The aisles and checkout lines at the Silk Greenhouse store in Pasadena are crowded with shoppers carrying armloads of artificial flower arrangements, poinsettias and ornamental wreaths.
The windows are decorated with festive miniature pine trees dressed up in shimmery tinsel and red and gold Christmas bulbs.
But the signs on the door suggest that something other than holiday cheer is at work here at the Silk Greenhouse in T. J. Maxx Festival Mall on Ritchie Highway.
"All Sales Final." "All Items 50 Percent Off." "We Will No Longer Accept Checks After Dec. 4."
The customers are drawn not by the spirit of the season but in search of bargains at the silk flower store that is closing because of bankruptcy.
"The company filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors Friday," Mary Kay, director of real estate said yesterday from corporate headquarters in Tampa, Fla. "We're closing stores all across the country."
The 8-year-old company has five stores in Maryland. It expects to close down its three Baltimore-area locations -- Pasadena, Towson and Owings Mills -- by the end of the month. Only stores in Rockville and Laurel will remain open, Kay said.
Although the company is shutting 40 percent of about 100 stores nationwide, Kay was unable to say how many people would be thrown out of work either in Pasadena or elsewhere.
Three cashiers helped some of the store's last customers and two stock workers wound their ways around bare counters and floors crowded with empty cartons. Store manager Joyce Brown referred all questions to Tampa.
Regional manager Claire Fallon also refused comment.
Store employees, too, were reluctant to speak as they rushed to help some of the store's last customers, who peered from behind windows brightened with white cotton snow and eyed the 12-foot Deluxe Canadian Pine tree marked from $547.97 to $399.97, (excluding the 2,000 Christmas lights and ornaments).
But one cashier, who would not give her name, complained that it was unfair to close the store without so little notice so close to Christmas.
"They didn't tell us until Sunday that they were shutting down," she said before turning to ring up another final sale.
Store closings have riddled many shopping centers from Pasadena to Severna Park, where overbuilding and weakening economy have taken their toll.
At the Pasadena Festival Mall -- composed of four strip malls clustered at the corner of Route 2 and Jumpers Hole Road -- only the one anchored by a Blockbuster Video store is fully rented. Across the parking lot, four of 11 stores are vacant in a second block where a corner space, once occupied by a T. J. Cinnamons Bakery, has been empty since the local franchise was sold at auction in February.
There are another nine vacancies in the largest Festival block, anchored by T. J. Maxx, Channel Hardware and a Chesapeake Bay Food House restaurant.
At Severna Park Mall, almost half the smaller shops closed in the wake of losing the Caldor department store last year, which had replaced another anchor store.
"You look at today's economy, it's affecting everybody," Kay said.
But for fans of the old Jumpers Mall, across Ritchie Highway from the Silk Greenhouse, there is good news after more than 25 stores were forced out last year. Now called Pasadena Crossroads, the strip mall is fully rented with the massive Burlington Coat Factory, Drug Emporium and My House stores.