Glimpsing the future of `shoppertainment'

Comment

September 05, 1999|By Norris West

SHOPPERTAINMENT, a word Anne Arundel countians will get used to, is a misnomer.

The Arlington, Va.-based Mills Corp. says shoppertainment is a fitting description of its huge outlet malls rising in the nation's suburbs because they combine shopping with entertainment.

The "shopper" part of shoppertainment was fully evident at the company's sprawling Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise, Fla., on a recent visit -- much less so the entertainment, however.

The company plans to bring the concept, and a 1.4 million-square-foot outlet mall, to Hanover, near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It will be the largest retail center in Anne Arundel County and could become the biggest in Maryland.

In Sunrise, I heeded a tip from a Sawgrass Mills veteran: "Remember where you park."

I appreciated the advice as I circled the compound, whose perimeter has a number of large stores and the National Car Rental Center arena -- home of the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers. The parking lot seems to cover half of Broward County.

Inside, people filled the dozen or so anchor stores, an outdoor section of shops in bright-colored buildings called "Oasis," scores of specialty establishments and numerous dining establishments.

Mills Corp. claims the mall has a mile of shopping. After an afternoon of strolling the corridors -- and still only midway through -- you believe it.

`Mills TV'

Above the din of customers, big-screen television monitors played "Mills TV," a self-contained service that advertises mall stores and events and carries CNN reports.

Shoppers were anxious to respond to the big red and white "SALE" signs in almost every window.

They flocked to the familiar stores that anchor the mall: Marshalls, Spiegel, Waccamaw, Bed Bath & Beyond, Burlington Coat Factory, JC Penney, The Sports Authority. Stores such as Last Call Neiman Marcus offered discounts on such merchandise as Armani suits (which at 50 percent off and more are still unaffordable for most).

Even a shopperholic could overdose here. The stores don't just carry everything; they carry plenty of everything. And they carry something for everybody. No wonder consumer confidence continues at near-record levels.

It also is easy to see why Sawgrass Mills is considered Florida's second-largest tourist attraction, trailing only Disney World.

Where's the `tainment'?

Yet the second half of the term "shoppertainment" doesn't pull its weight. "Tainment" should mean more than watching Mills TV or sitting in front of a television set at the Anne Taylor store.

Of the 300-plus shops in the seven large sections, only three real entertainment establishments were evident. The first two are in the Oasis section, which has a Regal 23 Cinema megaplex and Gameworks, the mall's answer to Baltimore's ESPN Zone. But movies and video games at the mall are nothing new.

Streams and skateboards

Perhaps Anne Arundel will get more "tainment" than the elite South Florida center. The Mills Corp. has been negotiating with Vans Skatepark to bring a detached skateboarding facility to Arundel Mills. And the Hanover mall could get a hunting and fishing store with a real stream. But a good bet is that the heavy accent will be on "shopper."

The third entertainment venue at Sawgrass Mills is Rainforest Cafe, where diners are treated to a tropical ambience.

Customers are surrounded by faux forest stocked with real macaws and an animated menagerie. The lights dim as simulated thunderstorms roll through. A steady rainfall comes in some areas. (But area residents don't have to wait to get a taste of this unique, international theme restaurant chain. It's already at Towson Town Center.)

Don't expect much more entertainment than that. Ferris wheels, roller coasters or Broadway shows are not likely to be part of the scheme in Hanover.

An economic magnet

While legitimate concern exists that mega-malls could hurt existing local retailers, the Florida mall has become an economic development magnet.

When Sawgrass Mills opened nine years ago, the area was nearly as undeveloped as the nearby Everglades. Since then, Sunrise has become the focal point of bustling activity in the western portion of Broward County.

Now nonretailing businesses are sprouting. In addition to the sports arena, office buildings are going up, including a 10-story tower that a Miami developer recently announced plans to build. Thirty-one companies moved to Sunrise or expanded there in a recent one-year period.

Local residents who hate to shop won't find much amusement at Arundel Mills. But those shopping for economic development could find themselves entertained all the way to the bank.

Norris P. West is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County. His e-mail address is norris.west@baltsun.com.

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