Columbia mall expecting influx of stores

Upscale restaurants, movie theater will change makeup of retail center

May 01, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Three upscale restaurants, a multiplex movie theater and more than a dozen new retail stores will be ringing in customers at The Mall in Columbia within the next year and a half, as the shopping center launches into the final stages of renovation.

"All the merchants should prosper from the addition of these new stores because they'll only bring more traffic and more people into the mall," predicted Harvey Hyatt, a co-owner of Hyatt & Co., a men's clothing store that has been at the mall since it opened.

The changes at the mall will condense the food court into one area, upgrading and moving some restaurants and closing others.

Vie de France, a restaurant that has been in the mall since the 1980s, closed Wednesday.

"The lease was up anyway, and the offer to stay was not what we were looking for," said Gary Cohen, vice president of bakery cafe operations for Vie de France Yamazaki Inc., which has 22 stores across the country, including 11 in the Maryland/Washington area. Company officials said the store in the Columbia mall was the only one in property owned by the Rouse Co.

Diane Huss, marketing manager for The Mall in Columbia, said the mall's intention is not to force out tenants but to work with merchants to find the right mix for the shopping center.

"As the center changes and grows, there are some merchants that make a choice for their own reasons not to continue within the center," she said.

And the face-lift the mall has undergone in the past three years has attracted more customers and several new, high-end stores. A new wing to the mall, which includes Nordstrom, opened in September. Last month, Merle Norman cosmetics studio, After Hours by Mitchell's tuxedo shop, The White Barn Candle Co. and Bath & Body Works opened their doors at the mall.

Slated to open in the spring are Nail Trix nail salon, Voice Stream Wireless cellular phone store, Stone & Co. shoe store, Master Cuts hair salon, Thomas Kincaid Light View Gallery, Banana Republic, Parade of Shoes and an expanded Gap Kids, Huss said.

In the summer, a Bebe clothing shop, a Wizards of the Coast board game store and a Victoria's Secret Fragrance will open, she said. Build-A-Bear, a store where children design their own teddy bears, will open this fall.

Naturalizer shoes, Perfumery International and The Picture People, which takes children's photographs, will be undergoing renovations within the next two months, she said.

In a separate building west of the mall, a 30,000-square-foot L.L. Bean retail store will open in May 2001, and three restaurants will open in summer 2001. Huss could not say which ones would open, only that they will be trendy, sit-down restaurants. A multiplex cinema with 12 to 14 screens is slated to open in the same area in fall 2001.

Mall officials said a Bibelot bookstore, which was going to open in that spot, will not be coming to the mall.

Merchants and mall officials say the modernization and additions have been great for business, increasing sales, luring stores and drawing customers from other areas, including Frederick and Montgomery counties.

Although Huss would not release sales figures for the past several years, she said, "center sales have really reflected the growth and the change and the interest in shopping here."

Jeff Ditter, owner of Bun Penny, a food and wine store that has been in the mall since it opened in 1971, said the recent changes have enticed a new clientele of businesswomen and brought more business all around.

"Now weekends are busy, evenings are busy," he said.

Hyatt & Co. has seen a 20 percent sales increase since its store moved last year to the newly renovated wing of the mall, near Nordstrom, said Ed Hyatt, Harvey's brother and a co-owner of the store.

"This is a real strong part of the mall," he said.

As for the smaller food court in the center of the mall, it will be converted into retail space, said Patrick Walsh, vice president and general manager of the mall. Walsh said some of the restaurants in that area would relocate to the renovated food court and others would close, although he would not say which ones.

Huss said renovating and condensing the food court would shrink the number of vendor spaces from 18 to 16. Mall officials have talked to owners of stores in the food court about whether they'll continue business in the mall, Huss said.

"There have been conversations looking at changes to the food court with all of the food court tenants," she said.

Once the new food court is finished, mall officials will be able to choose potential merchants for the old food court in the center of the mall, Walsh said.

The new food court -- adorned with new lighting, tables, tiles, chairs, benches and a fountain -- will be renovated in two phases, the first of which is expected to be completed by mid-November, Walsh said. The second phase should be completed by summer 2001, he said.

"We're going to create a food court here that's going to be unrivaled by any of the other centers," Walsh said.

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