Mount Berry Square Mall: Rome, Georgia's Center for Shopping

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Mount Berry Square Mall is located in Rome, Georgia, a small city in northwest Georgia. Although the city's population is not even 40,000, Rome is a regional center for shopping, education, secondary distribution and medical care. It is located at the center of the "ABC'' - Atlanta, Birmingham, Alabama; and Chattanooga, Tennessee - triangle. The triangle is bounded by Interstates 20, 59 and 75, and Rome is within less than an hour's drive of each of these major highways. The mall itself is located on U.S. Highway 27, the major north-south route through the city. The mall's primary trade area includes over 300,000 people.

Built in 1991, the nearly half-a-million-square-foot mall is anchored by Belk, JCPenney and Sears. There is one anchor location currently not leased. Mount Berry Square's other tenants are a mix of national retailers and local stores, many of whom cater to the town's large population of college students. Aeropostale, American Eagle, Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works are a few of the nationally known brands in the mall. Smaller, younger-trending retailers include Skatelife, Hot Topix, Claire's Accessories and Justice. There is also a cinema at the mall that is undergoing renovation. Work is expected to be complete by the Fall of 2009.

Mount Berry Square Mall is not just a center for retail and entertainment. Lori Wilcoxon, the general manager of the mall's local management team, says, "We try to be a community center.'' The mall sponsors a Home-Based Business Show, which highlights products and services for owners of home-based businesses, and the Back-to-School Healthy Living Expo, which addresses health issues for the whole family. The county school system puts on an art show at Mount Berry Square, and regional artisans show their work at an arts and crafts fair. Wilcoxon says that, despite the economic downturn, the community responds well to the mall's promotions. Some retailers go out into the community. For instance, Belk sponsors a "Dress for Success'' fashion show at one of the local colleges.

The mall's previous owner, the Lightstone Group, defaulted on their loan on the property, and the mall went into receivership in January 2009. The receiver, Jones Lang LaSalle, is looking for both national and regional tenants for the mall and has already found "four or five'' new stores. More of a threat to the older mall, however, are the new retail developments planned around town. Although the economy has placed most new development on hold, mall management worries that newer retail shopping venues could hurt the nearly 30-year-old Mount Berry Square.

Rome is a very successful smaller city. It has been named the Number One Small City in the Southeast and the 12th Most Livable City in the United States by The New Rating Guide to Life in America's Small Cities. It is home to Berry College, one of the top liberal arts in the country, and its medical care is also ranked among the highest in the nation for small cities. The question for Mount Berry Square Mall is not whether the city can support a shopping center of its size, but whether it will survive the new competition that is sure to come when the economy recovers.

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