Restaurateurs back smoking ban maybeThe Restaurant...

CONSUMER MARKETPLACE

February 20, 1993|By Michael Dresser

Restaurateurs back smoking ban maybe

The Restaurant Association of Maryland is no longer telling state lawmakers to butt out of the controversy over nonsmoking sections in restaurants.

The trade group, which has long argued that voluntary curbs on restaurant smoking were sufficient, announced this week that it has extinguished its opposition to statewide legislation regulating smoking.

But along with the puff of white smoke came a big "if." The group will support such legislation as long as it applies to "all places of assembly" in Maryland -- not just restaurants.

Marcia Harris, executive vice president of the group, said the association decided it would rather switch than fight for three reasons:

* The continuing stream of reports linking exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke with a variety of illnesses.

* Increased requests from customers for a smoke-free place to eat.

* A spate of proposals for local bans that could create a patchwork of laws across Maryland.

Leaps & Bounds may jump into area

With the baby boomers producing a baby boom of their own, children's play centers are becoming one of the hottest new concepts in the entertainment business.

It's been a bit slow to develop in the Baltimore area, but it soon could be growing by Leaps & Bounds, a high-tech "interactive play center" chain backed by the megabucks of its parent McDonald's Corp.

Kathy Hartman, Leaps & Bounds' marketing director, confirmed that company officials have made an "investigative visit" to the Baltimore area. But she added that the company hasn't settled on any sites and wouldn't open anything here in the next six months. "We're a twinkle in your dad's eye," she said.

Leaps & Bounds, which has five sites open in the Midwest, is still in a "test mode," Ms. Hartman said. The company plans to open 20 more centers around the country this year.

Leaps & Bounds' largest competitor, Chicago-based Discovery Zone L.P, has 58 centers around the country including one in Germantown, in Montgomery County. Chuck Gelman, the company's vice president for marketing, said Discovery has no specific sites in Baltimore but plans to be here within six to nine months.

Both companies are in effect latter-day versions of Chuck E. Cheese, but with more emphasis on security and less on food. A good example of the direction in which Leaps & Bounds and Discovery Zone are going can be seen at the independent Kid's Funjungle, at the Enchanted Forest shopping center in Ellicott City.

Ms. Hartman said Leaps & Bounds is "the '90s version of a playground" where parents and kids play together. "They imagine they're in an adventure --whether they're Indiana Jones or Peter Pan."

Each center has strict check-in and check-out procedures, so that no child enters without an adult and no adult enters without a child in tow, Ms. Hartman said. Similar measures are taken at Discovery Zone sites.

Bombay is planning a building boom

The Bombay Company Inc., one of the retail sales stars of 1992, has decided it needs more elbow room.

The chain, which specializes in traditionally styled furniture and accessories, adopted a five-year plan this week under which it will convert all of its 369 stores in the United States to a larger format. Bombay set up a $13 million strategic reserve and approved a $30 million to $35 million stock offering to help cover the costs of the expansion.

Bombay, which has most of its stores in regional malls around the country, has been operating stores in a format that averages 1,650 square feet. But after what it called a successful test of a 3,500-to-4,000-square-foot format at 21 stores, the Fort Worth, Texas-based company decided to enlarge its smaller stores.

In addition, Bombay said it would begin a national rollout of its more casual, rustic Alex & Ivey store concept after a three-store California test. The company plans to build 12 to 15 stores of about 3,000 square feet each by the end of this year and another 30 in 1994.

The Bombay Company, which totaled $176 million in sales in 1992, consistently ranked among the national leaders last year in sales at stores that were open a year ago, posting "comps" in the high teens and over 20 percent for much of the year.

Outback Steakhouse to open in Annapolis

Outback Steakhouse, a fast-growing chain of Australian-theme restaurants, will bring its act to Annapolis next week as it opens its first Baltimore-area restaurant at 2207 Forest Drive.

On Monday, the restaurant will hold a benefit opening celebration, with money going to The Providence Center, a Severna Park-based program for the mentally retarded. The restaurant will open to the public Tuesday.

Outback Steakhouse was founded in Tampa in 1988 and has grown rapidly since then. Sales doubled on a quarter-to-quarter basis through the first three quarters of 1992 and were on a pace to crack the $100 million mark for the year. Last May, Business Week named it one of the 100 best small companies.

In spite of its phenomenal growth, some skeptics have suggested it could fall just as fast as it rose. But analyst Steven Rockwell of Alex. Brown & Sons doesn't think so. This week he raised his rating on Outback to "strong buy" from "buy" a day after Salomon Bros.' Donald Zwyer advised clients to sell the stock.

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