BYE-BYE WHITE FLINT… UPDATED
SO-LONG BLOOMIES: Bloomingdale’s at White Flint Mall To Close this Spring - Why this Location?
In November we learned of plans to redevelop the existing three-level, 30-year-old White Flint Mall on the Rockville Pike and replace it with an “outdoor town”. (Bye-Bye White Flint – Redevelopment of Rockville Pike’s White Flint Mall). While the plans originally called for the new development to grow around the existing Bloomingdale’s store … this no longer appears to be the case, as earlier this month we learned that Bloomingdale’s at White Flint Mall will close this spring.
Four Bloomingdale’s Locations Nationwide Closing, Including White Flint Mall Macy’s Inc., which operates Bloomingdale's, announced in a Jan. 4th press release that it plans to close nine stores nationwide (five Macy’s and four Bloomingdale’s), including the Bloomingdale’s at White Flint Mall, as part of its process to “selectively prune underperforming locations”. According to Macy’s Inc. chairman, president and CEO Terry J. Lundgren, these ill-fated stores “no longer meet [the company’s] performance requirements.” (Macy's to Close Laurel Mall store, Bloomingdale's at White Flint). The White Flint location employs 158 associates, who, according to the press release, will be offered positions at nearby stores “where possible,” but otherwise may face layoffs. (Bloomingdale's, Macy's closings = 297 jobs lost). While Macy’s Inc. also plans to open a handful of new stores around the country, none appears slated for the DC area. (Macy's Plans Store Openings and Closings). Once all of these changes have been implemented, Bloomingdale's will have a total of thirty-eight full-line and home stores, as well as twelve Bloomingdale's Outlet stores. (Macy's to Close 9 Stores, Including Bloomingdale's Store at Mall of America).
Why Bloomingdale’s at White Flint Mall? An anchor tenant (along with Lord & Taylor) in the aging Rockville Pike mall since 1977, the 259,000-square-foot Bloomingdale’s store is one of a few draws to the mall. What caused such a successful department store in a thriving location to fail? It’s not as though Bloomingdale’s is going out of business completely or as though the surrounding area is in trouble and cannot afford such a “high-end” department store. In fact, Montgomery County is known as one of the wealthiest counties in the country. (Washington Area Richest in Nation Last Year). Nonetheless, out of the forty-two Bloomingdale’s stores across the US, the White Flint Mall location was selected as one of four “underperforming locations” to close. Possible causes:
Getting to White Flint Mall, located off Route 355 (i.e., the Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue), is, in short, a pain. Unlike, Montgomery Mall and Tysons Corner Mall, both of which are located just minutes off of the beltway, White Flint Mall is not easily accessible from any beltway exit. Additionally, and even more frustrating, is navigating all of the new changes and the traffic (which keeps getting worse). Rollin Stanley, AICP (Planning Director for Montgomery County), perfectly described Route 355’s aggravating commute, in a recent article, The Upsizing of White Flint, stating:
[T]he road often reminds [me] of the scene in the cult movie Office Space, where a pedestrian with a walker gets where he's going faster than the motorists stuck in traffic.
I could not agree more. Route 355 is one road I try to avoid at all costs (and, like in Office Space, I too always seem to pick the “wrong” lane). Also, while not terrible, the parking situation at White Flint Mall is less than ideal.
(2) Decline of White Flint Mall?
For the past several years, White Flint Mall has been visibly declining. As NPR's Larry Abramson recently stated, “White Flint is not dying, but its glory days are passed.” (Maryland County Rethinks The Shopping Mall). Long past. Growing up in Montgomery County, there were two central malls: Montgomery Mall and White Flint Mall. Of course there were a few others in the area, like Tysons Corner or Lake Forest Mall, etc., but, for the most part, it generally came down to those two. Now, however, White Flint Mall is not even a consideration, as it has become rather desolate with limited selection of retail. Further, with the recent opening of the Bloomingdale’s in Chevy Chase (and the surrounding retail options) the chances of survival for the Bloomingdales at White Flint Mall were slim (and turned out to be none).
(3) Redevelopment Plans for White Flint Mall?
As noted above, major redevelopment plans are in the works for the 30-year-old structure that will transform the site from an enclosed mall into an “outdoor town”. (Plan Envisions White Flint Mall Becoming a ‘Town’). Lerner Enterprises and The Tower Cos (both Rockville-based) announced their plans in November to “deconstruct” the mall and turn it into a “town”. Owner reps said the company plans to replace the 850,000-square-foot building and surrounding parking structures on Rockville Pike along the property’s southeast border with a collection of 21 buildings that span much of the 45.3-acre property. (In White Flint, the Mall is Being Turned into a Town). Original plans called for the Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's department stores to remain in the new development, while the rest of the mall would be razed. However, this no longer appears to be possible for the redevelopment.
(4) Departure of Brick-and-Mortar Stores?
The shopping mall, a fixture of the suburban landscape, has been impacted by the recession and online shopping. Are the days of brick-and-mortar shopping malls over? Take for example, the 30-year-old, 317,000 square-foot enclosed complex in the heart of Georgetown, known as The Shops at Georgetown Park (3222 M Street, NW), where most stores have gone dark or closed the entrance from the mall’s interior (opening only to the street, where possible). (Mall Empties for Renovation Work). It is always empty and rather depressing. (The Decline and Fall of Georgetown Park). Are these examples indicative of the future of enclosed malls.
The closing of Bloomingdale’s at White Flint begs the question … is the demise of the White Flint store suggestive of a trend towards walkable urban centers or simply a matter of logistics, location and convenience? Some interesting pieces to ponder the question further:
While it is sad to see the end of an era (or a mall), I look forward to following the planned development as it progresses and seeing the transformation of White Flint Mall into an exciting and lively “town”. As for the closing of this long-time Bloomies location, look on the bright side… final clearance sales started Jan. 8, and will run for 10 weeks (until about mid-March).