Mt. Pleasant. U.S. Highway 17 North at the I.O.P. Connector. 216-9900

In 1999, the sprawling Mt. Pleasant Towne Center opened to throngs of delighted suburbanites who no longer had to travel downtown and fight for parking. Rather than pick up a used book at Boomer’s and while the afternoon away at Clara’s, shoppers could sip a mocha from Starbucks while perusing books at Barnes & Noble, all in a meticulously landscaped and security-patrolled environment. Until the mid-1990s, there was a national trend toward building enclosed malls and renovating older outdoor malls into interior structures. Since then, it has become fashionable to build outdoor malls that emulate town squares and Main Street, USA. Local architect Ray Huff sees the trend toward faux downtown shopping in suburbia as a reaction to economic pressures that drive housing opportunities away from urban centers and toward the fringes. “The population expects the advantages of urban living, but adapted to a mobile and fluid society,” Huff says. “Locations like the Towne Centre are built on illusions: illusions to an idyllic view of the world where shopping is a clean sport with none of the inconveniences.” The Mt. Pleasant Towne Centre went to great lengths to set the stage; chandeliers used in the space were salvaged from the lobby of a turn-of-the-century bank in New England and the wrought-iron bike racks originally decorated the balconies of a Philadelphia hotel from the 1880s. In addition to the ubiquitous national chains, the shopping center houses a few locally-owned businesses, including O’Hara and Flynn, Stella Nova, and Copper Penny.