Boscov's to open its TownMall site today

Mall officials hope store will be a boost for center


April 06, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Boscov's, the biggest store at the TownMall of Westminster and the shopping center's best hope for a financial boost, swings open its doors today to the public.

And you don't have to pay to get in.

If the idea of paying admission to a department store seems odd, consider: For the past two days, shoppers eager to get a jump on the sales have been shelling out $5 a head to get into Boscov's.

The money went to charity.

"I love Boscov's," Bettie Rhoten, a Westminster resident who runs a print shop in town, and who bought her admission tickets from the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said Friday. "I always go to the one in York. I'm so happy they're here.

"They've saved this mall," she said. "I never come here, but now I'll come out once a week."

Mall management has said that Boscov's opening would signal a rebound for the shopping center. Since the announcement in May that the store was coming to the mall, five new stores have signed leases, while two existing stores have expanded.

Outstanding response

"It's a very proud moment for TownMall of Westminster and its merchants, and the response from the local community has been outstanding," Robyn J. Clark, the mall's general manager, said Friday.

Judging by the mall parking lot that morning, the Boscov's store is off to a healthy start.

Shoppers started arriving at 8:30 a.m., said Ken LaVanway, a Boscov's employee who checked customers for tickets Friday.

"It was so cold this morning, they waited in their cars, but I sent some into the mall for coffee," he said. Two lines formed to get into the main entrance, taking up the entire length of the wall. The aisles were crowded with shoppers who were nibbling on cheese and fruit on toothpicks. Merchandise was so abundant that people were having trouble maneuvering between racks of clothing.

Michael Cook had been there for about an hour and he was on his second trip to the car, where he had dropped off three big bags of merchandise. Some, he had planned on buying. Other items - like a food processor - were bought on impulse. His wife continued shopping for their two teen-agers.

"A man needs to know his station in life," the Westminster resident said. "When you get married, you haul cargo."

Others came to the store on a mission to give loved ones home-starter sets.

"I took a few hours off from work this morning," said Margaret Smith, a nurse who lives in Silver Run. "My son's about to move into a house and I saw the specials on pots and pans. He's 37, but I'm still a mom."

The store attracted shoppers from neighboring counties, too.

"We saw the specials in the mail and we've shopped at the Boscov's in Salisbury," said John Watts, who drove in from Reisterstown with his wife, Joanne. "I can find everything I want here at good prices."

Many customers walked around the crowded store holding bags that clanged with the sound of kitchenware.

"I think Boscov's is going to help the mall a lot," said Nancy Emge, a Manchester woman who was standing in line with pots and pans. "This makes a big difference. They have some nice bargains here."

Within the past five years, the mall has lost major tenants such as Montgomery Ward, Caldor and CVS pharmacy. It lost more than $20 million in value when Cranberry Properties MM Corp. purchased the 525,000-square- foot mall at Routes 140 and 27 in April 2000 from Shopco Regional Malls for $33.5 million. Shopco had bought the mall in 1988 for $53.8 million.

Boscov's razed the former Montgomery Ward store that stood in its spot in August, starting from scratch to build a 178,545-square-foot store - almost a third of the mall and more than twice the size of the other two anchor stores.

Boscov's believes in one-stop shopping. Furniture, toys and sporting goods are for sale. There's also a candy shop that churns out buttery fudge and an auditorium on the second floor that features rotating exhibits, classes and, for this opening week, twice-daily performances by Anna Maria Alberghetti, an opera star who appeared on Ed Sullivan's television show.

"Retailing is about recreation," said Albert R. Boscov, who has been chairman of the 92-year-old business since his father and store founder Solomon Boscov died in 1969. "You've got to be constantly changing, giving the customer something new."

The 39th store

He toured the store Wednesday for last-minute tweaking, and he was there for the opening Friday. The Westminster store will be the 39th for the family-owned Boscov's chain, which has one other Maryland property, in Salisbury. A Frederick store is in the works.

Most of the chain's stores are in Pennsylvania, and others are in New York, New Jersey and Delaware. The chain employs more than 12,000 people with 375 newly hired Carroll County residents on staff.

Boscov visited Westminster in 1987 to look into opening an anchor at the newly built Cranberry Mall, now TownMall, before deciding the space was too small. The company came back 15 years later because of the rapid growth in Carroll County.

"We never learned how to build a small store," said Boscov, as he walked around the new Westminster store, two days before the public saw it. "As other stores cut back in their stock, it gives us opportunities to be bigger and better."

His chain of stores is the largest independent family-owned department store in the country, with $1 billion in annual sales.

Boscov rattles off the prices of anything from men's suits to baby outfits to golf clubs, and constantly says hello to his employees, who call him "Mr. B" or "Al."

Critical first week

He said this first week is critical in gauging the success of his newest store.

"If you don't make friends at the opening, you may never see them again," he said. "All these things we do we do because they're friend-makers.

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