The real motive behind Woodies' war

February 18, 1993

So now the truth comes out. After months of masquerading as environmentalists out to save Parole from the expansion of the Annapolis Mall, Woodward & Lothrop Inc. has finally 'fessed up to what many people thought all along: Woodies' driving concern was not the environment.

Ever since it was displaced by Nordstrom from a choice slot in the mall, the Washington-based retail chain has been suing nearly everyone in sight. It has tried to block the expansion on the grounds that it would spoil wetlands, endanger creeks and increase pollution and traffic.

Yet in a hearing last week in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, Woodies suddenly announced that the mall project is jim-dandy -- so long as the developers ensure that shoppers have an easy drive from the mall to Woodies.

In fact, said Woodies' attorney John H. Lewin Jr., "The expansion of the mall will probably be good for us. . . We want to be able to benefit from it." So much for trees and streams.

In fact, Woodies barely mentioned the environment during the hearing. Its argument centered on economics, how to prevent the mall enlargement from discouraging shoppers from getting over to its store, less than a mile away.

The retailer's concern is understandable. But the cloaking of its real motive beneath the mantle of environmentalism smacked of hypocrisy. It was this more than anything that made Woodies' retailing war so distasteful. The department store has been a good neighbor throughout its 30 years in Parole.

Nonetheless, it was never particularly known for environmental activism. For years, it stood by quietly as Parole turned into a worst-case example of suburban gridlock.

This, coupled with the fact that Woodies wanted entree to the mall itself, made it impossible to take seriously its new-found interest in saving the environment.

Fortunately, every ruling body that's considered Woodies' objections -- the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals, the federal courts -- has had the sense to see through the pretense and appreciate this case for what it is: a retailer fighting for its life in a tough marketplace.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Motz put it most succinctly: "This case is about money. You know that as well as I do."

If there were any doubts about its motives, Woodies has now erased them.

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