The Baltimore region's biggest mall opened its doors yesterday to tens of thousands of shoppers drawn to a 1.3 million-square-foot extravaganza that blends shopping and entertainment, offering everything from virtual bowling to a discount version of Saks Fifth Avenue.
The first shoppers at the theme-park style Arundel Mills thronged the hardwood-floor corridors, finding themselves inside a blinking pinball machine or sitting on a giant lily pad with dragonflies buzzing overhead. They lined up at outlet stores such as Off 5th - Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet and stormed the railroad-themed food court. Others headed to Jillian's entertainment complex to play billiards or steer a virtual race car.
"This is not like any other mall," said Elaine Farr of Hanover, a Washington legal assistant, who searched for her shoe size in the Liz Claiborne Shoe Outlet. "They have their own design. It seems like a fun mall."
The Mills Corp. unveiled its $250 million entertainment-oriented mall near Baltimore-Washington International Airport as confetti swirled, performers sang and danced and visitors cheered over shopping spree giveaways. Mills estimated that more than 100,000 people visited the 217-store center and spent about $2.7 million - part of the $6.8 million spending expected this weekend.
"We've brought a little bit of Las Vegas and Disney to Maryland," said Laurence C. Siegel, Mills chairman and chief executive officer. "Now we've opened the bookend project to Potomac Mills" in Virginia - the first Mills mall.
Arundel Mills, like Potomac Mills, is expected to become the top tourist destination in its state, drawing more than 18 million people a year. Mills, which coined the term "shoppertainment," has spent the 15 years since building Potomac fine-tuning its mall hybrid, a blend of factory outlets, discounters and specialty shops with anchors that entertain - movie theaters, restaurants, clubs and virtual reality arcades.
The formula has paid off for Mills, and for retail tenants that follow Mills from project to project, also engaging shoppers with activity. At Sun & Ski Sports yesterday, a rock-climbing wall drew onlookers and plenty of takers willing to pay $3 to strap on a harness and haul themselves over simulated rocks.
Austin J. Chilcoat, 79, who is a hiker, climbed halfway up. So did James Whieldon, 11. Five-year-old Connor Lee beat them both, climbing fearlessly to the top.
"It's fun for the children and gives them a chance to try something before you invest a lot in equipment," said Althea Whieldon, James' mother, eyeing the store's climbing equipment.
Reflecting the region
Arundel Mills, the newest Mills prototype, has stores fronting on a racetrack that propels shoppers through themed neighborhoods. Using three-dimensional imagery, Arundel Mills' neighborhoods evoke Baltimore's rowhouses, boating on the Chesapeake and Ocean City.
"The regional themes have really worked well," said David Fick, a managing director of Legg Mason Wood Walker, who follows the Mills Corp. He also praised the mix of tenants as a good balance of off-price, discount and factory outlet stores. "It has enough factory outlets that it will attract the high-end shopper. It will get better, and it will be a different project a year from now."
The mall opened 85 percent filled and more than 90 percent leased. Stores to come include Muvico Egyptian 24 Theater in December and Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Liz Claiborne outlet and Du Claw Brewing Company next year. Development around the mall site will include Wal-Mart, Costco, Circuit City, Staples and a neighborhood shopping center anchored by Safeway.
Some shoppers took a day off work or skipped school for yesterday's opening. Others shivered in the cold as early as 6:30 a.m., waiting to get in at 8 a.m.
"We took off to come to this, and I'm even sick," said Evelyn Dodge of Linthicum, who waited with a friend outside Neighborhood 1, marked by giant outlines of rowhouses outside the entrance
Cynthia Goodman of Waldorf said the low prices she found were worth a 45-minute drive and a day off work from her administrative assistant position, which she planned two months ago with the opening in mind.
"I went into T.J. Maxx, and I found the most beautiful vase for $2.99," said Goodman, 33. "It's a leopard pattern; it's very beautiful."
Wendi Gross skipped school to go to the mall with her friend Tia Durand, who had the day off school. "My mom let me," Gross said. "I told her I didn't really have that many classes."
The friends, both 14 and of Pikesville, were in awe of all the shops that they couldn't find in malls near their homes.
"Guess is like the best store they have here," said Durand as she jumped in excitement. "It's such, like, two thumbs up."
"We're just here to look around and see what's here," said Andrea Ganes of Glen Burnie, a receiving clerk for Giant Food Inc. "I'm impressed."