Cranberry Mall on market for buyer, revitalization Purchaser likely to seek large stores

October 02, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Cranberry Mall, Carroll County's largest shopping center, has been put on the market by its New York-based owner and may be sold in a matter of months.

In the short term, the sale would have little impact on the mall's 80 stores, mall managers said. But over time, shop owners and retail analysts expect a new owner to revitalize a retail property that has fallen into a slump with the loss this year of Caldor, one of its longtime anchor stores.

"The customer will have no idea that it changed hands. Over a period of time, the owner should have the cash to reinvest in the center. They will work to make it more attractive," said Mark Millman, president of Millman Search Group Inc., a national retail consulting firm.

Cranberry Mall could attract national chains like The Gap, Victoria's Secret, Banana Republic and other popular retailers if the new owner markets the site aggressively, Millman said.

Such names would be a welcome addition to the 525,000-square-foot mall at Route 140 and Route 27 in Westminster, shop owners said.

"We lost a lot of the foot traffic because of the loss of Caldor. Hopefully, the mall will find a new anchor and possibly other stores to fill the empty spaces," said Stu Zucker, owner of Tees, Etc., a custom T-shirt and card shop that has been in the mall 10 years.

Shopco Regional Malls, a limited partnership based in New York, began marketing the property in August. Selling the mall was part of the partnership's investment strategy when it purchased it for $53.8 million in 1988.

Several companies have expressed interest in the property.

Sherrie Little, marketing director of Cranberry Mall, would not discuss potential buyers.

"There are a lot of developers who could come in with plans to redevelop in order to maintain and increase market share," she said.

In the first six months of this year, Cranberry posted sales of about $15.4 million, a 1 percent decline from the same period in 1997. Occupancy dropped 5 percentage points to 81 percent compared with last year.

Montgomery Ward

In a financial report released in August, Shopco officials expressed concern that Montgomery Ward, one of the mall's three remaining anchor stores, might also close.

Montgomery Ward has closed 48 stores nationwide as part of its reorganization, and it is possible the Cranberry Mall store could be targeted for closure, according to Shopco's second-quarter financial report.

In May, the 80,000-square-foot Caldor store, which employed 60 people, was one of two Baltimore-area stores to shut down as part of Caldor Corp.'s bankruptcy reorganization.

"The departure of Caldor and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Montgomery Ward store pose significant challenges to the Partnership," wrote Robert J. Hellman, president of Shopco.

R. Douglas Mathias, executive director of the Greater Westminster Development Corp., said many customers have probably noticed the mall has struggled.

"With the loss of the anchor store, there is the loss of small stores. There is a growing realization that bigger things are happening," he said.

But Mathias said a new owner would create opportunities.

"They would bring new capital and new planning for new types of stores," he said.

Mathias said customers may also see an expanded food court and redesigned retail space.

Some improvements have already occurred. As part of a nationwide $4 billion building and remodeling program, Sears added 6,000 square feet of retail space at its Cranberry store. The cinema was expanded to nine screens.

'Great opportunity'

Cranberry draws an average of 35,000 to 45,000 people a month, primarily from Carroll County, but also from Pennsylvania and Frederick County.

"The sale is a great opportunity. The impact is going to be positive," Little said.

Shop owners hope that is the case.

"Business has slowed down," said John S. J. Kim, owner of S. J. Watch, Jewelry & Shoe Repair, near Caldor's former site.

Kim said he had been able to attract Caldor shoppers.

"Right now it's so quiet. This year has been the worst year," he said.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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