Severna Park Mall didn't look a bit like the ghost town it had become.
Cars filled the parking lot Thursday as shoppers streamed into the new Caldor for its festive grand opening.
Colorful balloons waved from storefront railings, managers wore carnations on their lapels and clowns handed lollipops to children entering the store.
The discount outlet, which closed two years ago in the same spot at one end of the Ritchie Highway/McKinsey Road mall,had returned. And that was just fine with bargain-hunting locals andformer Caldor customers.
"I'm glad to see this store back," said Stephen Somerville of Pasadena, who'd brought his wife and son to thestore where he'd shopped before. "It was convenient, and we found good bargains."
His wife, Marsha, found some bargains of her own during the grand opening -- Christmas gifts for her husband that she stashed in the trunk.
Another shopper, Tom Toombs, said he moved to Severna Park after the original Caldor had closed.
"We like what wesee here so far," said Toombs, shopping with his wife. "We'll be back."
What Toombs and other shoppers saw was a snazzier-looking store. The original closed under previous owner May Department Stores Inc., prompting an exodus of merchants from the mall. May then sold the chain to Caldor Inc.
Store manager Bill Jeric described the new store, the result of a $1.5 million reconstruction in the 90,000-square-foot building, as the Caldor of the future.
The store is bright, with a red-and-gray color scheme and spotlights to highlight merchandise. Large, boldly lettered signs make it easy for customers to find logically grouped departments such as housewares, infants, toddlers, stationary, bodywear, boys and cosmetics. The new store now carries aline of Gitano sportswear and features a Sight and Sound Department with televisions, stereos and videocassette players.
The store opened, unadvertised, last Monday with 130 employees, but scheduled its grand opening for Thursday. That morning, store managers found 250 customers waiting for the doors to open. Jeric estimated that 4,000
customers per day came through the store between Monday and Thursday.
The discount outlet will join Giant Food as anchor of a $4 million reconstructed strip shopping center, which will reopen as Severna Park Centre this spring, said Thomas P. Turchan Jr., managing partner of Severna Park Mall Associates, the center's owner.
The troubled mall, which the current owner took over in 1986, has remained nearly empty for about a year, with only the Fashion Bug and Kona Tiki restaurant inside.
While retailers lost business and eventually moved from the mall, larger malls in the county have found themselves prospering and expanding. Marley Station in Glen Burnie will add a third anchor to Hecht's and Macy's with a 133,000-square-foot J.C. Penney in late 1993. And Annapolis Mall in Parole will expand with a Nordstrom department store and 50 new shops by September 1993.
Although Severna Park's once-thriving, enclosed 35-store mall failed, Turchan has said he believes a strip shopping center will appeal both to retailers and customers. The site offers the best location on Route 2, with good access to the heart of Severna Park, he has said.
Management plans to raze most of the mall, leaving the Giant Food and Caldor space intact. The mall will be rebuilt in a U shape farther back from Ritchie Highway, making room for about 100 more parking spaces. About 12stores, averaging 3,000 to 4,000 square feet each, will front on thelot.
Turchan said he is negotiating leases and expects apparel, shoe and book stores and a hair salon to open.
A year ago, most of the mall's retailers had moved or were on their way out. Merchants said the sharp decline had begun three years earlier, as stores began to close and new shops never replaced them.
For those that hung on,the bottom fell out when Caldor left after a lease dispute with management.Merchants and former merchants at that time blamed mall management, which they said forced them out by acting in an uncooperative manner.
Turchan, though, said he'd tried for three years to pull innew tenants. He attributed the mall's failure to increased competition in the area and to the waning popularity of small malls.