Question of the month: Are we bored with regional malls or just oversaturated with them? Is the current interest in Main Street retail just another fad or an alternative gathering place? Suburban malls have been under attack in the past few years for many reasons. They are, in essence, vehicular traffic generators that affect our air quality. In addition, there is a perception that suburban malls impact the areas of commercial and residential development with often unwanted growth, as well as contribute to urban sprawl and increase local crime statistics. Their future viability has been questioned with the presence of home shopping channels and Internet shopping. The battle over rezoning neighborhoods has been costly and exhausting.

Retail always has and always will be an essential activity of the gathering place. Its evolution is constant, but its function remains the same.

Here in the United States, the general store first served the rural community. Town centers with multiple tenants served the neighborhoods. Retailing streets served the inner city. Suburban malls served suburbia. Main Streets have been around throughout retail's evolution, but in different forms.

The suburban mall, which started as an interior Main Street composed of retail shops in a controlled climate, has evolved to compete for market share. Malls started out as warm, brown interior streets reflecting many earth-toned residential home interiors in the 1970s.

In the '80s, they were brightly illuminated, reflecting a clean, simple design and then becoming more thematic. Following was a period of boldly colored interiors with flashy monster graphics. Now, we are witnessing the entertainment tenants trying to outdo the retailer and entertainment tenants next door.

With the lack of mall opportunities in recent years, we have rediscovered the Main Street retailing concept that is currently booming. The 1998 ICSC Spring Convention displayed hundreds of Main Street-type projects. We are living in a society today that can be impatient and apathetic. Shoppers are ready to accept a new retailing experience but can easily be turned off as quickly as they were turned on.

If Main Street retailing is to last, it needs to be more than just an open-air street with retailers on opposite sides. These are gathering places for people, where retail is only one of several important activities. They are streets where people can live, learn, work and play as a society. Combining these activities with retail creates great opportunities and increases surrounding property values.

The Main Street retailing concept is more complex than the street with retail on both sides. If designed using this simplistic approach, it will be short-lived. When woven into the fabric of daily life and activities, with the lessons learned from mall retailing, Main Street retailing offers an exciting and vibrant gathering place for our society.

After all, Europe has enjoyed this concept for centuries.

DESIGNER INDepth

Gar Muse, AIA Cooper Carry, Inc. 3520 Piedmont Road Atlanta, GA 30305 (404) 237-2000 garmuse@coopercarry.com www.coopercarry.com

* Number of years in the industry: 22

* Recent retail projects:

Riverside Square Mall renovation, Hackensack, N.J.; Coastland Center Mall expansion and renovation, Naples, Fla.; West Town Mall expansion and renovation, Knoxville, Tenn.; Lazarus department store, Pittsburgh; Bloomingdale's department store, Skokie, Ill.; Fox Valley Mall renovation, Aurora, Ill.; World Golf Village, St. Augustine, Fla.

* Upcoming projects:

Carillon Town Center, St. Petersburg, Fla.; three Burdines department stores in Miami, Orlando and Tampa, Fla.; WestShore Plaza expansion, Tampa, Fla.; Opry Mills, Nashville, Tenn.

PERSONALLYSpeaking * Favorite retail store

Rich's department stores and Banana Republic on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

* Favorite restaurant design

Canoe, Atlanta.

* Most improved retail image

Banana Republic: "When it changed from its jungle theme."

* Most admired industry figure

Rudy Javosky, director of design and construction for Federated Department Stores: "He is intelligent, creative and thoughtful, and knows how to work with an architect."