Store quits Owings Mills mall

Lord & Taylor becomes latest anchor to leave

Sears left early last year

April 1 closing means layoffs for 85 to 90 workers

February 23, 2002|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The Lord & Taylor store in Owings Mills Town Center will close April 1 and the retailer will lay off 85 to 90 employees, making it the second anchor to leave the mall in the past 13 months.

A Lord & Taylor spokeswoman said yesterday that the department store would begin a clearance sale March 20.

The company said it will "make every effort" to offer employees positions at its stores in the White Marsh Mall, The Mall in Columbia, and Westfield Shopping- town, formerly Annapolis Mall.

She said the store hasn't been performing up to expectations for an unspecified period of time.

She declined to say if any of Lord & Taylor's five other stores in Maryland would close.

The retailer opened in the Rouse Co. mall in 1998 as part of an expansion that also attracted Sears, Roebuck and Co., a new wing of stores, a megaplex movie theater and additional restaurants.

But Sears left the mall early last year, and no tenant for that space has been found.

Now, with Lord & Taylor pulling out of its 120,000- square-foot store, retail experts predicted difficulty ahead as the mall endeavors to attract two major tenants.

Only J.C. Penney, Hecht's and Macy's remain as the mall's anchor stores.

Charles P. Crerand, vice president and general manager of the mall, said Rouse is working with Lord and Taylor to find a new tenant, either another department store or a big-box retailer.

He said Lord & Taylor's departure won't affect sales at other mall stores because the outlet "didn't relate to shoppers that well."

Analysts said some malls have too many department stores and other retailers going after the same customers. Faced with a recession and pinched consumer spending, many are forced to close stores and consolidate.

"It's been a tough year for the department store industry," said Jeffrey S. Stein, a retail analyst with McDonald Investments.

"But this is the first down year in 27 years" for the May Department Stores Co., which owns Lord & Taylor and other stores such as Filene's and Hecht's.

Lord & Taylor's closing is "going to have another major negative impact on the mall's ability to be successful and operate in a very difficult retail environment," said Mark Millman, president of the Millman Search Group of Lutherville, a nationwide executive recruiting and consulting group specializing in retail.

Without such large stores pulling in foot traffic, Millman said, it's "more difficult for your specialty retailers to operate profitably," and they may reconsider staying at the mall when their own leases are up.

David M. Fick, a managing director at Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Baltimore, said that, "Owings Mills mall is a mall on the decline."

"It's had some misspending by Rouse to maintain it as a B-level mall. It's descending into a sea of quicksand from which we doubt it will recover," he said.

David L. Tripp, Rouse's vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, said the real estate development and management company thinks the Owings Mills mall "will be successful in the long-term. That corridor is still growing."

Sun staff writer Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

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