and there used to be two others that have been razed.
Berlin Mall is one of my favorite tiny northwoods malls. I love malls that have character, and am famously unimpressed by what I derisively classify as “skylight malls”–the generic, mid-80s-present vintage centers that are nearly identical. And Berlin Mall is most certainly not a “skylight mall,” and it does have character in spades. This is the only mall serving the twin cities of Montpelier and Barre, each of which sport a population of around 10,000 people, which still makes them among the larger cities in the state. Unlike many of these smaller malls, however, Berlin Mall does quite well. It’s well-tenanted, attractive, and both convenient and manageable, and some of the decor (those cool wooden beams!) even retains a bit of the local Vermont character. This small yet bright and optimistic mall is anchored by a Wal-Mart and JCPenney and has about 30 stores total. I do know that the Wal-Mart (one of the few in the state of Vermont) moved into the Berlin Mall in 2000; I’m not sure what was in the space previously. If you know, leave a comment!
I actually think Berlin Mall is a nice model for what small town malls and smaller suburban malls should be like: hassle free, convenient, and attractive. I don’t know why malls of this size can’t succeed in dense suburbia, where it takes a lot of time to drive two or three towns over to visit a super-regional center. It seems centers of this size would be effective community malls, offering stores that sell necessities close to home and without the hassles associated with larger malls.