Re-inventing Richmond's first shopping mall

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – One of the Richmond area's retail landmarks is looking a lot different these days. It's all part of a major renovation at The Shops at Willow Lawn.

Richmond's first shopping mall is being re-invented, yet again. Gone is the old indoor section dating back to 1986. It's being re-made as an "open air lifestyle center", the way the mall started in the 1950's.

Sarah North is with the mall's parent company, and we're walking along what used to be the main indoor hallway.

"You won't be cut off by an interior mall, you'll actually be able to drive or walk through from one end to the other," said North, Marketing Manager at Federal Realty Investment Trust.

The $13 million project requires gutting the old indoor section. When the work is finished, artist renderings depict more parking, new green space, a central stage, a kids' play area, and of course shopping and business space.

Robert Taylor is a professor with the Virginia Real Estate Center at VCU.

"It's just continually re-invented itself to meet the needs of the consumer," Taylor said, adding that Willow Lawn is proving to be a survivor in an industry where others have failed.

"Azalea Mall opened in the 1960's. It's no longer around. Cloverleaf Mall opened in the 1970's. It's no longer around. So Willow Lawn is very well placed, great demographics, and it's continually reinvented itself to meet consumer demands," Taylor said.

For now, the construction zone is dusty and loud. But it's on track for a grand re-opening next year, with a design in place to be around for many more years to come.

"We've had a lot of really positive reaction, I think people are excited to see the improvements of the mall," North said.

"It's a survivor. It's been around for 50-plus years, and if you look how the tenant mix has changed, it's done that to accommodate the needs of the consumer," added Taylor.

All of the shops are still open during construction. Even the ones that used to be indoors have been re-located to other spots on the property.

The renovations are expected to be complete in the second quarter of 2012.

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