HUNT VALLEY MANAGER GERARD CECCI TRIES TO REVERSE THE DOWNTURN He's working on ways to bring more business to the mall


Since Gerard Cecci became the Hunt Valley Mall manager last month, he has visited many of the shopping center's 135 merchants to get a feel for what they like and don't like about the Baltimore area's third-largest place to shop.

"Everyone is saying, 'more business.' They would like more business," Mr. Cecci says.

That's no surprise.

Maryland-based retailers have been stung by a severe downturn in consumer spending caused by myriad factors that include high debt levels, a climbing unemployment rate and the Persian Gulf war.

But even when these issues weren't at the forefront of people's minds, Hunt Valley Mall retailers complained of slow customer traffic.

Although Hunt Valley's management company and part owner, Kravco, won't release sales figures for the mall, Mr. Cecci says it is "not one of the top performers" in Kravco's large portfolio of shopping centers nationwide.

"Although the market is tight right now, my goal in the long run is for Hunt Valley to become more of a destination in the Baltimore marketplace and to increase its sales and client base," Mr. Cecci says.

He says the mall will start a more rigorous effort to attract the large number of seniors and single people in the Hunt Valley area, by tailoring special promotional efforts toward these groups.

Mr. Cecci, 29, comes to Hunt Valley from the Shops at Penn, a retail/office complex on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania -- also managed and partly owned by suburban Philadelphia-based Kravco.

There, he also had to deal with slow sales -- specifically, during last year's Christmas season. "The center was located on an Ivy League campus in the center of the city. It's a limited trade area. How do you market that?" says Mr. Cecci.

His idea: advertise in the school paper, not the city's major daily, and feature a shopping-spree sweepstakes.

"Sales went up for the season compared with the year before. I have an ability to come up with creative marketing ideas to fit specific centers," says Mr. Cecci, though he says he feels his real strengths are in maintaining a budget and operations.

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