Enter the biggest fish in the shopping pond


June 06, 1999|By NORRIS WEST


That strategy is driving the retail industry -- and consumer spending -- to new limits.

There was a time when Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie provided the ultimate shopping experience in these parts. Look at it now.

It's a tattered shell as it sits with one last department store and a couple of banks.

In the midst of a conversion to a conventional strip shopping center, it has been relegated to the dustbin of retailing history.

Harundale, which pulled shoppers from downtown Glen Burnie and Baltimore, was overtaken by bigger fish, including one a short drive down Ritchie Highway: the stylish Marley Station.

Marley Station and its counterpart endorses malls in Columbia, Towson, Annapolis, White Marsh, Woodlawn and Owings Mills lured shoppers from older centers with popular department stores and chic shops.

But wait. The bigg enclosed malls have become vulnerable this decade to creatures called "big box" stores. These great white sharks of retailing have endless aisles and shelf space for books, hardware, crafts -- you name it.

Potomac Mills replica

And soon, in Anne Arundel, perhaps the biggest fish of all begins swimming upshore from Virginia: the 1.4-million-square-foot, 380-acre, $250 million Arundel Mills outlet mall near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The Mills Corp. has ambitious plans to open in November 2000 its latest replica of its popular Potomac Mills, south of Washington. Work will begin this summer south of Route 100 and west of Ridge Road.

The development hasn't drawn vocal opposition. Residents haven't rallied against it the way they fought a proposed racetrack or continue to fight Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s fly ash storage.

The Mills Corp. played it smart, slowly unveiling plans for the mega-mall, working with neighbors, answering questions, allaying fears.

Company officials spent months talking to residents to gain support for legislation to create a special taxing district to provide infrastructure for the mall.

The measure sailed through the Anne Arundel County Council.


Perhaps residents don't have as much to fear from this "shoppertainment" complex as do the potential competitors. Arundel Mills' location is close enough to cause Marley Station and Columbia concern.

Those malls have been trying to retain their market share against the big box upstarts.

Now, they face an outlet complex that will have 18 to 24 anchor stores, 200 specialty shops, restaurants and a mega-plex movie theater.

Arundel Mills may include a skateboarding park and a hunting and fishing store so large it will construct it own trout stream. locations. If other stores and attractions are as much fun as advertised, Arundel Mills may not even have to install benches for exhausted and bored husbands.

If other Mills' projects are an indication, the Anne Arundel complex could include Saks Fifth Avenue's Off 5th outlet store, Polo-Ralph Lauren Factory Outlet and scores of other stores that are not here now.

But Arundel Mills' supporters insist that existing businesses have nothing to worry about. While most malls attract customers from a regional market, they say, the planned outlet center will have a much wider draw -- even a worldwide radius.

Anne Arundel officials say that if the proposed mall follows the trend of other Mills locations, business and international travelers will hop off planes at BWI and make Arundel Mills a destination. For example, Ontario Mills, which despite its name is near Los Angeles, has more visitors than Disneyland.

Competing for labor

With 3,000 employees, the mall also would become the county's largest employer, and perhaps more significant, will compete with other area businesses for labor.

Laurence Siegel, chairman and chief executive officer of the Mills Corp., sounds optimistic about everything regarding the new mall.

Although it is taking the Mall in Columbia nearly three years to complete a $150 million expansion that has added a Lord & Taylor and will bring a Nordstrom, Mr. Siegel plans to build Arundel Mills in all of about 17 months.

Shoppers at your "regular" mall spend an average of $70 per visit, he says, but he expects customers at his "shoppertainment" locations to drop $180.

Mills Corp. malls have been among the biggest attractions in every state they are located, and Mr. Siegel obviously expects Arundel Mills to follow suit and become the destination of choice in Maryland.

But all these stores and all this shopping has got to make one wonder about the size of the next fish.

Norris P. West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County. His e-mail address is norris@baltsun.com.

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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