Michael: For over two years the large 134,000 square meter building with over 56,000 square meters of rental space rose slowly from the ground. Inside over 150 retail outlets moved merchandise in. Just down from the place and on the same side of the Autopista is Centro Comercial Chia. This new mall looms much larger. Slowly the signs of Fallabella, Arturo Calle, Home Sentry, Zara, Pepe Ganga, Ripley and Cinépolis appeared on the side of the new construction. Then came the announcement of the October 15, 2015 opening date. My wife and I cleared our calendar.
The question in our mind was whether it would raise the bar for shopping in the Bogotá area or just be the same old stuff. Hopes were for the former.
Our arrival at approximately 11 a.m. put us in a line with many other cars looking to secure one of the 2,700 parking spaces. Well, with construction materials still around there were considerably fewer places to park cars. Green and red lights are overhead to help motorists easily identify an open spot. However I noticed that there were many errors of showing a green light when a car was in the space.
Graciela: An impressive view greets you upon entry. The large open area in the middle draws eyes to the glass ceiling three stories up. Stores line both side walls. Notable is the large carousel on the third floor at one end of the building. The bright painting above it and the lights of the ride really draws one’s attention. A very large round LED screen hangs from the ceiling in the open space in front of the carousel.
Fontanar brings impressive new stores to the area. This is especially true in the area of women’s clothing. No longer do we need to drive to Bogotá suffering traffic congestion, pico y placa restrictions and toll fees just to shop at Falabella, Zara, Bon Bonita, Ela, Naf Naf, Studio F and others. With these stores women can find everything from casual to elegant dress clothing.
Michael: Prior to opening , many people expressed concern that this new mall would damage the patrons to the close by and smaller Centro Comercial Chia. I personally do not see that happening. The two places are completely different. There is no way Fontanar can match some the small unique stores at Centro Chia as well as their outdoor park and the church building connected to the parking lot. Getting your groceries out of Carulla at the smaller mall is considerably easier than extracting them from Exito at Fontanar.
Graciela: The Plaza Financiera wing puts most of the financial institutions in one place. Banco Falabella is the exception being connected to their store. BBVA, Banco Colombia, Banco Bogotá and Davienda are all in the single area.
Michael: Call me the guy who always looks at the glass half empty, but they should have courted and put in an International bank. My wife expressed her desire for a Citibank. Additionally, Fontanar’s advertising lists a money exchange place but I never saw one. Not to mention that, in my opinion, there should be two of them to create some competitive rates.
My thing is coffee shops. In that regard Fontanar severly disappointed me. For as large as it is we only found four places to partake of the black brew. All coffee shops are located in the open center area and are therefore surrounded by the massive noise produced by the mall. Illy is there. The brand has several locations around Bogotá as well. Readers may have noticed that we have never reviewed one of their stores and none of ever made our top ten favorites list.
Of course Juan Valdez has a presence. Located on the first floor pretty much in the middle it is the largest one there. But honestly, I find that the ambience, and especially the service, is superior at their other place located directly across the street from Fontanar in the strip mall Bazaar.
Dunkin’ Donuts has a large counter at one end. But there are no tables and chairs. Just down the street at Centro Chia their store there offers the same donuts and coffee but with a quieter atmoshpere and comfortable places to sit.
Probably new to many people is Grun. Their other locations are in hospitals. We reviewed their presence at Fundación Cardioinfantil.and gave it high marks. unfortunately they missed the mark in decoration at this mall. Now add to it that the very few tables to sit at are located on the other side of the walkway. People are constantly walking between you and the counter.
Graciela: Occupying one end of the third floor is the food court. Nothing seemed to stand out as new or unique. Appeared to be pretty much that same as other malls. And even though it was opening day places like Kokorico, and Subway were closed.
The seating area is visually attractive. Light colored wooden chairs surround dark wood grain tables. Lamps with white shades are placed around. But the moving of the chairs seems to just add more noise to an already noisy area.
Michael: They screwed-up the design of the food court. The distance between the counters and the seating area is too short. I watched as lines for those waiting to order filled the space. Others checking out the choices pretty much had no choice than to constantly muscle through the people in queue.
Employees clearing tables did not help matters. The design of the seating is such that the cleaners also constantly navigated their dirty dish and tray laden carts through the people. And talk about no concern for the patrons, we had one employee park their dirty cart next to our table and leave it there as they carried on a private conversation with two other workers.
In talking later, my wife and I came to the same conclusion. Considering choices, prices and service the food court at Centro Chia is better.
Graciela: It is what we didn’t find that will keep me from shoppping there more. There is no phtography store like Foto Japon which is found at almost all other malls. And I am not the only one who likes such places. Other have mentioned it to me.
While Office Depot is suppose to open sometime in the future, it only carries paper goods and office supplies. There is no bookstore of any kind in the mall.
Michael: Important places were not open. The Crepes and Waffles location is at the opposite end from the food court, but it failed to make it on opening day. We never did find the location for the OMA restaurant that was listed Fontana’s advertisement. The theme restaurant Jungla Kumba had their sign on the outside building wall, but remained shuttered.
The movie area is suppose to have eleven screens. Cinépolis should have been operating for opening day, but it wasn’t. Therefore we have no idea of what type of movies they show, prices, seating and theater size.
It took two years to build the place. It would seem to me that at least everyone should have been ready for opening day.
Bathrooms are an important part of any large public shopping area. In our writing Five Bogotá Malls for Tourists I wrote about toilet seats and how many malls fail in that area. Well kudos to Fontana for having seats on their toilets. And I must say that the putting the hand dryers next to the faucet is innovative and the first I have seen like that. They solved the problem of having to stand in line with dripping water waiting for someone to finish using the hand dryer.
Graciela: I waited, with excitment, for over a year for Fontanar to open. When first walking in the place is impressive, but overall I am disappointed. The selection for women’s clothing as well as Falabella is needed in our area. But I don’t shop for such things every day. For quick pick-up items there are many other places around that are faster and cheaper. I believe the mall could have offered more and better. In all fairness though I will give them until December to see if there is improvement.
Michael: To say I am disappointed is an understatement. The selection and locations of coffee shops is insufficient. Design in the food court is not conducive to ordering and enjoying a meal. To see so many places not open on the first day seems to be poor planning. In my opinion, with a little more thought and work they could have made it better.
My wife and I agree that Fontanar brings to the Chia/Cajicá area many needed stores. The openness of the mall is refreshing. But we do not see it offering anything that warrants the drive from Bogotá.