State's 7th Wal-Mart readied in ElktonWal-Mart continues...

CONSUMER MARKETPLACE

January 02, 1993|By Michael Dresser

State's 7th Wal-Mart readied in Elkton

Wal-Mart continues its blitz through Maryland with the official opening of its store in Elkton next Tuesday.

The 93,588-square-foot store, small by recent Wal-Mart standards, has actually been open since Thursday, when it quietly opened for a dry run. It will employ about 185 people.

The mammoth discount chain, which was earning respect for Arkansas long before Bill Clinton became a household name, has been steadily expanding its presence in Maryland.

This will be its seventh Wal-Mart store in the state. The chain has announced it will open three more in Maryland -- in Salisbury, Bowie and Lexington Park.

The tight-lipped company is not discussing plans for further expansion in the state, but among the areas likely targeted for development are White Marsh and the York Road corridor.

After the recent fiasco in Ellicott City, where the Howard County government rejected Wal-Mart's bid for a site at U.S. 40 and Route 29, you can expect the company to be especially diligent about choosing sites where the proper zoning is already in place.

The Wal-Mart folks aren't big on making the same mistake twice.

Hunt Valley avers life after Macy's

Is there life after Macy's? Merchants at Hunt Valley Mall say yes.

Retailers at the beleaguered Baltimore County mall reported good Christmas sales in spite of the loss of one of two anchor stores last summer.

"We had a very good Christmas with all things considered," said Rocky Ridgely, manager of the Hyatt & Co. men's store. He said sales at Hunt Valley were comparable with those at the small chain's other three stores in the area.

And R. L. Guise, manager of the Sears anchor store, said sales were good for the entire month of December and "very strong toward the end." Similar results were reported at several other stores.

Still, some consumers find that the mall's main attraction is its easy parking -- a mixed blessing for the mall.

Kirstie Dowell, a shopper who works for a retail consulting firm, said that on the Saturday before Christmas -- after failing to find a parking space at the firmly anchored Towson Town Center -- she went to Hunt Valley Mall about 2 p.m.

"We parked right by the door and walked in. The mall was empty," she said, adding that the line for Santa Claus was only two or three children deep.

Judging by a walking tour this week, the mall is not facing anything like the retail exodus that followed last year's dismal holiday season. Occupancy at the mall has remained reasonably stable since Macy's announced it would leave.

There are some retailers leaving the mall. Windsor Shirt Co., a Phillips-Van Heusen subsidiary that is also leaving Towson Town Center, is gone. Early Learning Center was holding a going-out-of-business sale this week. Unlike the Macy's closing, these moves are a reflection of chainwide retrenchments, rather than a judgment on the mall itself.

(Several other mall tenants, including Thom McAn, Chess King and Kay-Bee Toys, could come up for review as part of Melville Corp.'s recently announced corporate realignment. But those moves could involve changing the stores' concepts, rather than closing them.)

Many Hunt Valley merchants are fiercely supportive of the mall, holding fast to their belief that growth in the area will bring new business to the mall.

"The potential is tremendous," said Michael Wingard, owner of Coffee, Tea & Thee. "This is the cleanest mall I've ever seen. . . . It's well-organized. It has good security."

Still, merchants are waiting anxiously for news of what might become of the vacant anchor space. That decision that could affect the entire market positioning of the mall, which is owned by a joint venture of Kravco Co. and Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc.

James McCown, a spokesman for Equitable, said no announcement of a new anchor is imminent but that the mall owners are negotiating with R. H. Macy Co. to obtain control of the empty building.

Home Depot tools cut into Sears' trade

Home Depot, the Atlanta-based home improvement powerhouse, is hammering away at Sears' hand tool business, according to a report by Prudential Securities.

Prudential analysts Wayne Hood and Dana Pliotis said their recent price survey showed Home Depot's Husky line of hand tools and tool chests were priced 20 percent to 40 percent below Sears Craftsman products.

The Husky products, made by Connecticut-based Stanley Works, replace a lower-quality imported line that Home Depot previously carried, the analysts said in their Dec. 23 report.

"We believe that the quality of the Husky line of hand tools is comparable to the Stanley line and Sears Craftsman line," Mr. Hood and Ms. Pliotis wrote. The analysts found Home Depot's employees to be more knowledgeable about the hand tools.

Home Depot's challenge to Sears for the $4 billion to $5 billion-a-year hand tool market is just one more headache for the Chicago-based giant as it attempts to put its merchandising division back in shape.

As for Home Depot, the Prudential analysts rate its stock a "hold" because of their near-term bearishness about retailing and its hefty price. "Over the long term, we believe Home Depot should be the core retailing holding" in investors' portfolios, the analysts concluded.

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