Walla Walla is a case study for a typical US town with a tussle between downtown shopping and outlying shopping malls. From Walla Walla's hey day at the turn of the century to mid 1900's, downtown Walla Walla was the place to shop if you lived in the area. In the 1970's, it started on a downward slide, and became sorely neglected. To make matters worse for downtown Walla Walla, in 1989, a large enclosed mall, Blue Mountain Mall, opened a few miles away, which drew most of the remaining shoppers away from downtown. Department stores in downtown lost money and were sold. The Marcus Whitman hotel went condo for lack of visitors. The downtown became seedy and deserted.
Beginning in 1990, the city of Walla Walla began work on a multi year revitalization of downtown. As the downtown improved and added shops, it drew shoppers away from the enclosed mall. Moreover, like cities elsewhere in the US, the large enclosed mall fell out of vogue, and was abandoned by shoppers. Tenant stores vacated and the food court became empty.
What to buy: Today, downtown Walla Walla is a small but charming collection of boutique shops, cafes and wine tasting rooms. The condo complex became the Marcus Whitman Hotel again after a $35 million renovation. The city's revitalization project was so successful that downtown Walla Walla has won coveted awards.
The Blue Mountain Mall, on the other hand is practically an empty shell now. Word has it that a buyer may step in, buy the entire mall, demolish it, and rebuild it as an open air shopping center, just like what is happening in other cities. Then shoppers will flock there. What will happen to downtown? I am betting it will survive - Walla Walla is on the upswing with its fledgling wine and tourism industries. It should only get better.
There are a ton of great shops in Walla Walla and a wonderful market - kitchen shops, coffee shops, clothing, art and I hear very soon a Harley Store. I do have to put in a plug for my mom's store - La Colombina. It is very small and intimate and she carries great footwear - Dansko, Naot, Keen and clothing that real women can wear - you don't need to be a size 2 to shop at her store. Fun jeans, great linen pieces for summer and fun sweaters in the winter. Her pug "ping" is at the store with her most days and love the attention of visitors. Stop by and say hi!
What to buy: Along with the great wine, there is the Colville St. Patisserie that make amazing cakes and pastries. La Colombina carries a beautifly line of jewelry and unique Cynthis Ashby clothing.
What to pay: You can find inexspensive, fun gifts or those special splurges too!