Boscov's lifts the curtain

Sneak preview at three new department stores draws crowds ahead of today's official opening

October 28, 2006|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN REPORTER

The official grand opening of Boscov's Department Stores at three local malls is today, but crowds of customers arrived to shop yesterday, paying $5 in the name of charity to get a sneak peek and to snare some early bargains.

Shoppers gathered outside the entrances of the department stores before they opened to get a first glimpse at the retailer.

Crowds continued throughout the day. Some got their photographs taken with the Monopoly man. Others snacked on free samples of the department store's homemade fudge and chocolate-covered pretzels.

Boscov's has a store in Westminster that it opened in 2003, but it is expanding with stores at Marley Station Mall, Owings Mills Mall and White Marsh Mall. Boscov's has eyed the market for years. It moved into space left vacant after Hecht's closed earlier this year after a merger with Macy's.

The retailer, which is headquartered in Reading, Pa., is making what some say is a risky move into a market where it isn't well known at a time when department stores have lost market share to others.

But yesterday, Boscov's seemed to prove the naysayers wrong - at least for a day.

"I'm so thrilled with the turnout, because we didn't really know who was going to come," said Maralyn Lakin, Boscov's senior vice president of marketing. "It's beyond my wildest dreams."

The $5 donations will go to 100 local charities that helped sell the tickets to yesterday's shopping event.

Many shoppers were lured by the sales - a $19.99 Black and Decker Deluxe 4-slice toaster; 50 percent off Carter's children's wear; a 65-piece flatware set for $49.99. Others came for the free gift - Mikasa crystal candleholders.

But most people said they visited out of pure curiosity.

Cindy Satchell visited the White Marsh store with her two daughters to pick up a few of the sale items she saw in a promotional circular. Having never shopped at the store, she thought she'd be in and out. Instead she found herself in the shoe department trying on boots.

"I didn't know what to expect, but I like it," Satchell said.

Stacey Koehler, a speech pathologist, also was itching to see what Boscov's was all about. She liked the prices and the selection. She picked up some outfits and a toy for her 3-year-old son.

"They have good deals," she said. "I'd like to come back when it's less crowded so I can get a better look."

There were crowds in most parts of the White Marsh store with little room to move without bumping into someone. Moms with strollers crammed into the aisles of the toy section. The line to get a Boscov's credit card snaked through the appliance department. Some shoppers had to use dollies to cart purchases to their cars.

A woman in a red shirt seemed impressed with the prices as she chatted on her cellular telephone.

"They've got 40 and 60 percent off," she said into the phone. "It's ... amazing."

It was a similar story at Marley Station.

"By 10:30 the store was very, very crowded," said Charmaine Lawrence, general manager at Marley Station. "I was just pleased with the crowds."

Boscov's executives hope yesterday was a sign of future success.

"The ones who came seemed pleased and we hope they become permanent shoppers," Lakin said.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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