Graciela: “Spectacular,” the woman said. The answer came to our question of her thoughts about the new Centro Comercial Fontanar in Chia, Colombia. On weekends, especially during the Christmas season, the place attracts large crowds.
Michael: My wife and I showed up on opening day of the mall in October 2015. We based our initial review on that one day. Many stores were not open. In some areas construction continued. At the time we wrote to take another look in December. This is that updated review of the large shopping and entertainment center.
Fontanar shows improvement in some areas since that initial review. More stores are open and management seems to have worked out a few of the kinks. They decorated for Christmas with curtains of hanging lights, a couple of large houses and a three story Christmas tree surrounded by poinsettias. The house on the main floor proved a most popular site for photos. Even included was a mailbox for letters to Santa.
But time, additional openings and more visitors also revealed design flaws and areas where changes and enhancements could benefit the customer.
Graciela: Stores like Falabella, Home Sentry, Exito, Zara, American Eagle, Nine West, Tenis and more were definitely needed in Chia/Cajica. They make the mall a wonderful addition to the area.
A bright spot among coffee places
Our initial assessment of places to partake of the black brew continues for the most part. But there is one exception. Most of the coffee shops in the mall offer nothing to make a special trip. Juan Valdez has put much into decoration and places to sit. However, after five visits we found service at that location below that received at most of their other locations. Plus an employee told us they will not carry donuts because there is a Dunkin Donuts also in the mall. Others we spoke with voiced the same complaint about the service, so it is not just us.
Oma opened. Despite having both inside and outside tables the place is more designed for meals. Plus it seems the servers are more into talking among themselves than waiting on customers. But still the same great food is served.
American Cheese Cakes added additional tables. They have great products to accompany your coffee. However, due to poor mall design, their position in a major traffic area detracts much from it being a relaxing place. Their location in Centro Chia is much better.
There is now a gem among them. In the North end basement DPASO opened. We enjoyed the coffee, food and service so much that the place received its own review.
The movies dazzle and have a short coming
Graciela: There is good and bad news when it comes to the theaters at Fontanar. Cinépolis was not in operation opening day. It began showing movies soon after that though. We enjoyed several films in their theaters the last several months.
Cinépolis is large in Mexico. They have just a few theaters in Colombia. Fontanar is the first in the Bogotá area. But WOW to what they offer for customers viewing pleasure. There are four VIP salas, a 4DX room and an Macro XE theater along with others. The curved screen in the Macro XE has more square meters than our house. Even general seating has benefits over those in other theaters. The chairs are comfortable with backs that tilt back with pressure. The floor incline is such that you are not looking at the head of the person in front of you. Your seat is easy to identify with the large row letters and numbers on the high backs. That is correct, no having to use the light on your cell phone to read that little plate on the front of a turned up seat.
VIP almost acts as a separate company. Ticket sales are at a counter a level below general sales. It has its own lobby area. Of course for the added admission cost you receive a larger more comfortable seat with foot rest. A menu sits besides each chair. Servers take and deliver your food and drink order.
Michael: Management is the weak link and what keeps the theater from being the premier place to see a movie. We experienced everything from continually too few tellers to no one accepting responsibility and correcting their errors and problems.
The website is not as user friendly as those of other theaters. For instance the CineColombia website has an easy one click to view the trailer. Information is missing on the Cinépolis site for the country of origin of the movie, the duration, the director and the original language. All that information you can usually find on the website of almost all other theaters.
This next part is just a personal preference. But with so many screens I would like to see them present more art movies like those at Cinemania in Bogotá.
Graciela: Do not disregard taking in a movie at Fontanar. While I agree with my husband that management could use improvement, the large screens, VIP theaters and comfortable easy to find seats makes it worth the drive from Bogotá just for the experience.
