Wednesday, August 05, 2009

In This Months Business Monthly

“This will probably piss some people off.”

That was my exact thought as I finished the final draft of my August column for The Business Monthly. I honestly didn’t set out to do that. It just kind of developed that way. My original thought was to relate my past experience with the Columbia village centers to the current debate over CB 29, the village redevelopment legislation. This debate has turned into the warm up act for the larger debate on ZRA 113 the town center redevelopment legislation that is anticipated to go before the council this fall.

My personal history with the village centers begins back in 1971 when I worked in The Cheese Shop in what was then called Wilde Lake Village Green. Back then, the village center contained a cheese shop, a butcher shop, a grocery store, a pharmacy with a soda fountain, a full service restaurant, a barber shop, a beauty shop, a book store, a record store, a liquor store, a tobacconist, a dry cleaner and a bank. The only stores still standing from those days are the barber shop and the dry cleaner. This was before the mall opened.

Later, after graduating college in 1977, I was hired on as the Village Center marketing director for The Rouse Company. My job was to help build and sustain customer traffic to what by then were four Columbia village centers in Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, Harpers Choice, and Long Reach. Already market forces and demographic changes were pulling shoppers away from the village centers.

This look back got me thinking about the whole Columbia “story” or vision as some would prefer to call it. Yes, Columbia broke new ground in religious tolerance, race relations, secondary education, and healthcare but these changes did not occur in a vacuum. Columbia merely capitalized on these changes. This was essentially a brilliant marketing move.

Not that this is a bad thing. It merely needs to be considered when you hear folks speak of maintaining what was originally planned. What was originally planned was planned to meet what homebuyers and shoppers wanted forty years ago.

You can read this month’s column here.


John Bailey said...

I could not agree more with what you wrote. If downtown Columbia had more to offer we would see an increase in people strolling around, spending both their time and money in the local stores.

Columbia 2.0 said...

Check out our new media take on the question, "Where is everybody?"

Columbia 2.0 said...

Check out our new media take on the question, "Where is everybody?"

Anonymous said...


I'm not sure about the success of running for office (in Columbia?) while supporting this blog hosts views of the peace (lack of vibrancy) in Columbia.

Lots of residents will respond that plenty of vibrancy is available in DC and Baltimore during work hour.

Anonymous said...

I think your comments were thoughtful, not outrageous, measured, insightful, and predictive of the decision which has to occur soon if the Columbia Town Center is to become a vibrant, people center who frequent it to be dined, entertained and include it as a part of their family life. Correct me if I am wrong, but I see no leadership among the nimby's like Liz Bobo and her husband Lloyd Knowles, the Columbia Association Board and the politically sensitive and ineffective Howard County Executive and Council.Am I wrong?

Chuck said...


Your description of 1971 Wilde Lake Village Center was sad to read and memorable. I also remember vividly working as a teen stringing xmas decorations in the centers which were a mecca of people, stores and community. I also believe you are correct that the past is not a good blueprint for how to make things work today. For some of us, the memories of riding bikes through the mall skeleton as it was being built are a long time ago and the beginning of years of change. Those days are long gone.

Young at Heart said...

Thank you for a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. It should be required reading for everyone involved in the village center and town center debate.