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Wheaton Plaza is starting to look kind of sad…

January 19, 2009, 12:25 PM

My local shopping mall, Wheaton Plaza, otherwise known as Westfield Wheaton, is starting to look kind of sad with the poor economy taking its toll. Currently, Office Depot and Circuit City are holding going-out-of-business sales. Office Depot is doing a round of store closings to stave off bankruptcy, and for Circuit City, the Wheaton location survived an initial round of closings, and only started its closing sale after the company announced it was shuttering all locations. Combined with the closing of the family-owned Montgomery Cinema and Drafthouse (a movie theater outfitted with tables and chairs so people could dine and enjoy a beer while watching movies on the big screen), the outparcels on the south side of Wheaton are going to be looking really empty in short order.

Combine that with the fact that one of the two-story anchor buildings in the mall itself has been empty for more than a year, and things are really starting to look sad. That empty anchor location appears to have been built as a Hecht’s (see photo), and closed when the merger with Macy’s was completed (Wheaton Plaza already had a Macy’s).

When I moved to the area in mid-2007, that anchor location housed a store called IFL Furniture, selling overpriced furniture. That location closed in the fall of 2007, and it’s been empty since. There were rumblings that a Kohl’s and a Steve and Barry’s would be taking over that space, but something tells me that’s not happening any time soon. Steve and Barry’s is closing all its locations, and so the Wheaton location is presumably stillborn. Then with Kohl’s, I don’t know what to think. When IFL vacated the location, work started on that building. Trailers came in, black coverings were put on all the doors so you couldn’t see in, and an area in front of the south entrance was fenced off for various construction stuff. That whole fenced off area is now gone, and it looks like nothing’s happening there anymore. Inside the mall, the entrance to the former Hecht’s/IFL space has been walled off, and it’s as if they’re pretending that there is no building behind that wall. The wall is being used to promote DSW Shoe Warehouse, which recently opened in the former Hecht’s wing, and made for a small reshuffling of tenants as locally-owned Wheaton News was moved elsewhere in the mall, and a Payless Shoes was relocated as well.

Besides the poor economy, I think Wheaton Plaza has other problems. For one, Wheaton Plaza is a pain to navigate. The mall is roughly T-shaped, and to get from one level to the other, you have to go all the way to the end of one of the wings to find an escalator. One would think that there would be a set of escalators near the mall’s center.

Additionally, I think that Target was probably a poor choice of anchor for the mall. When I’m going to the mall for Target, as is usually the case, that’s all I go to, especially when I’m getting enough to need a cart, since Target’s shopping carts lock if you take them beyond the permitted area right in front of their store. And speaking of Target, it surprises me that they don’t have an exterior entrance. I for one would be perfectly happy if Target had an exterior entrance along with the mall entrance. This way, I wouldn’t have to interact with the mall at all if I so desired. It is a bother to have to go into the mall and down a corridor to access Target. I thought it was a bother in the 1980s when Kmart at Dixieland Mall in Rogers, Arkansas had an interior entrance that was similarly placed with no exterior entrance, and I still don’t like that layout now. Target should figure out that they are better as a freestanding store, or in an outdoor shopping center. I’m not too fond of the shopping-mall design.

And lastly, have you ever tried driving around Wheaton Plaza? It is a colossal pain in the butt to access by car. After a few months of trial and error, I’ve found that the only place where I have a half-decent chance of not waiting at a long light to get in is by approaching from University Boulevard and entering over by Giant. Forget Veirs Mill Road – too many lights, plus a lot of bus traffic because the Wheaton Metro station is right there. Likewise, the short distance on Reedie Drive between Georgia Avenue and the mall has TWO traffic lights! And they’re both long. Not fun. Plus to get to Wheaton Plaza, I have to deal with the monster of an intersection that is Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road. Not fun by any means.

Web site: Statement from the theater's owners about Montgomery Cinema and Drafthouse's closing

Song: Special stage music from Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Quote: And meanwhile, it's snowing outside. I don't believe that it will amount to much, but it looks pretty while it's coming down.

Categories: Wheaton