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Carytown Merchants Plan for Mall Invasion

Malls can't duplicate Carytown's small-town-in-the-city atmosphere and original window displays, says coffee shop owner Tammy Rostov.

Why? First, the reason people come to Carytown is because it's not homogeneous like a mall, says Tammy Rostov, owner of Rostov's Coffee and Tea.

The nine blocks of Carytown include about 240 shops, restaurants and businesses, nearly all locally owned. The 1.1 million-square-foot, open-air Short Pump Town Center will hold 120 shops, restaurants and department stores, including Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor. The 690,000-square-foot Stony Point Fashion Park boasts 90 stores and restaurants, as well as the area's first Saks Fifth Avenue.

Rostov's not impressed. "All those stores are chain stores," she says. "They're the same stores that you find in any mall."

The customers the malls expect are a different group from those who frequent Carytown, observes Bill Baxter, president and CEO of the Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond. The malls target "the customer who is already leaving our community" to shop in Washington, D.C., or Tyson's Corner, Baxter says.

Carytown merchants will do just the opposite for their counterattack. For the first time, they're focusing on inviting out-of-towners to shop on Cary Street, says Carytown Merchants Association President Charles Sadler. They plan to offer bus tours and coupons, as well as a new ad campaign, to draw visitors from their hotels, says Sadler, part-owner of Adonis and director of sales and marketing at the Sheraton Hotel West.

Nevertheless, Baxter predicts that shoppers will abandon Carytown and their other old haunts for a short time. "There will be an absolute blip in the radar screen when these malls open for our local merchants," he says. "We'd have to be crazy to say it wouldn't." But soon, Baxter says, the normal flow of shoppers will resume.

He says the biggest challenge merchants may face is a labor shortage when the malls begin to recruit 5,000 employees this summer. "I'd be looking in the retail area and trying to steal the best people I can steal," he says.

Sadler says he's not concerned. Most who work in Carytown also live in the area, he says, and won't drive to Short Pump or Stony Point.

Whatever happens, Baxter says, "It'll be a heck of a September, I'll tell you that much." — Melissa Scott

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