White Flint Mall to close after 35 years

BETHESDA, Md. (WJLA) - What was once a crown jewel of local shopping is now enduring its final holiday rush. Some 35 years after White Flint Mall first opened its doors, 75-percent of its storefronts are now blocked-off behind grates and tarps as the shopping plaza prepares to close for good.

The 874,000 square-foot mall was a direct byproduct of suburban sprawl during the 1960s and 70s. Consumers, sick of driving to department stores in D.C., marveled at one's ability to make all their purchases under one roof, safe from the elements outside.

The rise of the millennial generation however has dramatically changed the way American's shop in the 21st Century. Today, a strong push to mimic the likes of Friendship Heights and Clarendon, sealed White Flint's fate.

"I've tried not to think about it too much," Brenda Willingham, who's shopped at White Flint since the late 1970s, remarked. "It makes me very sad, but I hear some good things are going to happen. Life changes."

Shoppers who witnessed White Flint's earliest days remember the rare amenities it possessed: a food court, glass-enclosed elevators, movie theaters with cup-holders; all cutting-edge concepts in the height of the disco-era.

"It was amazing. We were just really impressed by everything here. It wasn't like any place we'd ever shopped at before," Potomac resident Judy Lichtman recalled.

On Twitter, @BibaGirrl tweeted: "Great piece on White Flint Mall, I went to its Teen Disco the 1st year it opened, lol."

Meanwhile @chineserapunzel quipped: "My dad about White Flint Mall: 'This is my ideal mall - no stores and no people.'"

At last count, fewer than 20 tenants remained - businesses like H&M, Pottery Barn, Dave & Busters, P.F. Changs China Bistro and Lord & Taylor.

"Everyone has a story about the mall," said Lindsay Hoffman, whose husband proposed to her at White Flint Mall in 1999. Hoffman now heads a not-for-profit group called Friends of White Flint, which has closely tracked the evolution of the booming Montgomery County neighborhood.

"It's hard to let go of what you love, but I think that once we make it through this re-development process, people will be excited with what's coming," Hoffman added.

Lerner Enterprises, which co-owns the mall, plans to construct a mini-city in White Flint's place. A 5.2 million square-foot complex of shops, homes, offices and a hotel, will be built in three phases over the next quarter century.

"It will be a walkable, diverse, sustainable community that is different than an indoor mall. It's really what people are looking for as they move forward," Hoffman remarked.

Although Lerner Enterprises hasn't announced a hard closing and demolition date, multiple sources tell ABC7 it will occur in 2014. Lord & Taylor, which has been involved in a contentious legal battle with Lerner Enterprises, will remain open throughout the lengthy demolition and re-construction process.