The rise and fall of Lakeforest Mall

The Central Court of Lake Forest Mall, once alive with bustling people and illuminated storefronts, now lies empty.

Lakeforest Mall, the infamous 1,045,000-square-foot building that first opened its doors in 1978, has announced it will be officially closing its doors on Mar. 31 with proposed redevelopment plans on the way. After various store closures, community members feel the closure has been prolonged and overdue, while others are saddened to see such a landmark fade away. However, with new redevelopments including apartments, a transit center, and green spaces, there appears to be a sliver of hope for those saddened by the end of the mall. Senior Nick Jayner said, “That mall was just getting old. It was time for it to close. Every time I went, it just got progressively worse.”

Developers and Gaithersburg community members discussed sketch plans, the first steps for subsequently closing at the end of March, during a meeting on Jan. 17. WRS, Inc., the commercial real estate development firm that purchased the mall three years ago, has sketched up the Lakeforest Master Plan. The plan was unanimously passed in 2021 and aimed to prioritize citizens and engage with the existing community through new employment opportunities, apartments, and entertainment.

For community members, 701 Russell Avenue stores memories: first dates, prom and wedding dress shopping, ice skating with friends, meeting the legendary Santa Claus, and family outings. At its peak, the mall was home to 50 stores and anchor stores such as JCPenney, Lord & Taylor, Sears, Woodward & Lothrop, Hecht’s, and Macy’s. It was one of the first malls in the United States to have an indoor skating rink and also contained a multi-theatre movie complex.

The now bleak and beleaguered mall met its first blow in 2019 when one of its anchor stores, JCPenny, was planning to close its Lakeforest Mall location, which was then followed by a domino effect of closures as Sears and Lord & Taylor closed shortly after. Finally, in January, it was announced that Macy’s, the mall’s last anchor store, would be closing as part of a plan to close four stores nationwide. As community members watched the mall close, senior Sophia Fritsch thought, “It’s kind of unfortunate. I don’t remember when it started closing, but I used to visit a lot and everything started shifting” and as “stores closed down, it began to be unpopular.”

Past mall go-ers believe the redevelopment could be a massive milestone for East Gaithersburg, as community members learn about the scheduled demolishment date in 2024. According to the Gaithersburg City Council, we can expect 1.2 million square feet of employment, commercial and retail space, and 1,600 residential units. For the greater Washington area, the mall is nostalgic for Patriots and community members alike. The once vibrant building was a sanctuary with its pebble pit lounges and the lingering aroma of soft pretzels or delicious Philly cheesesteaks from the food court, all topped off with a neon-outlined glass elevator that overlooked the mall’s central court. Senior Ruth Dai said, “I used to go shopping there with my mom a while ago. I will probably miss their convenience. They were really close. Montgomery Mall is farther, so that kind of sucks.”