21 May 2013

Town Center at Lake Forest Park, Lake Forest Park, WA

A relic of retail

I had no idea what to expect before first visiting the Town Center at Lake Forest. From the limited information I had found, I knew that it had a small footprint containing a miniscule, enclosed concourse; a layout you just don't see much anymore. In all honesty, knowing how places like this usually end up in today's retail environment, I seriously thought that this complex couldn't be around in its present state for much longer. I figured I'd better get out there to see it as soon as possible as a meager mall like this was surely ripe to be power centered.

The inviting two tier southern façade of the Town Center at Lake Forest.

What I did find, however, was the complete opposite. The Town Center at Lake Forest Park is authentically quaint and due to its limited size, position and placement within a park-like setting of numerous trees and greenspaces, can easily be missed. Foot traffic was steady and the shops were well patronized even for a Monday afternoon. Inside, there were a few small shops, all local brands with no national names among them.

Upstairs was one of the main vendors, Third Place Books, and a vibrant selection of food court eateries, entirely of the vernacular variety as well. I found the pulled pork chili at Burney Brothers BBQ to be exceptional. All around me, patrons tapped away on their laptops while seated comfortably on rustic, tree trunk tables under small skylights and near a community stage. I was pleasantly surprised, and actually hung around a bit longer than I had originally intended. The whole place embodied a pleasing energy in which I wanted to take a few more moments to bask.

The lower level mallways, including the unique access to the upper level Ross store.

In a time when a lot of other localities were frantically building enclosed shopping malls in their downtowns in a desperate attempt to hold on to their relevance, the established Seattle suburb of Lake Forest Park built the town center as their downtown. Occupying the same site as the two-level, indoor/outdoor hybrid is city hall and a copious selection of offices and professional services. The main building is built on a grade, with the south parking lot level with the first floor and the north tarmac landscaped to the upper corridor.

Scenes of the upper level, including the food court, the community stage and main anchor Ross's entrance.

The Town Center at Lake Forest opened in 1964 as the Lake Forest Park Towne Centre. It was not only intended to serve as the town's retail hub, but also as its community center. The latter function is still in heavy application to this day, as residents can be seen hanging out to read books, gathering just to talk with friends or playing chess on the giant checkerboard. In addition to Third Place Books, other major stores include Albertson’s, Planet Fitness, Ross Dress for Less and Rite Aid.

-UPDATE- Town Center at Lake Forest Park lease plan ca. 2021.  View the full PDF version here.

The Town Center at Lake Forest Park is definitely a place I'll be visiting again. Third Place Books looked to have a friendly and helpful staff as well as a worthy selection of hard to find titles. There are a lot of other interesting vendors in the food court offering all types of cuisine with a local flair that I would likewise wish to sample. The place is a bona fide gem due to its offerings, atmosphere and, really, just its existence. I was glad to find a healthy and dynamic complex still fulfilling its role as the everything hub for the city, and it doesn't look like that'll be changing anytime soon.

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