Fair Oaks Mall gets a new look


To keep disruption to shopping at a minimum at Fair Oaks Mall, construction workers will be on the job at night. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN)

When Fair Oaks Mall was built in 1980, large fountains were the height of shopping mall luxury.

Not anymore.

To keep up with customers’ changing demands, the Fairfax shopping mall is in the process of demolishing relics from its past, including fountains and waterfalls, to make way for high-tech seating areas, free Wi-Fi and grand entryways.

“We have to stay current and relevant,” said William Taubman, chief operating officer of Taubman Centers, which owns the mall. “The other centers around us are evolving as well — we’ve got Tysons to one side, Reston Town Center on the other.”

An improving economy and increasing competition for shoppers and retailers have fueled a wave of renovations at malls throughout the country, said Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

“During the recession, there was no activity whatsoever — new malls weren’t being built, existing malls weren’t being renovated,” Tron said. “Now that things are getting better, retailers are looking to expand and developers are reinvesting in their properties.”

Taubman, which is based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., owns and manages nearly 30 regional malls throughout the United States. While the company is renovating many of its malls, executives say the multi-million dollar changes at Fair Oaks are among the most sweeping.

A new smartphone app will use GPS technology to remind shoppers where they parked. Walls are being painted brighter colors, and the mall’s sunken seating areas — originally built to provide a resting place separate from the hustle and bustle of the shopping center — are being leveled and rearranged.

“In my day, luxury was a quiet space,” Taubman said. “Today, the customer wants a multi-sensory experience.”

Technology-friendly lounges will be equipped with tables, chairs and electric outlets to encourage shoppers to hang out with their laptops and tablets. The mall is also adding more sit-down restaurants, including the Italian eatery Brio.

“Years ago, people never came to the mall to eat,” Taubman said. “Today, that’s our reality. Customers demand more in terms of convenience and accessibility.”

Whereas department stores such as Macy’s and Lord & Taylor used to attract many of the mall’s customers, today’s shoppers are more likely to walk in through a general entrance that allows them easier access to smaller shops and boutiques, Taubman said. That explains why Fair Oaks is revamping its entrances to include large signs, glass atria and bright lights.

“When the mall was built, there was no need to compete with department store entrances,” Taubman said. “But today, the world has evolved. Our customer cross-shops and compares prices. She wants to have a Gap and a Talbots nearby.”

The renovations at the 1.6 million square-foot mall are slated to be completed in November 2014.

“The mall is still a gathering place for the customer,” Taubman said. “The market is just a lot more competitive than it used to be.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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