Snow drives shoppers away from malls

Just days before Christmas, most major retailers close early because of the storm

  • A sign advising of a store closure is seen on a shop front on December 19 in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington
A sign advising of a store closure is seen on a shop front on December… (Getty Images photo )
December 19, 2009|By Andrea Walker | | Baltimore Sun reporter

The snow scared away most shoppers on a day that usually draws some of the biggest crowds of the season. But the ghost town atmosphere was exactly what drew police officer Lynn Wall to the White Marsh Mall Saturday.

"I figured the mall wouldn't be crowded so this would be the best day to go," said Wall, who as a police officer is used to driving in all kinds of inclement weather. She and her teenage daughters had hit clothing stores H&M, Wet Seal and Forever 21 by noon yesterday before settling at the food court for lunch.

Retailers only wish there were more shoppers like Wall and her family.

The weekend's treacherous weather proved to be a disaster for retailers as most shoppers did the opposite of the Wall family and chose to stay home on what should have been one of the busiest shopping days of the season. Stores and malls were barren in the morning hours with only the bravest most with SUVs willing to venture out.

By the afternoon, with Gov. Martin O'Malley declaring a state of emergency, most retailers shut down all together. Malls owned by General Growth Properties, which include White Marsh Mall, The Mall in Columbia and Towson Town Center, closed at 1 p.m. Arundel Mills went dark at 2 p.m. Security Square Mall stayed open, but by 2 p.m. most of the stores had closed independently. Charm City Run sent out an email saying it wouldn't open its Bel Air and Annapolis stores saying they "couldn't remember the last time we had to do this."

The storm couldn't have come at a worse time for retailers who are already dealing with shoppers who are pinching pennies because of the weak economy.

"First we had the great recession, now I think that we have the great blizzard here," said Tom Sequella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. "And it's going to hurt, no question about it."

The National Retail Federation is forecasting a 1 percent sales decline for the holiday season. This weekend's blizzard will have more of a regional impact so the trade group isn't changing its prediction, spokesman Scott Krugman said yesterday. But he said the storms would hit businesses along the east coast hard.

"If you're a retailer you certainly don't want to lose a Saturday, especially the Saturday before Christmas," Krugman said.

Handbags in the City in the Harbor East neighborhood of Baltimore said the pain was eased some by guests staying in nearby hotels, who clearly had cabin fever. But owner George Sakellaris said the snow still wasn't good news. He closed three hours early, at 5 instead of 8, because he figured that people wouldn't be so adventurous once the sun went down.

"It is a very bad time for it to snow," Sakellaris said. "What is probably going to happen now is people will be in more of time crunch and it will get busier three days before Christmas."

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