Food department gets something the area needed
Since our last writing on this mall the restaurants Crepes & Waffles, Jungla Kumba and Semolina have opened. Semolina brings something unique to Chia/Cajica. The restaurant offers elegant dining with sophisticated ambiance and excellent service. All comes at reasonable prices. The menu promotes Italian dishes. Soft lighting and a fireplace contribute to the ambiance. And attention to details shows in the Velcro ties to secure purses to the chairs. If you live in the area we highly recommend perhaps taking in a movie and enjoying a meal at Semolina before or after.
Traffic and parking remains a problem
Michael: More than one person told us their complaints with the roads around the mall and parking. One individual found it so bad that after driving for an hour to reach the mall he just left without entering. My complaint is with paying parking. On two different occasions I counted 40 people in line to pay. There are not enough machines and those they do have are slow.
More design issues?
One day behind a couple on the escalator I heard the man tell the woman, “Muy Americano” (very American). My immediate thought was that no American would designed with so little thought to customer convenience. Well, never had I seen one of such design in over 50 years of visiting malls across the USA. Then to my surprise I found it was an American firm, DDG, who did it. They bill themselves on their website as an “Internationally renown planning, architecture and design company.”
Later we were in a group of Colombians when the topic of Fontanar design came up. One person said, “There is another poorly designed mall in Bogotá, Atlantis.”
Though located in a gringolandia area of the city, Atlantis did not make our list of top tourist malls. When compared to others the reasons were obvious. But interesting is that we later found out DDG also designed Atlantis.
I checked in with a Colombian forum to see if anyone said anything about the mall. Perhaps my impression did not match those of other expats. One member came to our conclusion with his statement. “Very flash and modern…NOT a very clever design. Yes, it is bright and airy but huge amounts of wasted space.”
Something that my wife and I noticed on our first visit but did not include in the report is the escalators. On the forum they wrote, “The escalator system at Fontanar is designed to make you walk past every shop on that level before you can go up or down to the next level.” While perhaps good for store owners in possibly getting that impulse sale, it is not considerate of patrons.
Another comment on the forum was, “My experience with architects gives me the impression that they believe ‘looks’ is more important than functionality.”
On more than one occasion we ran into a design caused bottle neck. On the third floor at the North end is the carousel. The location is between the two restaurants Crepes & Waffles and WOK. Across from it is a kiosk of a photo place, that we are glad to see is now open at the mall. Between the carousel and place for photos they put carts for pushing children around the mall. The escalator is such that the shortest distance to the movie theater is to pass that point. However, people stand around that pinched area taking photos of their children riding the merry-go-round, getting waited on for photos or they congregate deciding which restaurant to eat at. On several occasions I watched people having to politely push their way through that section. The problem could easily be reduced by moving of the photo kiosk and cart rental.
The initial design and the end product seem to differ though. On the forum site mentioned above they have architectural drawings before construction. One can notice on them the carousel on a lower floor in a more open area and escalators that are side by side for going up and down. I wrote the company to ask why the final product is different, but never received an answer.
Graciela: Despite the design flaws I enjoy Fontanar, but when I need something. For me it is not a place to just go to and walk around. Their large selection of stores means fewer trips to Bogotá. While I agree with my husband that it would be nice if Cinépolis offered more art films, what they do offer in seating and screens puts it ahead of most other theaters. The restaurant Semolina will see more of our business as will DPASO coffee shop. While there is no need for Bogotanos to come to Fontanar to shop, they should come to check out what it does have or to enjoy the latest in movie experience.
Michael: Except for the management snafus the theaters at Fontanar have spoiled me for other movie places. Taking my wife to dinner at Semolina then a movie afterward is enjoyable and something that will probably happen often. Since most of the shops seem to be for women, there is not much for me in terms of shopping. Their entire parking situation drives me crazy. But that can change much with more and better machines. I am embarrassed that a USA firm did such a poor design job. But a poster on the afore mentioned Colombian forum put it another way. He wrote, “Mall mentality suits Colombians well….it’s all about appearances and being seen.”