New stores turn mall inside out

The outdoor shopping area is designed to combine an upscale atmosphere with the convenience of a mall.
Friday, June 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Ann Taylor Loft opened Thursday in the Columbia Mall, the fifth and final store to settle into the shopping center’s new Fountain Court.

Chico’s, Coldwater Creek, Jos. A. Bank and the Ann Taylor Loft recently joined an existing Talbot’s store as part of the mall’s new “lifestyle” area, a current trend in the mall industry that features upscale stores in an open-air setting, said Leslie McKay, the Columbia Mall marketing coordinator.

“These are some of the hottest tenants right now. People in and around Columbia deserve the same stores and amenities that are found in malls in St. Louis and Kansas City,” McKay said. “We want to decrease leakage to these other markets.”

Nora Conrad of Jefferson City said she usually travels to St. Louis to shop. Now, the Fountain Court will keep her closer to home.

“I never came to Columbia to shop, but I love Ann Taylor. It’s great that Chico’s and Coldwater Creek are here as well,” Conrad said. “These are the new, more trendy clothing stores. It’s also very neat that the stores are outside. It provides a place for people like myself who smoke.”

The “town center” or “lifestyle” shopping center has gained popularity over the past five years, said Patrice Duker, manager of media relations for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“It provides customers with a quick trip for that one destination retailer,” Duker said. “They’re typically smaller with more atmosphere and a ‘Main Street’ opportunity.”

To create that environment, the five stores in the Fountain Court have exterior entrances. Chico’s and Talbots have interior entrances as well.

General Growth Properties Inc. owns and manages the Columbia Mall. The company’s president, Bob Michaels, said the company is adding open-air shopping to many of its malls.

“We’re constructing streetscapes that combine the accessibility of exterior shops with traditional enclosed shopping centers,” Michaels said. “It’s the ability to turn a mall inside out.”

Columbia Mall’s median shopper age is 34, and McKay said the shops in the Fountain Court appeal to that market.

“So far, the stores are doing fabulous,” McKay said. “Now that they’re all open, business will continue to pick up. People have been questioning which stores are open or not because of the construction.”

The Fountain Court officially opens at 10 a.m. today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and refreshments provided by Panera Bread. The grand opening will take place Saturday and will feature fashion models and live music.

Fountain Court is the first phase of the mall’s renovations this year. The second phase of construction includes a remodeled and expanded Café Court, family restrooms, a children’s soft play area and new carousel, updated paint schemes, soft seating areas, lighting and additional skylights. This construction by will be completed by mid-August, McKay said.

The mall, built in 1985, is the largest enclosed mall in mid-Missouri.

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