John Crescimbeni recalls witnessing the decline at his Hickory Farms store inside the mall.
City Council member John Crescimbeni opened his Hickory Farms franchise in Regency Square Mall in the fall of 1981.
“Back then I could take a few sticks from the yard, spray paint them gold and they’d sell because that’s how busy Regency was back then,” he said.
“It was a fantastic retail operation,” Crescimbeni said. He is the At-Large Group 2 council member and a longtime resident of Arlington.
He said the store transitioned to seasonal hours in 1992 along with other Hickory Farm franchises until 2007.
“In the early-2000s, I started noticing shoppers and City Council constituents that I knew from Arlington shopping at The Avenues,” said Crescimbeni, who also operated a franchise at that mall, built in 1990 at Southside Boulevard and Philips Highway.
“That concerned me because they were driving past Regency eight or nine miles to go there,” he said.
He said today that Regency Square and its retailers suffer from a lack of visible marketing by the mall’s ownership and a dying retail format of an enclosed mall.
“It’s a dinosaur,” Crescimbeni said. “That’s not the thing anymore. Now we build malls like the Town Center.”
Town Center is a lifestyle center with outdoor access to the stores rather than operating as an enclosed mall.
District 1 council member Joyce Morgan said there’s a difference between how Regency Square’s owners value their property and how owners of surrounding strip malls do.
“They care and you can see that because they’re reinvesting in their properties,” said Morgan whose district includes Regency. “Compare that to the absentee owners of Regency Square.”
Both council members said they have not met with the mall’s ownership group.
“It’s a shame because the mall manager does a lot for the area and is extremely helpful and accommodating to me and our constituents,” Morgan said.
Both said the shopping and dining in the Regency area seem to be healthier in 2019.
They also agreed that there’s not much council members can do about the mall, since the city doesn’t own the property.
“There are so many ways to repurpose that building, but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Morgan.
Crescimbeni said it’s going to take neighborhood residents supporting local businesses and not driving to other parts of town to shop and eat if the mall is ever going to rebound.
“If you’re eating out at the Town Center or wherever and not in the Regency area, then you’re contributing to the problem,” he said.