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               HUNT VALLEY MALL: BALTIMORE, MD

Joe Liberto's Commentary:

Posted July 31, 2003 (user submitted)

I honestly can't say if I remember that piece of land without the mall on it. I grew up in Hunt Valley in the late seventies and through the eighties, I still live in the area. Hunt Valley was probably one of the first malls in the area, I think it went up around 1981 or 82. Growing up, I remember when the Towson Mall was one floor of nothingness, a blip in the parking lot between Hecht's and Hutzler's department stores. Although nowhere near a "dead mall", Towsontown too seems to have seen its day in the sun. I remember also, when the White Marsh mall opened, and the Owings Mills mall. Both seem to be very successful. Did these malls kill the Hunt Valley mall? Or was it the community, simply unhappy with the idea of having a shopping mall "invade" the area, and disregarding this community fixture that caused it to fail? By all accounts, it makes no sense. A good mall with a good location in a residential, and commercial area. It was large enough to have good stores, a pleasing atmosphere, and good parking. Why did it die?

Looking back on it, I had some good memories of this place. A generation of kids cut their retail teeth at the display windows of the Gap and Hudson Trail Outfitters. My sense of "right" architecture was set by the period's predilection for mirrored glass, the beautiful white pine-paneled ceilings, the warm brown ceramic floor tiles, and the muted tan overtones of the place. Not to mention all of those magnificent skylights. The pervasive noise of the many fountains and the echoes of the footsteps, especially the stepped brick one by Hamburgers and that wild elevator. The sounds of life, and the laughter of children. The smells of food in the food court, with those neat lights and multi-levels. Richness of experience lies in the details, and it was a neat experience, because everything about Hunt Valley Mall was executed well.

As a youth, this is for me, a center of the retail universe. When you needed something, you went to the mall. I remember my dad taking me to the Sears to look at lawnmowers, to the camera store for film, to the CVS, or to radio shack for batteries. For a while.

I also remember going there after school a lot, and making those great decisions: Was it going to be Burger King? The seafood place? How about a Hot dog or a Root Beer? Maybe a Club Sandwich? Maybe not. Usually, it was a slice of pizza from that Italian place, and something from that brown tiled ice-cream place on the end. The afternoons were eaten up by the Software store and a pretty damned good arcade. I remember also going there countless times to pick up last minute holiday gifts, get my hair cut, or wait for a girlfriend to scour the "Casual Corner". I bought my first Van Halen CD at the music store.

As the 80s rolled on into the 90s, the old stand-by's began to leave. First it wasn't too noticeable, here and there stores went vacant, like little bruises on what had seemed a perfect apple. The knife store fled for glitzy Towsontown center, as did the Record and Tape store and the Sunglass hut. The stereo store went out of business. The Levi's store closed. Eventually, even the eyeglass store left.

Sir Walter Raleigh's restaurant was one of the next to go, presumably having their own economic battles to fight, as all of their restaurants closed their doors. This was well before the outparcels came to be, and this left the mall without any real sit-down "restaurant"

As if final nails in the coffin, the Macy's anchor closed, and the mass-transportation came, bringing crime to the area. Almost overnight, many of the smaller stores and first-tier branches fled, leaving a wasteland of drywall-clad storefronts, and a general feeling of despair to those who continued to visit.

Eventually, probably around 1996 or 97, it became obvious to me that the mall would not continue to operate. Virtually all of the first-tier stores had left, their shops never to see the light of day again. Places like the "90% off BookStore" moved in. Even the management of the Nuthouse ("A good place for nuts...and candy"), an old stalwart, were talking of calling it quits. Left to fend for themselves were old Mr. Lee and his tailoring shop, the group of Iranians selling luggage and model cars, the ubiquitous Radio shack, the old man that sold tobacco products and lottery tickets, the Ritz camera, and of course, Sears.

