I was 15 in 1977 when White Flint Mall opened. It was unlike anything anybody in Montgomery County had ever seen.
Of course, there were malls. Montgomery Mall opened in 1968, and some of us remember the short-lived Rockville Mall from 1972. But with the combination of Bloomingdales, I. Magnin and Lord & Taylor, it was the fanciest shopping environment around. So with the annoucement that Bloomingdales is closing, it’s the end of an era.
I remember my first visit to White Flint. The upscale stores made you feel like you should dress up to shop there. White Flint brought innovations for its time. The food court on the second floor had 12 restaurants offering different cuisines. On the third floor, high-end restaurants brought in well-heeled customers.
While the mall was originally identified as in Kensington, I believe it was one of the first places to adopt the “North Bethesda” name. I’m not a big fan of that trend, but I’m in marketing so I understand the power of a better brand name.
My first job was at The Eatery the summer of ‘77. For $2.30 an hour, I was an employee of the Lerners. Of course, I had to pay for my own ugly shirt to work there. Only 15 years old, I pulled in the great schedule of Friday and Saturday nights from 6 p.m. until midnight. I bussed tables, put the trays through a dishwasher and delivered them back to the restaurants and cleaned the men’s room. The biggest excitement was when we were warned the Lerners were there, so we had to be certain that everything was just perfect.
Fast-forward to today, and a visit to White Flint garners none of these feelings. The mall never feels crowded. So many storefronts are empty. Borders had been a destination, but has gone bankrupt. There is little that is unique to White Flint, and Bloomingdales probably headed that list. While redevelopment of the area is already in the plans, it was hoped that Bloomingdales would remain as a draw to a new, pedestrian-friendly shopping destination. Now it looks like we will have to move on without it.