Although the Mall in Columbia sets tight requirements for its stores' appearances, at least one store manager complains that the mall holds itself to a different standard.
Stanley Weinberg, manager of Rafet's Hairmasters since the mall opened in 1971, publicly criticized Rouse Co., which owns and manages the mall.
The mall needs a facelift, said Weinberg.
But a Rouse Co. senior vice president responded that facelifts don't pay.
In a letter to The Howard County Sun, Weinberg asked: "What has Rouse Co. done for the storekeepers in 21 years?"
Not much, he wrote, other than adding new tables and chairs to the food area and building a new section "that looks as old as the old section now."
Other Rouse Co. malls have been snazzed up with white marble floors and brass hand rails,while the Columbia mall's merchants watch rainwater drip into buckets, the letter said.
His letter caught the eye of Larry M. Wolf, senior vice president and director of retail leasing for the company.
Wolf responded personally to Weinberg with two "truisms":
First,"refurbishing the mall will not increase store sales by even $1."
Second, refurbishing and remodeling a store will increase sales.
A customer's four priorities, Wolf said, are great stores, safety in the mall and parking lot, housekeeping and maintenance and clean public restrooms.
"Things like white marble floors, brass handrails and beautiful fountains and gardens don't even register when it comes to deciding where to shop. . . . We have now spent millions of dollarsto upgrade and upscale centers only to learn afterwards, to our dismay and disappointment, that sales didn't change at all."
Remodeling and refurbishing dollars are better spent during a mall expansion, Wolf wrote. While the mall waits for Nordstrom or Macy's, it will continue to see to the customers' priorities by attention to housekeeping and signing on upscale stores like Talbots, a women's fashion store.
Weinberg still doesn't believe that the brass fixtures in OwingsMills don't draw customers. After all, he says, his wife travels allthe way from their home in Swansfield to shop at the mall there.
NOTE: SEE MAIN STORY (MALL SHUFFLES ITS RETAILING LINEUP FOR UPCOMING SEASON)