Struggling Westminster mall glad a Boscov's store is coming

Analyst thinks people will reduce shopping trips outside Carroll County

May 08, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Boscov's, a 91-year-old family-owned chain of department stores based in Pennsylvania, is to announce tomorrow that it is coming to TownMall of Westminster.

Neither store nor mall officials would comment on the deal yesterday, but plans available at the city planner's office in Westminster confirm that Boscov Department Store is taking the 178,545 square feet of space left vacant early last year by Montgomery Ward.

"I can't comment directly on the specificity of the tenant," said Sally Aman, a spokeswoman for New York-based Strategic Resources Corp., the mall's investment adviser and fund manager. "However, we are very excited on an announcement we plan to make on Thursday, and we're confident that the community will be excited as well."

Gil A. DeWitt, manager of original mall tenant Littman Jewelers, said, "It is the key that unlocks the entire door to this mall. Having a retailer like Boscov's in here with two levels means rather than hunting and begging people to come to this mall, they will come to us."

Carroll County's biggest mall has a history of setbacks, losing major tenants such as Ward's, Caldor and CVS Pharmacy within the past four years.

"My customers complain about the mall not being full, but I tell them next year you're going to complain about parking - there's not going to be enough of it," said DeWitt.

"If it opened tomorrow, it wouldn't be too soon."

TownMall's gain could be bad news for another area mall, said Mark Millman, a retail analyst and president of Lutherville-based Millman Search Group, a retail executive recruiting firm and consulting company.

"This will have a negative impact on Owings Mills," he said. "One-third of their traffic comes from Carroll County. This will keep people closer toward Carroll. They'll get the same selection, value and price. It's another nail in the coffin for Owings Mills, which has had an exodus of stores - Lord & Taylor and Sears."

Boscov's, which has one store in Maryland, in Salisbury. has been trying to gain a greater foothold for years.

"They would not be going into this market if it wasn't a unique opportunity to expand into the Maryland area," said Millman, who described Boscov's as a thriving family-owned chain that is bottom-line oriented.

"They could give Macy's and Hecht's a run for their money."

Albert R. Boscov, chairman of the company, did not return phone messages left on his voice mail yesterday.

Boscov's father, Solomon, started the family business in 1911 with $8 worth of merchandise rolled into his backpack in Reading, Pa., the hometown of Westminster's economic development specialist, Stanley T. Ruchlewicz.

Ruchlewicz has been in shopping at Boscov's all his life and thinks it's the kind of store people will travel to from far and near.

"It's definitely a destination, not just your generic department store," he said, adding that he has friends in Havre de Grace who drive an hour to the Boscov stores in Dover and Wilmington, Del.

With its emphasis on customer service, Ruchlewicz said, the store will also create many jobs.

TownMall opened in 1987 as Cranberry Mall with three anchor stores, Belk, Sears and Montgomery Ward's.

The current anchors are Sears, which occupies 70,060 square feet, and Belk, with 65,282 square feet.

Cranberry Properties MM Corp. purchased the 525,000-square-foot mall at Route 140 and Route 27 in April 2000 from Shopco Regional Malls for $33.5 million. Shopco had bought the mall in 1988 for $53.8 million.

The new owners have made several moves to make the mall more attractive to potential tenants.

The name was changed to TownMall of Westminster, and $5 million was spent on re-vamping the mall's look.

The revitalization efforts included new exterior signs, more windows and free baby strollers for patrons to use while shopping.

Westminster town planner Shawn P. Siders said yesterday that he does not expect problems with the proposal.

After reviews from the county and the city, the project should be set for construction in two months, putting Boscov's on track to open next year.

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