Keep that mall train a-chuggin', parents say White Marsh Mall, Hecht's plan to end rides in August. THE LITTLE TRAIN THAT WON'T

April 29, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

If having a new Hecht Co. department store at White Marsh Mall means the end of the mall's kiddie train ride, Chris DiGiorgio has a solution.

"Get rid of Hecht's," offers the father of two.

Such is the feeling of many parents visiting White Marsh Mall one day last week. Not one of them had anything good to say about a mutual decision between the mall and the soon-to-open department store to remove the train and restore the original fountain beneath.

For more than five years, the tyke-size train has chugged around its little track on the mall's lower level in front of what used to be Hutzler's department store.

It may seem a typical kiddie ride, but the train had become a fixture at White Marsh. The shopping center's core market of Baltimore and Harford counties has in recent years seen a huge influx of young families with children who have been drawn to the area's more affordable housing.

And, while suburban malls are sometimes criticized for lacking the character of the downtown business districts they replaced, some shoppers say the train gave White Marsh a special lure.

The ride was, in fact, originally installed to draw people to Hutzler's and its surrounding stores, says Janice Biele, manager of sales and marketing for the mall. Hutzler's closed its White Marsh store in 1989.

"The original concept was very temporary," Biele says.

Now, Hecht's has decided to exercise its right to have a working fountain in front of the lower level of its new store, scheduled to open in November.

Parents, who often used the two-minute, 75-cent ride as a bargaining chip for good behavior from their children, think removing it is a big mistake.

"I think it stinks," says Sharon Credito, who was at the mall last week with daughter Jessica, 5. "If anything, the train would draw more people to [Hecht's]."

"It's the only reason I come to this half of the mall -- and I know when Hecht's comes I will tear up my credit card and send it back. And I know my friends will, too," says Bernadette Loiland, who takes her children Jason, 3, and Julie, 17 months, to the mall almost once a week to ride the train.

"I wouldn't circumvent my path for a fountain," says an annoyed DiGiorgio. "I think they're foolish."

Peggy Disney, divisional vice president for public relations at the Hecht Co.'s corporate office in Arlington, Va., says the decision to restore the fountain was a mutual one between the company and the mall.

"Certainly we're not out to aggravate any children's lives," she says.

Biele points out that the mall also has a carousel, which will remain in the food court and is an alternative to the train, which will probably be removed by the end of August.

But parents say the carousel is an inappropriate ride for younger children. Without the train, they say, one incentive to go to White Marsh, among the region's largest indoor shopping malls, will be gone.

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