Rotunda's vacancies worry the other merchants

Neighborhood changes have spilled over into the mall

Urban retailing

May 09, 2000|By Rona Kobell | By Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The signs are everywhere that changes are coming to the Rotunda.

But merchants at the Roland Park shopping center don't have any idea what kinds of changes are in store.

By the end of the month, three tenants will have left the 23-store mall this year. Where a TCBY Yogurt and The Charm City Diner once stood, management has painted a mural-size promise: "Coming Soon: Another Rotunda Merchant."

Kathy Matava is next to go. Her store, The Cook's Cupboard, will close in May, after 20 years in business.

That will bring a third vacancy sign, and possibly more of the ubiquitous placards reminding shoppers to watch for upcoming changes.

Rotunda merchants say they don't remember so many vacancies in the Rotunda's 30-year history, leading many to speculate about the shopping center's future.

"Everybody sort of freaked out that some things happened simultaneously," said Matava, who also owns The Shoe Place in the Rotunda and Matava Shoes in Greenspring Station.

Matava said she is closing the cooking store to concentrate on her shoe business. She plans to keep her Rotunda shoe store open, but admitted that the mall has seen better days.

Changes in the neighborhood have spilled over into the mall.

A new Super Fresh supermarket competes with the Rotunda's Giant Foods, built almost 30 years ago. More of the shoppers are elderly. And, early this year, Zurich Financial Services Group announced a restructuring that moved several hundred of its employees out of its nearby building.

"That was a built-in audience," said Michael Richman, owner of Recordmasters and president of the Rotunda Merchants' Association. "We have had declining sales thanks to people like Zurich."

Richman knows that the mall's management, Manekin Corp., had no control over the Zurich situation. But he questions whether Manekin is handling the vacancies correctly. Although Richman's group has met with Manekin, he said, no indication has been given of who might be moving in.

Leasing agent not talking

Dicky Darrell knows what's going on. But Manekin's retail leasing agent isn't telling. After four years of "very quiet" changes to The Rotunda, he's waiting until the summer to announce major changes that will result in "a better tenant mix."

That will involve reconfiguring some of the stores' space, and a few remodeling changes. Darrell is aware that keeping mum has allowed the rumor mill to flourish.

Loews is signed

Some merchants speculated that the Loews theater was leaving. (It's signed a lease until March 2001.) Others had heard that a Burger King was moving in. (It isn't.)

About the only clue Darrell is giving at the moment is that some sort of restaurant will come in to replace Charm City.

"We need better food service in The Rotunda; that's for sure," he said.

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