Mall debuts new stores

Clark's, Hollister among outlets due to open in Columbia by the summer

March 09, 2007|By Lisa Tom | Lisa Tom,sun reporter

Molly Lazarek, a senior at River Hill High School, may find the perfect little black dress or spring's new trend - the little white dress - closer to home. "I always go to the [White House/Black Market] at Arundel Mills or Tysons Corner, which is 45 minutes away, so I like the fact that they are opening one at Columbia Mall."

White House/Black Market opened Monday next to the Disney Store on the upper level and features black and white clothing that women "can wear to work but also to evening functions," according to mall marketing manager Asa Williams.

Clark's, a casual-dress shoe store for men and women, opened March 2 on the upper level next to the Bose store.

These openings are the first of several at The Mall in Columbia scheduled for this summer that aim to diversify and update the mall's selection. Williams could not give specific opening dates "because construction can have surprises."

Karen Geary, the mall's senior general manager, said changes at the mall are necessary to keep up to date. She added that "Hollister is one of the hottest catches for 2007."

Like its parent company Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister sells trendy casual wear for teenagers. The store will open where Create-A-Hobby and The Children's Place used to be on the upper level.

Next door, athletic-shoe retailer Footaction will open in a space previously occupied by KB Toys.

"Our athletic-shoe category - it seems like we have a lot," said Geary. "But it's very, very popular." On the lower level, Godiva and Aldo will flank newcomer Abercrombie Kids, which will face Abercrombie & Fitch's upper-level store.

"[Abercrombie Kids] is the edgy fashion for those who are young in age and short in stature," said Geary.

Sunglass Hut/Watch Station plans to open a second upper-level location next to Clark's, in addition to its current space across from Club Libby Lu.

Wetzel Pretzel's will open in the spring by the carousel next to Maggie Moo's.

Geary said she expects to fill a vacancy next to Bath and Body Works on the lower level by the holidays.

"We're just finishing negotiations for a new tenant," she said.

Geary has allotted other vacancies for temporary tenants and storage during construction.

"Ann Taylor is going to be remodeling their store ... we're hoping within the next 30 days," said Geary. During the remodeling, Ann Taylor will temporarily relocate to the vacancy next to Express on the lower level.

The vacancy left by Columbia Furniture on the upper level next to Picture People has been used as a storage space for construction, but Geary is "looking at bringing a temporary tenant back because we don't need it for construction."

The changes come as part of General Growth Properties' plan to create a "one-stop complex for all your needs," said Williams. "We're trying to fill in the gaps ... for the entire family."

She added, "We have customer cards throughout the mall where you can ... let us know anything that goes on with your mall experience."

Mall management values customer suggestions, Geary said. "I can't tell you how many purple cards we got that said `Hollister.' "

Mall customers themselves, Geary and Williams also take note of preferences when shopping with their families and friends.

"For me personally, it's exciting to know that these choices ... are all right here. They're in my backyard," said Williams. "Professionally, it's exciting to see just how quickly the mall changes and gets better."

Spring often heralds changes in mall tenants. "Typically a good retailer will never leave before the Christmas season," Geary said. "We're not closing up shop. It is a natural regression for retail leases to expire."

Tenants can sign three-, five-, seven-, or 10-year leases. "It is dependent upon retailer preferences, and what we are looking at for our customers and also for our long-term plans," Geary said.

Those 5- to 10-year plans emerge from meetings that review every rental space at least twice a year and evaluate a waiting list of tenants in an effort to maintain a "good merchandise mix," said Geary. "There's always going to be the traditional conservative, what is now termed retro, the edgy, and then the luxury."

On March 1, Mia Weirsema, assistant manager of Clark's, unpacked boxes of shoes, surrounding herself with piles of plastic bags and the smell of new leather before the store's opening. "I'm excited to be in the mall," said Weirsema. "It's a great mall, and the store is beautiful."

"I think we're very fortunate at The Mall in Columbia because we have a really dynamic community - very strong, very stable," said Geary. "For The Mall in Columbia, we are 99 percent leased, and that's where we've been" for six years.

Added Williams: "We want Town Center to provide the community with everything it needs in terms of retail, apparel, dining and entertainment."

For Lazarek and many area residents, it does. "There's not much to do in Columbia that doesn't involve the mall and its surrounding area," said the River Hill High School senior.

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