Baltimore urban retailer is sold

Locker Room aims to expand nationally


The founders of Downtown Locker Room, a Baltimore-based urban wear retailer, have sold a majority stake in the company to a New York investment company, a move intended to help it expand nationally.

Founders Rick Levin and Tony Trantas sold a large stake in the business to Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co. and the remainder to a group of about a half-dozen company managers. Terms were not disclosed.

The company has set a goal of roughly doubling in size, to 100 stores, by 2009 and ultimately wants to have 200 stores. It plans to expand into Chicago next year.

"We have expertise in the way we market to our consumer, the way we merchandise to our consumer and the way work with the community," said Glenn Gaynor, chief executive of Downtown Locker Room. "They'll bring more financial and administrative expertise to the company."

Levin and Trantas started Downtown Locker Room in 1982 with an eye toward urban clothing trends influenced by athletes. They changed gears several years later when their customers began emulating the styles of rappers and entertainers. The company has about $85 million in annual sales, 900 employees and nearly 50 stores from Baltimore to Georgia.

Gaynor said Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co., because of its contacts in the retail world, will be able to help Downtown Locker negotiate better leases and loans, among other things. The investment company has $1.2 billion invested in companies such as Au Bon Pain, Bakery Cafe, AMF Bowling Worldwide, Inc., California Pizza Kitchen Inc. and McCormick and Schmick Restaurant Corp.

Bruckmann, Rosser, Sherrill & Co. executives didn't return phone calls yesterday. A receptionist who answered the telephone yesterday said the company doesn't talk to reporters.

The influence of urban culture on fashion trends has grown tremendously over the past several years, and the fashion's popularity has spread to the suburbs. Downtown Locker Room started in Baltimore neighborhoods and now has locations in places such as The Mall in Columbia.

Entertainers including Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Russell Simmons, Damon Dash, Eve and Jennifer Lopez have introduced clothing lines over the years, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has begun offering urban fashion selections in its stores.

Although department stores sell the labels and there are strong regional urban wear stores in some cities, including Changes in the Baltimore area, Downtown Locker Room will be one of the few to make the leap to becoming a national chain.

"I think there are tremendous possibilities with a trend that features urban fashion," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking firm in New York. "There is a void in this market. The look appeals to young people of all races because everybody wants to be cool."

Gaynor said that even though Downtown Locker Room is owned by a national company, it will retain its Baltimore roots.

The stores often hire people from surrounding neighborhoods and let them work their way up to higher positions. A souped-up sport utility vehicle with "The Street Team" plastered across the side is often seen driving the streets and making appearances at community events. Graffiti murals of local neighborhoods plaster the walls in the stores. Rhythm and blues singer Ginuwine signed copies of his new compact disc at the Hyattsville store this week.

"We started in the city, and that's a part of us," said Jeff Bowden, who started at the company as a sales associate and is director of community and corporate outreach. "Even as we expand, one thing we will do is keep our edge, because we don't want to lose our core customer."

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