Owner closing mall's Benetton store VICTIM OF RECESSION

January 23, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

Joel Smeyne's daughters bought sweaters from Benetton i Europe long before their father had ever heard of the Italian company.

Now Smeyne owns two Benetton stores, but he is struggling to keep just one open. He has decided to close his Security Square Mall store within a month.

Benetton stores are independently owned by retailers who are licensed to sell the imported sportswear. Other stores in the area are not affected by Smeyne's decision.

L Smeyne is hoping to keep open his store in White Marsh Mall.

"I'm trying to salvage White Marsh," he said. "I would guess for 1991 I will lose $30,000 to $40,000, if we stay open, but I don't mind handling that if the future shows a turnaround."

Along with many other merchants, Smeyne said he has felt the effects of a drop in consumer spending.

"We have had steady decrease [in sales] since June '89," said Smeyne, explaining that revenues have been off about 21

percent. "The margin of profit is never all that great, and the long and the short of it is we started to lose money."

Smeyne's daughter Jill Cohen, manages the Security store. "We're just not getting the Benetton customers into the mall," she said. "Our sweater [prices] are upper end in White Marsh. At Security, where customers are less affluent, "they're out of range," she said.

Many Benetton sweaters cost more than $100.

"The economy is not good right now," said Cohen.

Smeyne refuses to blame his problems on the closing of the Hutzler's department stores in both malls during 1989. But he does say that Security's plans for a Montgomery Ward store in the former Hutzler's space "does not help my image."

Some of the Smeyne's six employees at Security have been offered positions at the White Marsh store. Others, mostly high school students, will be let go, according to Cohen.

For now, Smeyne will concentrate on running his amusement company, Resort Amusements. The Maryland corporation has six arcades, with three in Maryland, two in Delaware and one in Virginia.

The Security store may close sooner than originally planned.

"Our going-out-of-business sale is going better than expected, and frankly we're starting to hurt for merchandise," Smeyne said.

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