Praise Easton.

I know every time I visit Easton Town Center I say something along the lines of, “The guy who thought this place up is a damn genius,” but I’m going to say it again.

The gist: Easton Town Center is a faux-town, an open-air mall, stores laid out on a grid of narrow streets, with squares and fountains and sidewalks just narrow enough to be crowded, just wide enough to be passable. It sounds like a concept that wouldn’t work north of North Carolina, but friends, it works like gangbusters. It’s an upmarket Stepford Bedford Falls, like your memories — it’s all the good things you remember (or think you remember) about shopping in your hometown, but none of the bad stuff. No bums. No shuttered storefronts (not yet, anyway). No dusty inventory at old man Gower’s drugstore, just Pottery Barn giving way to Smith & Hawken giving way to Cosi giving way to Nordstrom’s giving way to the Apple store.

I always chuckle when I go there, because Fort Wayne has a similar mall, smaller, now two years old. The metro editor at the time swore this was an utterly crackbrain idea that would never, ever fly. “It’s too cold in winter,” she said. “Sure it’s full now — it’s August. Wait until Christmas.”

It was packed at Christmas. Wait until January. It was packed in January. Etc., etc. Soon she was insisting it would soon be a “ghost town,” just mark my words. Well. It’s not.

People don’t mind going into nippy temperatures between stores. They like seeing the sky, feeling the Christmas in the air. They like the atmosphere. Atmosphere sells, more so than comfort.

We went on Saturday. Standing on the corner of Spend Too Much and Charge Your Limit (the streets have names, but I’m blanking on them now), waiting to cross from in front of the jam-packed California Pizza Kitchen over to Williams Sonoma, standing shoulder to shoulder with my fellow Buckeyes, it occurred to me I’ve seen this scene before — in urban downtowns, before the malls sucked all the people away. I wasn’t in a downtown; I was in a replica downtown. But it still felt festive and merry. Entirely false, but in a good way.

Posted at 7:55 pm in Uncategorized |

7 responses to “Praise Easton.”

  1. mtk said on November 30, 2003 at 9:22 pm

    The open air malls phenomenon kind of turns the “dying old downtowns” idea on its ear. Maybe, just maybe, *the big department stores killed downtown shopping* by having too little variety in the merchandise, too high prices and too little competition to inspire better service. Maybe it *wasn’t* the big enclosed malls in the suburbs (although parking had to play some role).

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  2. Mindy said on December 1, 2003 at 8:39 am

    I remember the bad idea that many city planners had in the late 70s to revamp dying downtown shopping districts that lost shoppers to the malls. The streets were closed to traffic and bricked over to make a sort of outdoor mall. This succeeded in killing downtown shopping completely. South Bend tore out this mistake after only a few years and put the street back, but Michigan City held on for ages. Their downtown square was a terrible eyesore. But now it’s back to its original glory as well and looking livlier. And now it sports a huge outdoor outlet mall that attracts people from Chicago by the busload.

    Now it’s the malls that are having trouble hanging on. Lots of store windows at Glenbrook here in the Fort are blank for quite a while before new tennants are found. Maybe they should raise the roof and let the cold air in.

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  3. John Ritter said on December 1, 2003 at 9:10 am

    I love small city downtowns, both the dead and dying kind and the re-energized kind. There is a sense of history looking at the store fronts and various architect styles. Fredericksburg VA started work on revitalization about 15 years ago and looks beautiful today. It has six blocks worth of shops and restaurants and has maintained its street traffic (albeit one way). Charlottesville VA bricked over the downtown street and created a pedestrian mall (about 20 years ago). It took quite a while to work, but finally is a big draw to the downtown. There are conveniently located parking garages and the parallel streets are open to traffic. Near me, New London CT tried the bricked fussplatz for 5 years before ripping it up but nothing short of another 1938 hurricane will fix its problems. Mystic CT is a tourist trap but has lots of foot traffic during the summer and my home, Norwich CT, is the proverbial sink hole that money is thrown into with no results.

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  4. tso said on December 1, 2003 at 9:19 am

    My sister (lives in Cincinnati) recently visited, and Easton was the highlight. Must be a gal thing.

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  5. Nance said on December 1, 2003 at 9:30 am

    One of the interesting things about Easton is the architecture. It’s purposely mixed-up, to suggest a downtown that evolved, rather than one that emerged overnight, a Visa Brigadoon. There’s one enclosed section, called “The Station,” which looks like…a station, as though trains served our little Retailville. Interestingly, though, the lowest-energy shops are there, along with a smallish food court and the obligatory indoor space for Santa, etc.

    My sister did some work for a related company during the design/construction phase, and said a lot of thought was given to the design, that it was envisioned to be a friendly coax against cocooning; you could bring the whole family, have dinner, see a movie, go shopping, maybe turn the surly teens out for a while in the video arcade. You’d leave a few hundred bucks poorer, but feel you’d been “out,” not just “out to the mall.”

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  6. ashley said on December 2, 2003 at 1:58 pm

    These places (I haven’t been to Easton but I have been to similar ones in South Florida) feel as sterile as surgical gauze. Much like a dog that’s been fixed, I don’t get it.

    OTOH, the outdoor malls in SanDiego feel great to me…maybe because they can get away with it because of the climate.

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  7. Melissa said on December 2, 2003 at 10:26 pm

    I used to love going to Lloyd Center (in Portland, OR) which was a non-covered multi-level mall, at one time the biggest mall west of the Mississippi or some such (yes, my childhood was a long time ago…) About 15 years ago they covered it and destroyed the magic. I loved doing my Christmas shopping there in the cold December evenings under the lights, smelling the caramel corn and the evergreen trees and the whoosh of perfume that always billowed out of Meier & Frank’s cosmetic department near the front door.

    Now I shop from catalogs. But I think that may say more about my increasing hatred of overcrowded parking lots than anything else.

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