McCrory converting to Dollar Zone stores

6 in area affected, including Murphy, J.J. Newberry sites

Sadness in Hampden

January 04, 2001|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Following a decadelong trend away from five-and-dimes, McCrory Corp. will close several of its remaining Baltimore-area variety stores and reopen them under the name Dollar Zone.

A spokesman for the company said yesterday that about six area stores will undergo the conversion this year, though a detailed list of locations was not available. Baltimore store managers contacted by The Sun referred all questions to the company's corporate offices.

The York, Pa., retailer operates about 225 stores nationwide under the names G. C. Murphy, McCrory's, J. J. Newberry and T. G. & Y. Its year-old Dollar Zone division joins a rapidly growing number of retailers featuring only products priced at $1 or less.

"We believe that it's a more profitable configuration for those particular stores," said Paul Weiner, McCrory's chief financial officer. The conversions will likely be completed by March.

Five-and-dimes were once a staple in the Baltimore retail scene, offering everything from discount holiday decorations and toys to household cleaners and cheap furnishings. McCrory's and G. C. Murphy were among the biggest names, with stores scattered throughout the city.

But industry trends caught up with the once-popular segment in the 1990s, claiming the once formidable retailers Woolworth and Ben Franklin. Several McCrory Corp. stores in the Baltimore-Washington area closed after the company's debts mounted in the face of stiff competition from big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target. In 1992, McCrory filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, divested more than 600 of its 1,300 stores and emerged in 1997 as a leaner, privately held company.

"Variety stores have not worked in America," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates Inc., a New York-based retail consulting firm. Converting dated five-and-dime stores to dollar stores is McCrory's best chance to stay alive, he said.

"It's one of the hottest areas of retailing," he said. The segment is dominated by a few public companies, including Dollar Tree, which operates more than 1,700 stores in 36 states.

While dollar stores are popular, some Baltimore residents lament the demise of the vintage neighborhood variety stores on which they've come to depend.

Over the years, Hampden resident Katherine Huynh has relied on the G. C. Murphy store on West 36th Street for everything from plastic shelving to basic household supplies.

"I'm sad to see it go from the neighborhood," said Huynh, who was on her way to look for bargains at the store's going-out-of-business sale recently. The G. C. Murphy store is among those that will be converted to a Dollar Zone. "Now I guess I'll have to go to a big shopping mall instead of coming to 36th Street."

Marty Passini says the neighborhood just won't be the same, especially for longtime Hampden residents who prefer to make a quick trip down the block rather than travel to a mall. "A lot of people come from other neighborhoods just to go to Murphy's," he said.

The Hampden retail corridor is an amalgam of cafes, thrift stores and specialty retailers that thrive on foot traffic within the neighborhood. Though more young couples are moving into the neighborhood, many of the area's most reliable retail customers are seniors and low-income residents living in nearby high-rise apartment buildings and row houses.

"There are a lot of older people in the neighborhood who don't drive," said Doris Crawford, manager of Gallo Clothing at 915 W. 36th St., a half-block from the G. C. Murphy store. "A lot of people depend on them."

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