This is supposed to be a time of celebration for 45-year-old Wheaton Plaza, one of the region's first large-scale shopping centers.

After languishing for decades in the shadow of newer, flashier, competitors in Montgomery County -- Montgomery Mall, then White Flint -- a new owner swooped in, investing about $130 million in a makeover.

Gone are the poorly lit food court and metal truss ceilings. Westfield Group, the Australian company that bought control of the mall in 1997, courted and won Montgomery County's first Macy's, added 50 stores and introduced upscale touches such as limestone floors, a concierge desk and private baby care stations with bottle warmers.

Invitations have been sent to Westfield executives and county leaders for the mall's grand reopening, scheduled for October.

"It's a great turnaround story," Timothy S. Lowe, Westfield's executive vice president for development, said in an interview.

Then came the stabbings.

On Aug. 5, one group of teenagers and young adults attacked another inside the Target store at the mall. No one was killed, but the early evening incident has, if only temporarily, challenged its image as a rebounding shopping center removed from the region's street life, according to several local retail brokers and civic leaders. Natalie Cantor, who runs the Mid-County Services Center in Wheaton and has lived in the city for 35 years, said there may be an impact "in the short run."

Lowe called the stabbings an "isolated incident" that "does not change our commitment to the mall."

-- Michael Barbaro