Without an anchor, Dobbin Center adrift

Columbia mall's future bleak without change, new stores, analysts say

October 07, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The already struggling Dobbin Center in Columbia was dealt another blow last week when BGE Home Products and Services announced it would close its BGE Home stores, including the one in the aged and anchorless strip mall.

The Dobbin Center, at Route 175 and Dobbin Road, across the street from the newer and trendier Columbia Crossing shopping center, is dangerously close to losing more stores, one analyst said, if owner Kimco Realty Corp. does not quickly make changes or bring in retailers that will.

The 17-year-old center is still reeling from the announcement six months ago that bankrupt Kmart Corp. was closing its store there.

Now, as retailers prepare for the biggest sales season of the year - a time when anchors are most helpful in attracting shoppers to the center - BGE Home will leave a vacant spot in the middle of the strip mall. Already, the retailer is advertising closeout sales at the store.

This holiday shopping season could make or break the strip center, said Patrice A. Selleck, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"If Kmart didn't fold, it'd probably help drive traffic [to the center] because what we're seeing is people are really going to discounters because they want to be sure they get the most for their dollars," she said.

"If the people who are there are getting no benefit, they're probably going to look somewhere else ... to new developments. The bottom line is they have to look out for themselves, too. They need to make sure they get the sales they need to stay profitable."

A shorter holiday shopping season - 26 days as opposed to 32 last year - might compound the problem, she said, as shoppers might not spend as much as they did a year ago.

"The tenants in this center ... are affected a little by the holiday season. They're going to have a tough rest of the year," she said. "The owners really need to look to see what they're going to do to get the traffic there."

Spokesmen for Kimco Realty were unavailable for comment.

Some Dobbin Center retailers said they do not count on anchors to draw traffic, and they are not worried about the shopping center's future.

Party! Party! Party!, which sells invitations and party supplies, has been in the center for more than 15 years, and marketing manager Sharon Scheihing said Kmart's closing did not affect the store's sales.

"We had a great summer, and so far this fall is looking good, and we have some of our best seasons ahead of us," she said. "We never considered Kmart's [customer] our customer. Just because people shopped there didn't mean they were going to shop with us."

Denise Taylor, assistant manager of Annapolis Lighting Company, which has been in the center for more than a dozen years, said shoppers have continued to visit her store.

"Traffic is still rolling in this center. It's not slowed down in here at all," she said.

Other retailers have not been so fortunate.

Timothy M. Williams, manager at Guaranteed Best Optical, said his store has felt the impact of Kmart's closing.

"We felt a lot less walk-by traffic," he said.

Phaedra Ellis, manager of clothing store Lane Bryant, said business has been slow at her store and that her company might not see a future for itself at Dobbin Center.

"The only thing our company is anticipating is moving us to the other side" of Route 175, she said.

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