For fans of Filene's, deals just got closer

March 25, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

Julie Shchetinkin sniffed out the unannounced sneak-preview opening of the new Filene's Basement in Towson last weekend and snapped up a real find: a leather Prada purse for $40. In her seven years of bargain shopping, it is one of the best deals she's ever gotten. In a department store "it would have been $400," she said. "I've never seen anything like that ... I looked inside to make sure it was real."

The new store, in Towson Place, opens today for a charity shopping event to benefit Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Patrons will pay a $5 cover charge, then will get 10 percent off all merchandise. The official grand opening is tomorrow.

Shchetinkin, 25, of Reisterstown, is glad she came early. Until she learned of the new store, she drove to a Filene's Basement in Washington every weekend, hunting the designer clothes she loves. She spends between $200 and $600 a trip and goes to Filene's Basement first because "they have name brands you just can't get anywhere else for that price." Her three closets stuffed mostly with Filene's finds are a testament to this: a $400 Fendi bag, a $200 gray Chanel scarf, a pair of $120 Marc Jacobs shoes.

Those deals are not on par with the $40 Prada bag, but each represented at least a $100 savings, said Shchetinkin.

Why Filene's Basement? Other discount stores may carry an occasional designer label, but you really need to hunt for them, she said. At Filene's, "It is easy to read the signs ... you don't have to look through the whole store" for the designer items. If she has only a few minutes to shop, she can head straight for these designer racks.

Repeat shopping is what Filene's Basement depends on. "It is recreational shopping," said Pat Boudrot, a Filene's spokeswoman. "It is a surprise every time you go. You might find nothing one time, and another day you might just blow the bank. It is a `treasure hunt' mentality."

The store is also known for occasional wedding-gown sales. Brides-to-be elbow each other to find cut-rate high-quality designer gowns. "We've had Vera Wang dresses in the bridal sales that people get for a song," said Boudrot. "People have found exquisite dresses for next to nothing."

At this time, no gown sales are planned for the Towson store, but if demand exists, Boudrot said, it may hold one.

Filene's Basement - a shopping phenomenon that dates to 1908 Boston - has always reeled in bargain shoppers from all classes. On Sept. 3, 1939, the same day England and France declared war on Nazi Germany, shoppers gathered for the Boston store's 31st anniversary sale. The Boston Herald reported: "Bankers, debutantes, shop girls, farmers, laborers and others from all walks of life rubbed shoulders in a democratic spirit of friendly competition as they found themselves on common footing, seeking exceptional values in the wide variety of low-priced quality."

Sure, it reads like advertising copy. Photos from that time show women lined up around the store. Of a different shopping event, Coronet magazine reported that "the patrician dowager, followed by her chauffeur, and the working girl looking for a $9.50 spring outfit, are equally aware of the rules - get your hands on the merchandise first."

But that was then, and that was Boston, where the Filene's Basement tradition began. Does the new store in Towson have the same appeal? One die-hard fan didn't want to find out. Katherine Case was shopping alone; her sister Vera wouldn't come with her to see the Towson store. "My sister loves Filene's Basement," said Case. "But this just didn't appeal to her. If it's not Boston, it's not the real thing."

Despite its name, the Towson Filene's Basement is on the second floor of the shopping center, directly above T.J. Maxx. The 40,200-square-foot space feels more like a department store than a bargain basement. Brand names on the racks at the preview included Valentino, Ralph Lauren, Tahari, Kenneth Cole, Dolce & Gabbana, all for lower prices than in department stores - and often in very small or very large sizes. And for the time being, everything was neat and organized.

Sun news researcher Shelia Jackson contributed to this article.

Opening

What: Filene's Basement in Towson

Where: Towson Place, 1238 Putty Hill Ave.

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Call: 410-825-3729

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