Belvedere Square loses local tenants, gains chains

Daedalus Books is the latest to announce its departure

  • Abram Engelman of Govans lives near Daedalus Books & Music at Belvedere Square and jokes he has a tunnel to the store. The bookstore is closing May 15.
Abram Engelman of Govans lives near Daedalus Books & Music… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim…)
April 25, 2011|By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

The owners of Daedalus Books & Music had great expectations when they opened their first stand-alone retail store at the then-recently reinvigorated Belvedere Square in 2006.

But the bookstore opened just before the national economy went into the tank. Daedalus found that because remainder books — the excess inventory sold at a discount by publishing houses to outlets like Daedalus — are so low-priced, it was hard to sell enough to keep the store going. It is set to close next month.

"We just couldn't make it work there," general manager Heidi Bell said of North Baltimore's Belvedere Square. "We sell bargain books. It takes an awful lot of bargain books to make a critical-mass situation work there. Otherwise, we liked the location and wouldn't have gone there if we didn't."

The closure of the bookstore, an anchor tenant, will leave a void at the shopping area, which in the past decade has transitioned from a neglected, thinly populated center to a popular neighborhood destination.

Daedalus is the latest in a string of retailers, including a stationery store and two clothing boutiques, to leave Belvedere Square as a still-struggling economy has put pressure on retailers nationwide.

But the shopping area off York Road is 97 percent leased, according to its owners, and continues to attract crowds. How it has dealt with tenant vacancies illustrates the way shopping centers must reinvent themselves in the face of constantly changing consumer tastes and fluctuations in the economy.

At Belvedere Square, many independent boutiques have been replaced by national chains. And, in recent months, as clothing retailers have closed, the center's retail population has become more heavily weighted with eateries.

The owners of Belvedere Square said they chalk up the recent rotation of tenants partly to the normal flux that all shopping centers experience. The still-recovering economy has been hard on retailers, especially independent boutiques, said Bob Rubenkonig, a spokesman for the development group that owns the shopping complex.

"I think these have been tumultuous economic times for retailers in general," Rubenkonig said. "I think that Daedalus and some other independent retailers have had a hard time making their business work."

Rubenkonig said Belvedere Square remains vibrant and is in no way slipping back to its dismal condition of the late 1990s. Then-Mayor Martin O'Malley made a public plea for improvements and called the shopping center's management "abysmal."

In 2003, the center underwent a major revitalization when four prominent names in local development — Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., William Jackson Ewing Inc., Hawkins Development Group and Manekin LLC — bought the center. They remain the owners. Included in the renovations was an open-air market, including popular restaurants such as Atwater's.

Rubenkonig said new tenants are on the way. A TCBY yogurt shop will open in early May in the space once occupied by Simply Noted, a stationery store that closed in August. A Subway recently opened in what was once the Sweet Papaya clothing store. The owners of the property also will soon announce a new tenant for the Cloud 9 clothing store spot.

Rubenkonig said new ownership of the Senator Theatre, across York Road, has resulted in more major movie showings, which has helped expand foot traffic at Belvedere Square. Brick Bodies, a women's fitness center in the same building as Daedalus, recently extended its lease for 10 years.

Rubenkonig thinks it will not be difficult to find a replacement for Daedalus. "We think the future of Belvedere Square is really bright," he said.

While Belvedere Square may have lost some of its independent retailers, national chains are often more stable tenants, said retail broker Thomas Maddux, a principal with brokerage firm KLNB Retail.

"Retailing changes constantly," Maddux said. "Sometimes it needs to change in order to stay viable and not become stale."

Steve Appel, co-owner of Contemporary Nouveau, said business at his Belvedere Square furniture store is doing well. He thinks the shopping center remains popular despite the recent closings.

Nelson Carey, who owns the Grand Cru wine shop with his wife, also said he was not concerned by the recent departures. He acknowledges that he doesn't like having Subway there, which he said will compete with other eateries, but he said TCBY will provide something novel at Belvedere Square.

"I don't think it's going to hurt the customer a bit," he said of the changes. "The center seems to be turning from a durable-goods destination to more of a food destination."

Shoppers at Belvedere Square one recent morning said they had noticed the changes at the center. Some said that Daedalus is what brought them to the center and that they might stop by less often now that it is closing. Many others said there were enough other reasons to keep shopping at the center.

Abram Engelman, a retired professor who lives in Govans, said he will miss Daedalus, where he shops every week.

"I have a tunnel that leads here from my house," he said, laughing, as he picked up reading material at the bookstore.

But Engelman said he understands why some Belvedere Square stores didn't make it in the rough economy. He said the center is still better than it was in the '90s, and he thinks people will still shop there.

Shannon Putman, a physician from Roland Park, stopped by Daedalus last week after working out at the Brick Bodies gym. She said it was too bad some stores didn't make it but added that chain outlets are welcome.

"I feel bad that we couldn't support more local business so that they would survive," she said. "But will I stop in Subway and buy a sandwich? Sure. I like Subway sandwiches."

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