Tale of two malls Howard County: Contrasting fortunes of two suburban shopping centers symbolize trends.

April 26, 1996

TWO STORIES IN The Sun yesterday were striking in contrast.

One concerned the Rouse Co.'s Columbia Mall, where Hecht's department store has decided to add a third level to improve its competitive edge.

The other article concerned Harundale Mall near Glen Burnie. The Columbia-based Rouse Co. has been trying to sell the increasingly vacant property for a year. Now it is losing McCrory's, one of the remaining major tenants.

The symbolism is striking. When Harundale opened in 1958, it was the first enclosed U.S. mall east of the Mississippi. "The closed, air-conditioned mall is the latest contribution to the comfort of the shopper," crowed developer James W. Rouse, the planning guru who passed away earlier this month. Harundale's lead tenant was Hochschild Kohn's department store. Others included Brager's, Read's drugs, Eddie's supermarket and Kresge's. The original roster lists many companies that no longer exist. That explains some of Harundale's decline.

Equally important, though, was that upscale development leapfrogged past it. Strip shopping centers followed. By the mid-1980s, Marley Station, a bigger and far more appealing mall, was built at Ritchie Highway and Route 100.

Contrast that with Columbia Mall, the most diversified shopping center available for a growing, well-to-do population of 80,000 in Howard County's planned city. It has not been immune to the recent turbulence in retailing, either. But when Woodward & Lothrop went bankrupt last year, J.C. Penney quickly grabbed the space.

"Many of the nation's enclosed shopping malls are finding that they must reinvent themselves or wither away," the Wall Street Journal reported recently. This region has many examples that confirm that trend. Some older malls, such as Tollgate along U.S. 1 in Bel Air, have been successfully revitalized, often employing the so-called "big box" discount chains. Others, however, struggle on.

The Rouse Co. says that it may have found a buyer for Harundale, which may or may not mean that it will continue as a mall. The land is more valuable than the building. Already in California, some developers have realized that the best way to make an out-of-date mall profitable is to level it.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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