A legal dispute between two of the nation's biggest department store companies and the Columbia-based Rouse Co. threatens to leave the White Marsh Mall with a hole where a Hecht's store is slated to open.
The dispute is detailed in a lawsuit that R. H. Macy & Co. filed last week against Rouse, the mall's developer and manager, and the May Co., the St. Louis owner of the Hecht's chain, as well as other businesses involved in the mall.
The suit, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, asks the court to prevent Hecht's from opening a 160,000-square-foot store in the former Hutzler's space on Oct. 10, as planned. The lawsuit comes less than a month before the scheduled opening, and almost 10 months after May started construction to prepare the space for a Hecht's store.
Macy says in the suit that under a 1980 agreement with Rouse, each of the mall's five anchor tenants had the right to consent to any changes in the occupation of the other anchors' spaces until 1996.
Four months after Hutzler's closed its White Marsh store in January 1990, Macy was informed that Rouse had negotiated to fill the space with a Hecht's store, the lawsuit states, but Macy refused to agree to the change.
More than a year later, a Rouse subsidiary asked Macy and the other anchors, J. C. Penney, Woodward & Lothrop and Sears, Roebuck and Co. for an amendment to the contract that would allow Hecht's to be exchanged for Hutzler's. Macy says it again refused to agree to the change, and didn't discover that the Hutzler's parcel had been transferred to May Co. until just before it filed the lawsuit last week.
Cathy Lickteig, a Rouse spokeswoman, confirmed that May intends to go ahead with the planned opening of the Hecht's store, which has been under construction since the beginning of the year.
In the lawsuit, Macy says it is "irreparably harmed" by the actions of Rouse and May Co., although the suit fails to explain the nature of that harm.
Officials and lawyers for the other companies involved either declined to comment or couldn't be reached late yesterday.
Attorneys and spokesmen for May and for Macy's New York law firm told the Daily Record newspaper that the lawsuit is the first legal action between the two retailers, who share mall space in cities nationwide.