Remember when Cary Court had a gas station? How about when Willow Lawn went from an open-air facility to partly enclosed? Did you know that Short Pump Town Center and Stony Point Fashion Park are celebrating 10th anniversaries this year? The Richmond shopping scene has evolved and changed over the years, but several shopping centers have stood the testament of time, surviving an economy that hasn't always been retailer-friendly.
Construction began on Cary Court Shopping Center ( carytownrva.com) at the end of World War I and wasn't completed until the end of World War II because of the war-torn economy. The official opening date was in 1938, according to the Carytown Merchants Association. However, by 1933, most of the stores were open, making Cary Court the oldest outdoor strip shopping center on the East Coast. Through the years, shops came and went, such as a grocery store and gas station. The most recent set of renovations during the late '90s took Cary Court back to its '50s look, changing the storefront signs to a retro neon style.
This year, Pink celebrates its 30th anniversary in Cary Court. Originally called Pink Cadillac, the boutique sells a variety of women's clothing, accessories, jewelry, handbags and shoes. Owner Libby Sykes says the Cary Court location, with a steady stream of foot traffic, is ideal for her business, although it hasn't always been easy. The recession, combined with the opening of bigger retail meccas in the region, has taken some of the spotlight away from Carytown businesses, but as the economy has perked up in the past couple years, shoppers have returned.
"It was like a tumbleweed town," Sykes says. "We were hurting, and then I think people wanted more personalized service and wanted to keep small businesses open."
The Shops at Willow Lawn (1601 Willow Lawn Drive; willowlawn.com ) came on the scene in 1956 as Richmond's first open-air shopping mall. Thirty years later, the area was partly enclosed, turning it into the more traditional mall of the time. In 2011, Federal Realty, which acquired the property in 1983, decided to return the mall to its roots as an open-air facility. Recent renovations completed in the spring of 2012 include an outdoor stage, a children's play area, outdoor seating areas, and new landscaping and lighting.
"The combination of local and national are what really make this a true success story," says Deirdre Johnson, senior director of asset management for Federal Realty. "There are not many shopping centers that can serve their community for 55 years and can continually evolve and be an exciting place to grow and shop."
Cocoanut Jewelry (282-1335 or cocoanutjewelry.com ) has been at Willow Lawn for 26 years. The store specializes in handcrafted jewelry at all price ranges and can also provide custom work. Owner Wendy Garrett says she knew she wanted to open a store there because it's where she grew up. As a child, she would come and shop all the time. Garrett believes that Willow Lawn has lasted all these years because of its easy access.
"I think it's the location, and Willow Lawn inventing and reinventing themselves," Garrett says, snickering as she made sure to add, "and Cocoanut Jewelry."
Short Pump Town Center ( shortpumpmall.com ) celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Since opening in September 2003, the center has imposed a strong gravitational pull on the region's shopping mavens with its nationally known retailers. It currently has more than 140 restaurants and stores, including Nordstrom, Pottery Barn, Baker's Crust, Texas de Brazil and Maggiano's Little Italy. Pam Howland, the director of marketing at the center, credits Short Pump's success with its blend of traditional mall and urban-streetscape retail, as well as an entertainment component.
One of its locally owned stores, Sweet Shoppe (360-2425) sells international candy and chocolate imported from countries such as Germany, Sweden, Italy and Holland. Fresh fudge is made daily inside the store, and sugar-free and retro candy brands, like Zagnut and Chunky, are also popular draws. Owner Renu Sharma wanted to open a store in Short Pump when it was first built, but she was concerned about the amount of foot traffic that the brand new mall would receive. Once she realized that wasn't a problem, just more than two years ago, she opened Sweet Shoppe. Sharma isn't surprised at all that Short Pump has hit its 10-year benchmark.
"This is more like a specialty place to come to, and Short Pump Mall really has done really well," she says, "and a lot of people who live in Northern Virginia — even though they have the best of the shopping malls there — they are even traveling and coming to Short Pump."
Sharing the 10-year birthday across the river is Stony Point Fashion Park ( shopstonypoint.com ), which also opened in September 2003. With more than 80 stores, many of them locally owned, this dog-friendly shopping center prides itself on its atmosphere.
"We have a very unique shopping environment," says Noelynn Hill, marketing and sponsorship director for Stony Point Fashion Park. "We have Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co., Vineyard Vines, Brooks Brothers, Brooks Brothers Women, and a great number of exclusive-to-the-market stores that shoppers will only find here at Stony Point Fashion Park."
The mall opened with 76 stores and since that time has added shops such as BCBGMAXAZRIA, Sweet Frog, PANDORA and the dinner-and-movie experience CinéBistro.
There's nothing specific planned for the center's anniversary, Hill says, but "we're very pleased to be celebrating 10 years."
Pecan Jacks is a newcomer to Stony Point as of October 2011, but owner Ronnie Wyatt says she's seen monthly growth since opening. It's her first foray as a store owner, but she says the support she gets from center's management makes it a great location. The shop sells items such as gourmet chocolates, Virginia's Finest truffles and toffee, as well as peanuts and gummy bears. Traditional Southern pralines are made inside the store. Wyatt thinks atmosphere has a lot to do with Stony Point's 10-year success.
"So many more people are working so many more hours nowadays, and the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the fresh air is more appealing than being in an indoor mall with more fluorescent lights.