Penney's opens as anchor at mall Columbia shopping center aims to lure top retailers

July 21, 1996|By Erica C. Harrington | Erica C. Harrington,SUN STAFF

The Mall in Columbia got a new anchor to hold down its south end yesterday with the opening of a new J. C. Penney store.

Customers cruised through on sparkling white tile, browsing through merchandise and glancing at displays.

"Hecht's and Penney's are my favorite stores, so I'm glad to see it here," said Tina Lail of Beltsville. "I usually go to the [Penney's] in [Laurel Centre Mall], but it's small. I'd rather go out of my way for a nicer store."

Penney's is part of The Mall in Columbia's plan to expand and attract retailers to the affluent Howard County community as it faces competition from shopping centers such as Snowden Square.

Sonja Sanders, marketing manager for the mall, said the opening of the Penney's is consistent with the mall's efforts to bring more fashionable stores to the area.

"Some people are of the opinion that J. C. Penney is low-end, but that is not the case," she said. "They're a top retailer in the nation -- there's no way you would not want them."

The Mall in Columbia is the latest Rouse Co.-owned mall to get a Penney's -- 28 others have the company's stores as anchors. Sanders said Penney's would have been a part of the mall's expansion plans regardless of the fate of Woodward & Lothrop, which closed in November after filing for bankruptcy. "This should bring a lot of traffic," she said. "It's trendy and fashionable -- not what you'd expect from J. C. Penney."

The opening of seven stores in the Baltimore-Washington area is a part of the Plano, Texas-based retail chain's plan to modernize its stores. Warren Richards, general manager of the Columbia store, said the stores' openings will give the company more exposure.

"We can communicate with the customer better, and they don't have to drive as far to get to one," he said. "It doesn't hurt that they look nice, either."

The new location is more convenient to Mary Murphy of Ellicott City, who used to go to the stores in Laurel and Security Mall in Woodlawn.

"I feel at home in J. C. Penney," she said in the store's furniture department. "I don't feel like I'm out of my league," as with the higher prices she said Woodies charged.

The new Penney's, better known for practical items such as pantyhose and jeans, has some unexpected services. The styling salon, for example, offers massages, manicures and pedicures in addition to basic haircuts. The store also has a bTC computerized gift registry system. The system is in Penney's stores nationwide, so "someone won't get 42 pink towels when they only need three," Richards said.

But some customers were not completely sold on the publicity surrounding the new Penney's. Deborah Wessner of Columbia said yesterday's prices weren't "set for a grand opening," adding that the store didn't make as many sweeping changes as she had expected.

"I thought the changes would have been more dramatic, but I guess it's comfortable for people who shopped at Woodies," she said. "It's an option over Hecht's, and I'll be waiting to see if there's more of a price range."

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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