After months of controversy surrounding Towson Marketplace's future, merchants in the interior mall were shuttering their stores yesterday, in preparation for a $20 million renovation.
The small-store merchants knew the end was coming after they received letters last month.
'It's so sad to leave the people," said Pauline Wolford, preparing to vacate Wolford's bakery and coffee bar after 3 1/2 years in the mall. "I'll miss the friendships."
The retail space will be demolished in the next few months to make room for new stores being built by Florida-based Talisman-Towson Partnership.
Plans have not been finalized for the shopping center, which is expected to include current anchors Montgomery Ward, Marshall's, Toys 'R' Us, Best Products and Herman's World of Sporting Goods, said Frank Price, director of development.
But last month, after a Baltimore County zoning officer rejected the company's request for a large-scale movie multiplex, developer James Schlesinger said he would build a "super-size power center" with warehouse-type stores.
Yesterday, Mrs. Wolford and a handful of other shop owners spent their last hours at the mall dismantling inventories and packing memories.
On Saturday, the two remaining stores -- Sports Card Depot and the Family Fun Factory -- will turn out the lights for good.
"I'm relieved," said Ed Russell, owner of the sports card store. "It's time to move on. It's been very much quiet."
He was referring to the declining number of tenants and customers. At one time, the mall bustled with 40 stores. More recently, the mall had a dozen shops; then just a few, including Toni's Pizza, a mainstay for 12 years.
"I have mixed feelings," said owner Ed Vasiliades, while taking his counter apart. "I'm sad to leave, but happy to rebuild a new store in the future."
Mr. Vasiliades has been promised a spot in the new shopping center, which is expected to open in spring 1997.
Most of the other merchants will relocate. Mr. Russell, for example, will open a new sports card shop Tuesday in a shopping center in the 2500 block of Putty Hill Ave.
Another Towson Marketplace tenant, Ken Cochnar, owner of the Carolina Home furniture store, will move to Edgewood.
"I'm sorry to leave here. It's been nice," Mr. Cochnar said as he packed a few remaining shelves and tables after spending five years at the mall. "But I should have left a year ago."
"This mall's been dying for a year," agreed shopper Dottie Shah, whose 9-year-old son, Alex, was spending Christmas money on baseball cards and a commemorative Cal Ripken coin at the Sports Card Depot.
The sparse crowd yesterday included a few teen-agers playing games in the arcade and a couple of stalwart mall walkers.
"It is the end of the best place for us old seniors to walk," said George Kautsch, 81, who with his wife, Jane, 71, goes to the mall three or four times a week to exercise. "It was air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter."
On this day, however, the mall was chilly and dim, a stark #F contrast to more cheerful times when customers sat on wrought-iron benches under mauve and blue banners that hung from the ceiling. To stay warm, Mrs. Wolford kept on her purple ski jacket while she watched her husband, Patrick, move equipment destined for their other Towson bakery. Looking around the barren mall, she said wistfully, "It isn't what it used to be."