Crimped consumer spending and a recession-plagued economy have claimed the life of yet another area retailer.
This time it's Epstein's, the city's last surviving independent department store chain and Maryland's oldest.
Epstein's, founded in 1926 by Samuel and Sydney Epstein, two Russian immigrant brothers, will close all seven of its remaining stores with liquidation sales beginning next week, Scott Yurow, a company vice president, said yesterday.
"Due to adverse economic conditions in general and the poor retail environment in particular, we made the hard decision to close," Mr. Yurow said.
Retailing analysts say shutdowns across the nation have resulted notonly from the slumping economy and weak consumer confidence but from industry wide problems such as market saturation and debt.
In the Baltimore area alone, Channel Home Centers Inc., g.Briggs, W. Bell, Bernard Hill and David's Village have announced plans to close branches or have already shut down in recent weeks.
The Epstein's stores are at 3818 Eastern Ave., which is also the retailer's headquarters; 201 W. Lexington St.; 1403 Merritt Blvd.; 6510 Baltimore National Pike; 5620 The Alameda; 6812 Reisterstown Road; and in the Glen Burnie Mall.
Combined, the stores have about 250 employee, Mr. Yurow said.
Epstein's struggled to reposition itself for survival last January when it closed three stores and again last month went it closed its Joppatowne location as part of a strategy to divert more capital to merchandising improvements in an increasingly competitive market.
Heightened competition from other discount department stores suchas K mart and Price Club cost Epstein's considerable market share.
The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, the landlord of Epstein's Lexington Market store, had no knowledge that the retailer would be going out of business, said Joel Winegarden, the foundation's director.
That leaves the question of what will be done with the building, Epstein's flagship with five levels and 95,000 square feet of retail space, which takes up almost 25 percent of one side of the Lexington Market.
"We knew Epstein's was having some problems, but it's always sad when a company shuts down," said Robert Tennenbaum, vice president of Center City Inner Harbor Development Corp.
"Empty space tends to get filled up in Lexington Market very quickly, but given the present economic condition it may take a while," Mr. Tennenbaum said.