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By Donnabeth Leffler

Town Square

By Donnabeth Leffler Posted September 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm

     Chapelboro.com offers us a virtual town square where we can learn what’s happening and exchange ideas.  But any strong community offers places where we can physically be together as well, exchanging a quick hug or sharing news over a cup of coffee, for instance.  
 
     This coming week Chapel Hill kicks off the development of its new comprehensive plan. The discussions and debate will no doubt include the topics of density, urbanity and space. And, while there will be many points of view, I’m going to bet most people will be looking for more opportunities to create town squares.  I said create, not build, because sometimes these opportunities develop without any intent.  And, as far as the points of view: there will be many ideas of what constitutes a town square.
 
     One enterprise in town is trying to build one and its location might surprise you:  University Mall.  Between the summer concert series and art shows and children’s activities, the mall has been working hard to become a destination beyond shopping.  While I wasn’t able to reach the mall’s marketing manager this week, I have spoken with General Manager Peter de Leon in the past, and I am absolutely sure he’s not forgotten he’s in the retail business!  So, what’s at work here?  
 
     De Leon has clearly decided to tap into what I’m sure is an almost global desire for a town square.  By offering exhibits, playdates and performances, University Mall seems to be trying to offer the benefits of a town square under a roof.  As it’s pouring right now, I have to say that roof part seems especially brilliant!  And, if while you’re there, you remember you need to get a birthday gift, so much the better for the tenants.  I’m sure tenants don’t mind if you linger a while in the center area to see an exhibit; they know something of theirs might also catch your eye.
 
     Some people are likely to find the idea of a mall as a town square not to their liking.  Try separating the idea from the reality though because running into a friend and sharing music, art and conversation is awfully nice, no matter where it happens.  And, if you save yourself an extra errand, is that a bad thing?
 
     Has the community programming drawn you into University Mall?  While you were there, did you spend money?  Please tell me your story by leaving a comment below or writing to me at donnabeth@chapelboro.com.  I’m also interested in hearing your definition of a town square so please leave those thoughts as comments below as well.
 

     P.S.  A savvy owner recognized her business in a previous column about a surprise charge I was asked to pay.  She reached out, apologized, and offered a refund.  A tip of my cap to that owner.  FYI, I declined the refund as that was not the point of my post.  What I did want and now believe I received, was an understanding that the business should work with the customer.   

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