Look at who's running the store

Samantha Harris loves shopping, customers, and the malls she manages

A Passion For Shopping

November 30, 2008|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Samantha Harris is probably the envy of every fashion-minded women or giddy teenager.

She spends every working day in the mall.

After working in marketing at Owings Mills Mall, the Mall in Columbia and Towson Town Center, she was promoted earlier this month to general manager of Mondawmin Mall and The Village of Cross Keys in Baltimore. Harris takes over Mondawmin as it finishes a $70 million renovation that includes the addition of a Target.

She admits that it can take a lot of self-control to work so close to racks of pretty shoes, expensive perfumes and designer jeans. But a big perk comes with the job: She knows about all the sales.

How did you make the transition from marketing to management?

I wanted to run my own property, and I wanted to do my own show. I went through a training program so I was prepared. I didn't think I'd be running two properties when I started, but it's exciting. It keeps me busy. I don't have a lot of family here. So it takes up a lot of time, which is good. Mondawmin and the Village of Cross Keys are two different animals, but they're two very great places to learn. They both have a lot of history, different history. So it's nice to be able to get it all in one shot. ... A lot of general managers don't get to see a redevelopment in their entire career. And being able to do it in my first position is a big deal.

How does it feel to be a part of a big project like the one at Mondawmin?

Personally, it's heartwarming to be in a community-type of property. To be able to be a part of something that has been around for two or three generations. Some people have taken their grandkids there. They grew up there, and it's nice to be a part of that. It feels like a family. Plus the business aspect of it, the development is a huge deal. I'm getting so much experience in the accounting aspect of it, the construction aspect of it, the operations and security aspect of it.

Why malls? Were you a big shopper?

Oh, I've always been a shopper. ... You know when I first started working in a mall, I remember my first interview. I said, "I love being in the mall. I love the way it smells, I love the food, I love the purses." ... Even though I can't buy it all the time, it's nice to be around it. I know all the new fashions and trends, and I'm around all of that. When you think about shopping, you think about when people come to the mall. It's primarily to buy something for somebody or for themselves. So they're probably in a good mood. They're probably in a good place. So you're part of someone's life at a good place.

How do you resist the temptation to shop?

It is hard. You see so many pretty things. Just walking through the Village of Cross Keys you pass Joanna Gray and you see these shoes and you're like, "Wow." But you know what the reality is, and you still have to have a budget. And you have to make sure you're being responsible and taking care of home first. A good thing is I can wait until something goes on sale. I just keep my eye on it. If I want it bad enough, I'll just wait for it.

What do you like about your job?

I like working with the customers. I like all the different aspects that come together to have this one common goal. You can have people in marketing who are into things looking pretty and nice. Then you have people in operations who really don't care what it looks like. They just want to make sure it's functional. But making the teams work together is what I like best. Working toward this common goal. And then to have this experience for the customer and they do not even know what's going on behind the scenes.

Do the challenges that retailers and malls face make you worry about the future of the industry and about what could happen to your career?

No, not at all. I think we're all concerned about the economy. ... I think we just need some time to figure out some things. I think that once we turn around and are in a better place, people will always need to buy, whether it's because they want to or because they need to or have to. Even if it's because you have holes in your jeans and you needed a new pair.

Any perks to working at the mall?

Seeing the sales and waiting for them are nice. But I think the perks are just being in the thick of it. Like around the holidays. It's a challenge. During the holidays I don't spend as much time with my family. Most people, they'll travel. I'm here, which is hard. But I don't know many people who can say they love their jobs. I have friends who are attorneys and doctors and make a whole lot of money, but they're not that happy.

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