With the recession still at full blast, retail leasing and development has entered a virtual freeze across the country. And with several hotel and residential projects on hold, one might think retail growth would also be at a standstill in downtown Oklahoma City as well. Think again. At this very moment at least four significant retail openings are pending downtown — two in Bricktown and two along Automobile Alley. These would not be restaurants or bars; they will be stores selling goods. This past year already has seen the opening of a gift shop and antique shop in MidTown, the openings of two chocolate shops in Bricktown, a home furnishings store and a liquor store on Automobile Alley. Of course none of this adds up to the "Galleria” shopping mall that downtown leaders spent two decades trying to make a reality to replace the Main Street they killed. But it’s a start, and in the real world, it may have better odds at long-term survival than the downtown mall that did not materialize in the ’80s and ’90s. To play the parlor game of "what if?,” it might be best to visit www.deadmalls.com and take a look at the Columbus City Mall that opened in the heart of downtown Columbus, Ohio, in 1988. Imagine if John A. Brown’s Department Store had never been razed in downtown Oklahoma City, and instead was turned into an anchor for an attached mall. That’s what Columbus did, and for a while, the development was considered a big success with 150 specialty stores luring shoppers from throughout the region. Twenty-one years later the mall is dead, and joins a list of other downtown shopping centers that once represented a culmination of a city’s best urban development efforts turned into another blight to be overcome. Oklahoma City never got that far, having been forced by the oil bust of the late 1980s to give up on its dreams of a downtown mall. The site is now home to a construction site where a 50-story Devon Energy skyscraper is set to rise from the ground this year. Indeed the mall that some may say helped strangle downtown retail to begin with, in the mid-1970s — Crossroads Mall — is also on the list of dying retail centers kept by www.deadmalls.com. The large department stores that once called downtown home may never return to the heart of the city. But the smaller stores are making a comeback. And some, like B.C. Clark Jewelers, never left. The national recession be damned — downtown retail is back in Oklahoma City.