If your idea of shopping at BWI is a crab apron and a shot glass, take a new look.
In time to snag Christmas travelers, Baltimore-Washington International Airport has finished opening an array of upscale shops and kiosks that provide more shopping opportunities and, at the same time, boost airport concession revenues.
The retail boom is part of a growing trend at airports nationwide to accommodate harried travelers, who often have more money than time.
Among the new businesses are the Museum Co., the Body Shop, Hallmark, the Tie Rack and two full-service bookstores, known as Book Corner.
"The major airports are really becoming mall-oriented," said Donna Foxwell, manager of the Body Shop, which opened two weeks ago on Pier D. "At the larger airports, like Philadelphia and Denver, you're definitely seeing them. People are starting to expect it."
Travelers will still pay a premium for a tin of aspirin or a toothbrush. But, overall, prices are more mall-like than airport-like.
"We're pretty much market-basket everywhere, not the prices of Caldor or Kmart, but stores in the mall," said Jack Bracken, general manager of Host Marriott, which manages the airport's food, beverage and merchandise shops. "There's a perception about old airport premium prices, but it's not true anymore."
Mr. Bracken said Host monitors stores to make sure that pricing is not out of line. Most retailers at BWI are prohibited from charging more than "street prices," or those they offer elsewhere. The Celebrate Maryland store, for instance, charges $4.95 for a roll of crab-decorated toilet paper and $8.95 for a solid chocolate crab, the same as in its St. Michaels and Ellicott City stores.
Elsewhere, shoppers can pick up a tie for $15, a sweater for $50, children's games for under $15 and novelty items such as special markers that aren't sold anywhere else in the Baltimore area.
It's not exactly Towson Town Center or White Marsh Mall. But, on a smaller scale, the philosophy is the same.
"You try to provide as much variety as possible to serve the customers," Mr. Bracken said. Scattered throughout the airport are nine Hudson News Stands. For the first time, they're located on the baggage level.
BWI gradually began expanding its retail and restaurant offerings more than two years ago, with the opening of Starbucks Coffee. With a flurry of recent openings, the restaurants and retail shops now total 50 and take up some 56,000 square feet, compared with 48,600 square feet two years ago.
By early next year, the airport will add a third Starbucks -- at the end of Pier D, which is used largely by USAir commuter traffic -- a natural fruits and nuts store known as the Grove, and possibly a compact disc and tape shop.
To accommodate the extra stores, airport officials have used every nook and cranny, carving space out of former airline conference rooms and offices. Some, such as ASU Bags on Wheels, an airport concession that sells luggage, operate with just a wall display.
"Believe it or not, finding blank spaces in an airport is a challenge," said Gary E. Davies, director of the airport's commercial management division.
The main terminal has little room for further retail development, but airport officials hope to add more brand-name retail shops when the new international terminal opens in 1997.
"People were tired of shops that sold nothing but mugs, T-shirts and souvenirs," Mr. Davies said. "The idea is starting to catch on as it's hitting more and more airports."
Pittsburgh International Airport led the way three years ago, opening an Air Mall that has 85,000 square feet and nearly 100 stores and restaurants.
"All the airports have been looking at what happened in Pittsburgh," Mr. Davies said. "Brand-name stores showed up and they started making money."
That's been good news not only for store owners like Ms. Fulton, but for BWI as well.
Merchandise sales are expected to hit $6 million this year, up $1.1 million from last year and generating airport revenues of $950,000, compared with $800,000. And next year, with all the new stores operating the entire year, sales are projected to hit $14 million -- a 133 percent increase -- and airport revenues to nearly double to $1.75 million.
Likewise, food and beverage sales are expected to rise from an estimated $14.8 million this year to $16.8 million next year, generating $2.1 million in revenues, compared with $1.9 million in 1995.
Concessions -- including parking, restaurants and stores -- provide half of the airport's $70 million in annual revenues, with rents and flight costs, such as landing fees, accounting for the remainder.
To rent space, retailers pay a percentage of their gross sales on a sliding scale basis. Unlike malls, the airport charges one flat fee, with no added per-square-foot costs or maintenance expenses.
For retailers, it's still a hefty rent, comparable to or slightly higher than mall space, according to Mr. Bracken. But what shop owners get is a steady stream of customers. Last year, nearly 13.2 million passengers passed through the airport terminal.
"It's a high-traffic environment, full of people interested in our products," said Ms. Fulton who also owns Just Plane Crabs, a kiosk that opened in September in the Gallery Market Walk, a collection of boutiques between Pier B and Pier C. "We exceeded our projections in just 30 days."
While the shops provide a chance to grab a last-minute gift, they also give passengers a new way to spend time at the airport. In recent months, with security measures tightened, airlines have been requiring passengers to check in an hour or more before their flight.
"Passengers are looking for ways to kill time," said Ms. Foxwell at Body Shop. "You gotta find something to do."