C-Mart consolidating in Joppatowne

Discounter closing Forest Hill store

February 04, 2005|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

C-Mart, the bargain emporium of Harford County that had cultivated a wide following, is giving up its Forest Hill store after more than two decades and merging the operation with its discount furniture store several miles away in Joppatowne.

The store's family owners say the new "superstore," in a former Kmart near the Harford-Baltimore County line, will give customers convenience as well as price. It will also give the owners one set of bills.

"We get people from all over the Mid-Atlantic at the furniture store, and the reason they're willing to travel so far is not because they're saving $200 on a designer suit but because they're saving $4,000 on a whole bedroom set," said Keith Silberg, one of the owners.

"And then we have people from Harford County who come during the week just to the apparel store," Silberg said. "We felt limited in that we were only able to offer customers half of what we sell at a time."

Known for its no-frills displays, messy bins and handwritten newspaper ads, C-Mart has been around in a couple of locations since the mid-1970s.

Industry observers say it had developed a far-flung and loyal clientele before the family opened a furniture version of the store, C-Mart Discount Home Store, in the vacated Kmart about 12 miles away in 2003.

The two stores employ about 100 people and each worker was offered a job in the newly merged store, which is to open May 12. All but one or two accepted, Silberg said.

Silberg, a fourth-generation retailer, said the family purposefully kept the store in Harford County. The furniture location was chosen because there was space, it is more modern, brighter and closer to Interstate 95.

The 107,000-square-foot building is rented from the Cordish Co. The older building, owned by the family in an area bustling with new housing, is for sale.

"Both locations are up and coming, but the Forest Hill site is a little farther along in the process," Silberg said. "When we first moved to Forest Hill there wasn't much there. It's developed into a terrific area. Joppatowne has the same potential. I think others will follow us."

Silberg said it wasn't uncommon to see a line of two dozen people waiting for the door to open on Thursdays after a newspaper ad detailed that week's bargains. The store gets its goods at drastic discounts from insurance company salvage lots across the country. Silberg declined to reveal sales numbers.

The new store will have a more organized layout and wider aisles, although Silberg said shoppers who enjoy digging through a discount bin will likely still have that opportunity.

Mark Millman, a retail consultant and president of Millman Search Group in Owings Mills, said merging into one store is a smart business move. The family will have less overhead and the opportunity to sell items to shoppers who come in for something else.

Other discount retailers, such as Value City, have made a good business of offering different kinds of items under one roof.

"C-Mart has a very loyal following, and customers are not going to think it's a problem to drive 12 miles for that kind of value and selection," Millman said. "People drive 20 to 30 miles outside of the city for outlet malls, an hour or more."

Mark Mueller, a principal at commercial real estate brokerage KLNB Inc. in Towson, who specializes in retail investment sales, agreed the location is a good one for the store.

"They were looking to get a bit closer to the Baltimore metro area and must have felt the proximity to I-95 had its advantages," Mueller said.

"And they already had a large building there. It makes sense. It's great for Joppatowne and good for C-Mart."

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