Renovations revive Maplewood Mall as an open-air community space

by Walt Maguire
Posted 2/18/21

In January, the $3.3 million renovations on Maplewood Mall in Germantown were completed. The last remaining step is new public art to be installed in the plazas.

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Renovations revive Maplewood Mall as an open-air community space

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In January, the $3.3 million renovations on Maplewood Mall in Germantown were completed. The last remaining step is new public art to be installed in the plazas at either end of the mall.

The renovation officially started November 18, 2019. Work was interrupted in March 2020 when coronavirus precautions stopped “all non-life-sustaining businesses,” but was still largely completed by the end of December. The mall, which runs parallel to Armat Street between Germantown Avenue and Greene Street, is behind the Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library and next to Greene Street Friends School. Maplewood Mall was created in the mid-Seventies as a pedestrian plaza. By the end of the Eighties many of the shops were gone, its infrastructure in disrepair. In 2011, a new plan was announced as part of a City Planning Commission Central Germantown Business District Beautification. Finally, in 2018 local groups and Council member Cindy Bass obtained funding. The 70s faux-cobblestone was replaced with smooth brick, overgrown trees were replaced with saplings, new lighting was installed, and for the first time since the 70s, the narrow street was once again opened to traffic.

Already there are discussions to limit traffic to weekdays, to preserve the pedestrian friendliness. Jeff Podlogar, co-owner of Germantown Espresso, would prefer that.

“There’s really not too much of a need to drive on it,” he said.

Some businesses, such as Maplewood Nutrition or Nick Thaete’s wicker repair shop, Cane and Rush, benefit from easier deliveries, but Podlogar is concerned the street has accidentally become a fast lane for drivers avoiding schoolday bottlenecks on Armat as parents drop their children off at Greene Street Friends. 

“What ends up happening, there’s a school there, and traffic, and people will use Maplewood as a cut-through,” he said.

Podlogar and Miles Butler opened Germantown Espresso in 2017. The coffee house at 26 Maplewood Mall has been closed since last March, except for a few weeks in the Fall, and relying on home delivery of beans and bottled cold brew coffee. They are already planning outdoor events for the Spring.

“My dad taught at Maplewood Music, so I have very fond childhood memories of the old mall, though it always was a little bit precarious,” said Butler. He had tried to keep his expectations down. “I can remember being a teenager and the first whisperings of the redesign.”  The new lighting and repaired plazas open the mall for more activities. “Citywide we’re seeing the beginning of a cultural renaissance. It’s exciting that in our neighborhood, we have a really cool gathering spot.”

“It is nice to have that as outdoor space,” Podlogar agreed. “Even if we’re all still masked-up and six feet away, it’s nice to see people out in the world, in person.”

Erica Johnson had been a massage therapist on the mall for several years, but when the pandemic forced her to shut down she leveraged her other interests into Collective Artistry, 32 Maplewood Mall, a craft shop featuring plants, crystals, soaps and jewelry—an extension of the same vibe she tried to create in her salon. Johnson grew up in the area. “I remember being a little girl, there were so many shops here,” she said. “I want it to be that way again.”

 “Central Germantown, with Vernon Park, the businesses on Maplewood Mall and Chelten Avenue, and great transit connections, has everything it needs to be a thriving, vibrant community,” said Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement last week.

“Improving the mall and the [Vernon] plaza are two key steps to revitalizing Central Germantown,” added Emaleigh Doley, executive director of Germantown United CDC. "The intention of these spaces is to serve existing residents, business owners, and workers. These projects address the need for safe and welcoming outdoor spaces for all."

The new public art is a project of the city’s Percent for Art program. Local residents, such as Erica Johnson, are on the community panel. No word on installation but a decision should be made this year.

Germantown

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