Off-season chill lingers at Harborplace Some merchants grumble about declining sales

April 16, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

The District Court constable was waiting when John and Barbara Porter came to work yesterday morning. It was 9:27 by the Harborplace clock when he handed them the yellow notice telling them that John's All-American Chicken was history.

Four men in suits gathered around Mr. Porter discussing the terms of the eviction as Mrs. Porter -- seething -- loaded up trays of hamburger buns.

Outside, the sun shone brightly and the temperature was climbing toward the 70s. It was the kind of day the Porters had been hoping for since fall, when the end of the baseball season ushered in the six-month chill of Harborplace's off-

season.

Mr. Porter doesn't dispute the eviction. "I owe them a lot of money," he said as he sipped coffee at Johnny Rocket's diner across from his darkened stall. "They have every right to kick me out."

But Mr. Porter is angry at the mall's developer, the Rouse Co. of Columbia, because of the light customer traffic he holds responsible for his business' demise. Since he opened under the name Cajun Joe's three years ago, sales have fallen from $450,000 the first year to a projected $350,000 this year, he said.

Harborplace has had a lot of negative publicity this week over a disturbance Sunday night that many witnesses say was overblown by the news media. But Mr. Porter said the market's problems go much deeper than a single incident. Harborplace's business was down severely from past winters, he says, and many tenants in the food court are in arrears on rent.

Harborplace spokeswoman Kate Delano said Mr. Porter was simply a businessman who failed to make a go of it.

Ms. Delano said Harborplace has suffered nothing but the usual off-season lull. "Our sales have increased every year since we've been here," she said.

But Mr. Porter is not the only merchant having problems at Harborplace. Joseph Simone, president of Owings Mills-based mamma ilardo's corp., said year-to-year sales have declined steadily but not drastically at his company's pizza stands in Harborplace and across the street at the Gallery.

Still, he believes there is nothing wrong with Harborplace that can't be solved by a joint effort of tenants and landlord.

Other tenants are not so forgiving. They said Rouse executives had told them not to speak to reporters and would discuss their businesses only if they were not identified.

One owner of a fast-food stall in the Light Street pavilion said he is behind on his rent payments after six months of "dead" customer traffic.

He said five or six businesses in the food court closed over the winter.

Ms. Delano, who denied that Rouse discourages tenants from speaking to the news media, said such turnover was typical of an off-season at Harborplace.

Harborplace has some disgruntled tenants, but it also has some who are glad to be there despite bad weather and a sour economy.

Jeff Kaizer, the franchisee for Yogen-Fruz, said the Harborplace outlet was by far the frozen yogurt chain's best in the Baltimore area. "This is the model," he said. "Nobody can hold a candle to us."

And in the Pratt Street pavilion, Skip Manes said the weather gave his Body Shop cosmetics franchise some bad times early this year but that he is pleased with the way sales are bouncing back.

B6 "When the weather is good, we're golden," he said.

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