While managers of Fashion Centre mall at Pentagon City consider subsidizing Metro fares if Arlington County drops its contribution, some merchants there say a 25-cent fare increase probably wouldn't discourage many shoppers.
"We do pretty well as is," said Jerry Wood, manager of Sam Goody's record store, right off the mall's popular food court. "The food court is packed every lunch hour, and I don't think a quarter would make very much difference."
Arlington County has been subsidizing fares within the county since 1988, cutting the price of a train ride to the mall from 85 cents to 60 cents. The County Board is considering dropping the subsidy because it costs $180,000 a year. Mall managers are deciding whether to pick up the subsidy.
"We're working hard to develop alternate ideas, so we're going to have to find out how important the Metro ridership is," said manager Scott Sampson. "Right now, it's mainly discussion because we don't have a track record without the subsidy."
A Fashion Centre store manager who declined to be identified said the subsidy probably doesn't have much influence on customers' deciding whether to come to the mall.
"I don't think we'll be subsidizing subway rides since we don't subsidize parking," the manager said. "When it comes right down to it, people are going to pay" the full fare if no subsidy is offered.
R.W. Somers, one of the managers of the Pentagon City Metro station, said he doesn't think many riders think about the 25-cent saving when they come to shop.
"As far as everybody thinks, it's 85 cents to get in the system," Somers said. "They don't even know about the 60 cents."
Since the mall opened last November, traffic at the connected Pentagon City station has been brisk. In May, 6,700 people passed in and out of the station every day, compared with about 3,000 before the mall opened.
According to Edson L. Tennyson, planning coordinator for the county's Department of Public Works, Pentagon City would lose an estimated 300 riders a day if one-way fares go up to 85 cents.
"If each one spends about $10 a day down there, then they're losing about $3,000 a day," Tennyson said. "It adds up."
Some store managers worry about losing the customers they think the Metro brings to the mall.
"I've found that the Metro's being here has helped our business immensely," said Dave Zimmerman, assistant manager of the Electronics Boutique. "As soon as they opened the Metro, there was a jump."
Some shoppers and mall workers say driving to the Fashion Centre is cheaper and more convenient than taking the train.
"By the time I take the bus and the Metro, it's more expensive and takes longer," said John Shaffran, of Arlington, who shops at the Fashion Centre about once a week.
Parking rates are 50 cents for two hours, then 75 cents for each additional hour. There is no charge for parking after 6 p.m. or on Sunday, and it costs a dollar to park all day Saturday.
Elizabeth Stalvey, who works at the mall's Ruby Tuesday restaurant, said she rode a bus and the train to work a few times, but the inconvenience of waiting for both outweighed even a subsidized fare.
"It's 90 cents for the Metrobus, and 60 cents for the fare, so it was $1.50," she said. "The wait got to be a hassle."