Does It Take a Village?

Kohl’s is headquartered in a village. Sure, it’s a big village—the largest in the state of Wisconsin—but Menomonee Falls is still a village, with all the municipal powers and services that come with the state’s definition of the term.

But, when I think of a village, I don’t think of Menomonee Falls. I subscribe to a less formal distinction—that a village is a community of people, smaller than a town, bound by a need to cluster in a setting that remains somehow intimate while surrounding townships grow into anonymity.

A village can also be a community of retailers. In the United States there are thousands of shopping centers that label themselves as villages, but just because a shopping center calls itself a village doesn’t necessarily make it so. By the same token, there are centers that, while the name doesn’t call out its identity as a village, it meets all the criteria (mine anyway). Take Shadow Lake Towne Center, in Papillion, Neb.

Some might think building a village in a town hardly bigger than one might be redundant. I don’t think so. Papillion’s population is less than 20,000 (Papillion, by the way, is pronounced pah-pill-yun, with the accent on the “pill”—which is oddly typical in Nebraska. Norfolk, Neb., is pronounced “nor-fork.”). Located about 10 miles from Omaha, Papillion enjoys proximity to Interstate 80, a brand-new Cabela’s, and now an even newer, and bigger, retail destination joint-ventured by RED Development (co-headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., and Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Omaha-based The Lerner Co.

No one was more surprised than I was to learn that a major lifestyle/town center/power center was being developed in Papillion. Efforts began about six years ago, and culminated with a grand-opening ceremony I attended in the pouring rain on May 26. Among the dignitaries huddled under the tent was Governor Dave Heineman (see “Bringing out the Governor” by visiting www.chainstoreage.com and clicking on the CSA blog site, RetailView) who came out because, quite frankly, Shadow Lake Towne Center is a big deal in Nebraska.

At 800,000 sq. ft., it is a gathering place that is matched (almost) by only one other development in the state—Village Pointe in Omaha, which also happens to be a RED center. Not even the wind and rain could deter me from walking the project from end to end, admiring the Nebraska-inspired architecture, the amphitheatre, outdoor fireplace, extraordinary lineup of retailers and restaurants—and a town square like nothing Papillion has, or would have dreamed of having.

What struck me most about Shadow Lake, though, was how good it looked on its residents. I saw it in their faces, as they walked about the center, admired the flowers and mingled in the town square. They were proud of their new village. The arrival of this community of retailers and restaurants was a positive reflection on all of the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses.

Though Shadow Lake Town Center doesn’t label itself a village, in my mind that’s exactly what it is.

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