The mall that sits on Liberty Road, once a vibrant center of commerce, now has vacant storefronts and a problem with theft, but residents and shop owners say they hope it can be revived.
“The mall was the focal point of Eldersburg and we need to have that back,” said Ellen Dix, president of the Freedom Area Citizens Council.
Anchored by Kmart, Peebles, Big Lots and formerly Flagship Cinemas, the shopping center is becoming a magnet for thieves, according to shop owners, and sheriff's cars are often seen parked out front.
There have been six thefts in the past month, according to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, with three in March accounting for $1,000 in stolen merchandise and two arrests.
The Office of Economic Development for Carroll County declined to comment on reported problems at the center, and calls to Black Oak Associates, which manages the property, were not returned by the time of publication.
“During the summer, underage kids were caught stealing every day,” said Tom Brown, a former loss prevention associate for Kmart. “It is going down hill.”
Kmart officials declined comment.
“Everybody wants to talk badly about it but I’m not going to,” said Mona Freedman, whose daughter owns Andies Candies across from Kmart.
“The sheriff’s department is right around the corner and there’s a lot of traffic coming in and out of the Kmart," she said.
She said the mall's owners are making an effort.
"We know that there’s a lot of sensationalism about the mall and it’s a place that’s affordable and we’re not feeling the meanness that everyone else is feeling towards the mall," she added. "We’ve seen some landscaping that has happened there and they seem to keep it clean.”
Her daughter, Andie agrees. “The vendors like it and I like it and there’s nothing really bad about the mall at all. It’s still there and businesses are still there. It’s not like we’re failing.”
Eldersburg’s only movie theater, located behind Carrolltown Center, closed in December 2009, forcing residents to drive to AMC Owings Mills 17 in the Owings Mills Mall or AMC Columbia 14 in the Columbia Mall.
It’s classified as a “dead mall,” according to Deadmalls.com, a non-profit site that promotes the history of the malls across the United States.
The mall contains several active stores, including Kmart, Peebles, Big Lots, Freedom Fitness and Andies Candies.
But vacant locations are also common. One sits between Liquors, Wine, Cheese and Dollar General. Other parts of the architecture include remnants of left-behind buildings, like the awning above a former fitness complex.
The Black Oak Associates website shows a picture of the former mall entrance with the words “in redevelopment” below the image but that does not reflect the current state of the mall.
Currently, the mall entrance has been closed, there is no indoor mall, no arcade, no food court, no merchandise kiosks, no grocery store.
A Facebook group, “I Used To Hang Out On The Carrolltown Mall Parking Lot-80's/90's,” has more than 660 members, posting memories of the mall during its prime.
“Ahh, the good old days,” reads one post.
“Remembering when the mall was new and not enclosed, driving my '81 Ford Escort station wagon that was packed with my friends, through the mall on a dare. You could never get away with doing that today,” read another.
But now, residents say they are growing concerned about the declining state of the mall.
“I continue to be completed irritated with the conditions at Carrolltown, both with the owner (Black Oak) and the county government for allowing the situation to remain unresolved and just ‘building around it,’” said Kelli Nelson, an Eldersburg resident.
“It just looks seedy and out of place. I don't know anyone who shops at that mall anymore. I would love for them to tear it down so that it can become a thriving area for business again,” said Tracy Beck, owner of Photo Scraps, formerly located in the Carrolltown Center.
Some feared that a carnival that moved into the lot behind the shopping center this month would bring more crime.
“I cannot believe this carnival was approved!" said resident Pam Shuman who lives near the center. "It is literally in people's backyards, across from an elementary school and in a rundown shopping center that the owners continue to neglect.”
Resident Mary Ellen O'Neill agreed.
“I would have liked a carnival in a field where no one would have been affected," she said. "This being so close to housing is a real problem.”
But the sheriff’s office has not reported any serious crime since the carnival arrived, and recently, Black Oak Associates hired security guards and installed more lighting in the parking lot.
“I wasn't surprised with the immediate neighborhood's anger about the carnival, but think personally, it was mostly misplaced," said Ross Dangel, a member of the Freedom Area Citizens Council. "I sincerely think that Black Oak was trying to do something good here and from what I know the organizer is also charitably oriented.”