If you live in Montgomery County, MD or nearby, you may have already heard of the Rio Shopping Center in Gaithersburg. But it’s actually a lot more than just a shopping center. In fact, you can hang out at the Rio for hours, barely spend a dime and still have a great time.
A paved walking path around a lake, wildlife strutting around and stunning visual design make it a great place to spend time even if you're not in a shopping mood.
The Rio is brilliantly designed to bring people together in a wholesome outdoor venue. It pairs functional outlets like stores and cafes with a visually pleasing and relaxing environment.
The shops are probably 75 - 80% chains with a handful of small businesses alongside them.
What’s unusual about the Rio is that it has something for almost everyone. There’s shopping for every day food and household items at Target, a Barnes and Noble bookstore, Dick’s Sporting Goods, a Starbucks, a movie theater and countless cafes and restaurants.
But unlike most shopping centers that have a vast stretch of retail businesses, a huge parking lot or garage and nothing else, the Rio is designed for outdoor enjoyment as much as for the stores and restaurants.
The businesses are on both sides of an adorable wooden footbridge over a man made pond. At the other end of the pond, people rent paddleboats. There are machines that dispense pellets for the geese in the water.
There’s a gorgeous carousel on the side of the lake opposite the theater. During good weather hundreds of people walk the .7 mile loop around the lake or spread a blanket on the grassy hillside to read a book or share a picnic.
A brightly colored, child-size train offers children and adults a 3 minute ride around the Rio grounds . Most of the restaurants have outdoor seating.
In spring, it’s not unusual to see a flock of baby geese or ducks scampering after their mother, the pedestrians gawking in delight. Before Covid, there was also a playground area near the carousel.
Over the 8 years that I’ve lived within walking distance of the Rio, it’s gotten more and more popular. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s also getting better and better.
During Corona, the outdoor dining area near Uncle Julio’s has expanded, including fire pits. A fountain flows near the bridge. True Food Kitchen has been building a new restaurant right across from Uncle Julio’s but constructions is still on hold due to Coronavirus.
I think it’s brilliant that it’s not just designed for eating, shopping and going home. It’s designed for relaxing and hanging out. And attractively designed so that you naturally enjoy hanging out there.
If the Rio wasn’t already designed from a model for successful retail centers in the 21st century, it should be established as one. You can experience almost everything one appreciates about weekend leisure. There’s shopping, nature, many food choices, exercise, wildlife, intellectual stimulation from the bookstore, movies, art work and people.
On weekend afternoons, couples and families spend hours enjoying food, friends and relaxation. The Rio’s fantastic design creates a fantastic place for getting things done and getting together.