The shopping mall battle: Stonefield vs. Barracks

Trader Joe's, the California-based grocery chain, is coming to Charlottesville November 14. Photo: Laura Ingles Trader Joe’s, the California-based grocery chain, is coming to Charlottesville November 14. Photo: Laura Ingles

After a decade of planning, the largest development project in Albemarle County’s history is finally almost open for business. Last Friday Pier One Imports made its debut as the first retailer to open at The Shops at Stonefield, the new upscale shopping center on the corner of Hydraulic Road and Route 29. I was one of a dozen or so local reporters gathered for a sneak peek at the area’s newest “shopping experience.”

Brad Dumont, Vice President of Development at EDENS, the company in charge of the project, welcomed the group inside a warehouse-like building with unpainted walls and exposed insulation that will soon be the flagship location of Blue Ridge Mountain Sports. Reporters and photographers sipped coffee and gazed curiously at the vaulted ceiling that Dumont explained will soon house an indoor rock climbing wall that will be visible from Route 29.

The group followed Dumont and Director of Communications Ryan Panitz around for about an hour, oohing and ahhing over the Regal Stadium 14’s grandeur and the not-so-mysterious closed doors of Trader Joe’s. Dumont said more landscaping and individuality is on the way, but for now each beige building and glass storefront looks remarkably similar.

The 1 million square-foot mixed-use property will feature Charlottesville’s first IMAX theater—which will open November 9—plus dozens of national, regional, and local retailers and restaurants, including Williams-Sonoma; Black & Orange, Washington D.C.’s alleged best burger joint; and a southern tapas restaurant. Only a handful of shops will open their doors by the end of 2012, but according to the developers, Stonefield should be buzzing by summer of next year when everything, including a 137-room hotel, an apartment complex, and a block of townhomes, is up and running.

Dumont also hinted at potential tenants that will carry outdoor gear and upscale women’s athletic apparel, but when reporters tried to get him to spill the names, his lips were sealed.

The journey to Stonefield’s grand opening wasn’t an easy one, as developers had to weather the recession, and had to fight a last-minute battle with the city over stormwater runoff. Folks at EDENS are thrilled to finally have opening dates on the horizon, but not everybody is tingling with anticipation.

Monique Moshier and her husband, Steve Belcher, own The Happy Cook, a kitchen store located in Barracks Road Shopping Center. She said the store has a long-standing base of loyal customers, and even though Williams-Sonoma is an obvious competitor, she’s not worried.

Barracks Road was Charlottesville’s first shopping center, and is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1959 when it was built by area developer Rinehart. Over the years it’s attracted both national and local businesses, and tenants say Stonefield just can’t compare to what the more established center has to offer.

“It reminds me too much of Northern Virginia,” Moshier said. “Barracks Road is much more Charlottesville.”

Aesthetics aside, Moshier predicted that Stonefield’s new menus, wrap-around patio seating, and outdoor fire pits won’t deplete existing restaurants’ customer base, and that shiny new malls that dominate suburban America won’t disrupt the charm of places like Barracks Road and the Downtown Mall.

“If I want a good meal, I’m going to go Downtown,” she said.

Speaking of good meals, Vincent “Vinny” Mastelloni opened Slice a year and a half ago in Barracks Road, and said he doesn’t think Stonefield will affect his pizzeria.

“When you talk about Charlottesville, you talk about Barracks Road,” Mastelloni said. “It shouldn’t hurt as at all; it’ll just give people more options.”

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