Modell's blitzes Baltimore

Sporting goods: The company, run by a cousin of Art Modell's, plans to open four stores in the area by year's end.

August 12, 2004|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Art Modell may have sold most of his stake in the Ravens football team, but that hasn't stopped his family from finding a new way to profit from sports in Baltimore.

William Modell, Art's first cousin, plans to open four of his Modell's Sporting Goods stores in the Baltimore area by the end of the year.

The first of the four, at Perring Plaza in Carney, will have its grand opening tomorrow. The company will also open stores at Security Square Mall in Woodlawn, Reisterstown Road Plaza in Baltimore and Laurel Lakes Centre in Laurel.

The sporting goods company opened a store in Annapolis in 1996 after it bought 16 stores from Herman's World of Sporting Goods, which liquidated assets after filing for bankruptcy protection twice. Last year, Modell's opened a 30,000-square-foot store, its biggest ever, at Arundel Mills in Hanover.

The company had always planned to expand into Baltimore but was waiting for enough real estate to become available so that it could launch several stores at once, said Mitchell Modell, the company's chief executive officer. The better-than-expected success of the Arundel Mills location helped to bolster interest in the market, he said. "It is very difficult to open up one store and effectively advertise," Modell said. "Once the real estate became available to open a number of different sites, we thought it was time. When the real estate is available, we have to shoot where the ducks are flying."

Modell's is a major regional retailer with 109 stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington and Connecticut, but it went through many transitions to get there.

Art and William Modell's grandfather, Morris A. Modell, started the company with a store on Cortlandt Street in Manhattan in 1889. The store sold general merchandise to immigrants.

When his son, Henry, took the reins in the 1930s, he switched to selling Army and Navy surplus. The store also sold sporting goods. Art Modell's father, George, left the company for the wine business.

The company began focusing on sporting goods in 1963 after William, Henry's son, joined the company and bought the troubled Davega sporting goods chain.

Over the next three decades, the Modells used the same strategy of buying and turning around under-performing competitors to expand. They bought Polly Brothers in 1987 and Herman's nine years later.

Modell's stores are generally in regional shopping centers, malls or urban areas with high traffic.

"These are markets that are really inside the Beltway, and we saw this as a great opportunity because there are not as many sporting goods stores that sell the kind of merchandise and value that we give day in and day out," Mitchell Modell said of the stores in the Baltimore area.

Security Square officials said the Modell's store there will add to the resurgence of retail activity over the past few years at the once-struggling mall. Modell's is replacing a tenant in what was once a Montgomery Ward building.

"I think that it solidifies the Security Square area as a retail shopping destination," said Deirdre Moore, Security Square Mall's vice president and general manager.

Modell's creates partnerships with local professional sports teams. Mitchell Modell said the company will feel an allegiance to the Ravens National Football League team because of the family connection. Art Modell, who brought the team to Baltimore from Cleveland, has sold most of his stake and owns 1 percent of the team.

Industry experts said the family connection can't hurt Modell's but that the company is well-known on its own.

"I think that Art Modell having brought a team to Baltimore that won a Super Bowl championship can help in some ways, but Modell's has done well in every market it has gone into," said Mike May, a spokesman for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association International in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Modell's is entering a market crowded that includes the Sports Authority, Dick's Sporting Goods and general merchandise stores such as Wal-Mart and Target.

A manager at Dick's said that although the company takes competition seriously, the two chains are distinct. Dick's stores are typically about twice the size of Modell's stores, which average 20,000 to 25,000 square feet.

"They have a much narrower assortment, and their stores are smaller then we are," said Dennis Magulick, manager of investor relations for Dick's Sporting Goods.

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