Illustration by Victoria Borges
Malls are like movie stars. The only thing more depressing than the downfall of an aging, decaying one is the downfall of a young, beautiful one. And as much as it pains me to say it, Stony Point Fashion Park is starting to look a little like Lindsay Lohan.
Sure, it's as beautiful as ever, but something is slipping. A few months back, the South Side outdoor mall lost Champps due to the bankruptcy of the restaurant's parent company, and then it lost Starbucks, just steps away — due to Starbucks not wanting to be there anymore. That little walkway is nearly deserted now. The restaurant once next to Champps, Uncle Julio's Rio Grande Cafe, vacated its spot in 2007, and has never been occupied since.
But it's not just these departures that seem to spell trouble for this charming little place. On a recent warm and sunny day, we strolled around, uncomfortably noting the vacant storefronts. Oakley, gone. Louis Vuitton, gone. Foot Locker, gone. Betsey Johnson, gone. "This place needs a Dollar Store," my husband quipped.
What remains is a baffling mix of the high-end and the strangely specific. Call it "Rich and Niche." On the rich side, you've got Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Brooks Brothers and Tiffany & Co. Then when you need one thing and one thing only, you've got Lamp Emporium, Paradise Pen Co., the indestructible Sunglass Hut (the cockroach of retail) and Yankee Candle Co., where you can always find that perfect gift that says, "I give up."
It has become the mall where people love to go not to shop. Don't take my word for it. Let's look at some Yelp reviews:
"Even though Stony Point is an upscale mall and I usually can't buy anything, I enjoy coming here with my dogs to walk them around and do some window shopping!"
"It's pricey but very pretty and a lot of fun to window shop at. I think I was the only one without a dog, though."
"This is a better place for strolling than random shopping."
On weekends, the place looks bustling with shoppers, but unfortunately half of them have no pockets or credit cards and are walking on four legs. Has Stony Point become the world's most upscale dog park?
If it seems as if I'm having a good time slamming Stony Point, I assure you I am not. I have a soft spot for this place, which I have always preferred to the more daunting and stressful Short Pump. Stony Point is where I took my kids to play in the pop-up water fountain and watch the Christmas tree lights change color. It's smaller, prettier, more intimate and much easier to navigate than Short Pump. Its restaurants — P.F. Chang's, Fleming's, Brio Tuscan Grille — are a real draw, as is CinéBistro, the most civilized way ever devised to see a movie.
But like many Richmonders, I too have spent more time than money there. At about double the size of Stony Point, Short Pump had more than triple the revenue in 2012. Stony Point also suffers from its accessibility problems; it's like a little island with one way in and one way out — unaffected by, and also unable to affect, its surrounding area. So where Short Pump has sent a booming ripple down Broad Street (creating different kinds of problems), there has been no similar growth near Stony Point. While Short Pump is getting ready for a major facelift and expansion, with 13 new stores and restaurants, Stony Point is dealing with departures.
But let's not give up on Stony Point (or Lindsay Lohan) just yet. Could some growth-minded local restaurants fill the vacancies of Champps and Uncle Julio's? (I'm looking at you, Johnny Giavos … ). Could it lure an Apple store or H&M into the mix? In retail, as in Hollywood, there is always time for a comeback. Freaky Friday 2 , anyone?