And then something odd happened. Suddenly, There seemed to be a new lease on life at Hunt Valley. As the mall seemed to cheat death week by week, A big chain sporting-goods store and a Wal-Mart moved in. So did the "grim reaper" of retail, the Burlington coat factory (always a dangerous neighbor to have, it usually coincides with demise). Somehow, not only did none of these stores connect to the mall, but the Sears also sealed its entrance to the mall. The mall was still open for about 8 or 9 months. My girl and I would go up there a lot, as we lived almost next door. We would walk around this hulking, spooky carcass, "looking for trouble". Concocting a diabolical plan to "rescue" part of the mall, we, dressed in gray work shirts and jeans, actually carted off a large potted plant. Ironically, it promptly died in our home of some kind of weird plant disease. At some point in '99, All of the "dispensable" luxuries at Hunt Valley, like regular hours, public bathrooms, the elevator, and the decorative fountains were discontinued, there wasn't even any music. Just the occasional echo of voices, and the sounds of one's own boots. Soon after, the management said "asta lawego", and all of the lessees promptly moved on to other pastures.

Around the same time, a big discount shoe store also moved into the mall and changed the entire facade of the front of the building to accommodate an outside entrance. (Ironically, across from the old discount shoe store , which hadn't yet left). A 22-screen movie theater opened directly next door, but not connected to the mall, which struck me as very odd, as the breezeway was built right up to the north entrance. Also, an outparcel was designated to an Outback Steakhouse, and a "Carrabas", which is an Italian place presumably owned by Outback Steakhouse's parent company. These two ventures seem to be very healthy.

So here we are, four years later. The mall has been closed for quite some time now, and it seems as though something is happening. We have read in the local paper that the mall is to be demolished, and an outdoor "avenue" to be constructed which would bridge the sporting good store, the Sears, and the movie theatre. Perhaps this will happen, we shall see.

Anyway, enclosed are several pictures of the demolition, and the mall as it stands in 2003. Enjoy it now, while you still can.

[Joe's pics coming soon]


Wendy's Commentary:

Three or four years ago, the owners of Hunt Valley thought that adding a Wal-Mart would change the ailing mall's fortunes. Problem is, neither the Wal-Mart nor the stadium-seating-equipped Hoyts Cinemas multiplex were accessible through the mall. Wal-Mart was glued onto the opposite end of the Dick's Sporting Goods/Burlington Coat Factory building and might as well be standalone. The movie theatre (which was not photographed due to the presence of a few of Baltimore County's finest)is situated right behind the food court, but is not physically connected to the mall at all. Why that was done, I don't know. Maybe it was thought that forcing patrons to walk through the mall was a liability for the theatre, or maybe the owners already had plans that they were neglecting to share with the mall's long-suffering tenants. Either way, the Wal-Mart does pretty brisk business. The parking lot was filled with cars the last time I went there, and the store itself was even busier thanks to being the only store of its kind that is accessible via Baltimore's Light Rail.

And Wal-Mart's presence seems to have boosted the fortunes of neighboring Burlington Coat Factory and Dick's, neither of which seemed to be doing particularly well before. (The picture below shows the new storefront for Dick's -- a harbinger of things to come.)

Too bad those stores weren't able to "share the wealth" with the rest of the mall. It's looked the way it does in the following pictures for as long as I've known it (since 1994, when I was first looking at apartments in the area).

The center court mall entrance, which is currently the only way to get into the mall other than through Sears. No cell-phone-deprived pre-teens talking endlessly on the pay phones, no mothers with strollers struggling to open the doors...no nothing. In the time I was there, I only saw two people enter.

Inside the entrance, looking into Center Court. The only two people there were a twenty-somethingish couple who were arguing pretty loudly. Or it at least seemed they were, because their voices carried through the cavernous space.

What used to be the water fountain. As I stood there, I could hear steady creaking and settling sounds coming from the skylight above...the sound of decay.

Here's the parking lot, described in one article as a moonscape, presumably because of its multiple potholes and other pockmarks. The cars you see in the distance are for Sears and the outparceled Carabba's and Friendly's, all of which seem to be doing okay. (Dinnertime was fast approaching as I took these pictures.) And the white car belongs to the security guard who was just starting to stalk me at this point. Even at Christmastime, the parking lot didn't seem much busier.

Links:

Shop Hunt Valley The mall's Official Web Site
http://www.flickr.com/photos/wtpatton/ - William Patton's photos










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