The Nature Co., a specialty store that has been a popular fixture of Harborplace's Light Street pavilion since September of 1989, will open an expanded version Saturday that will become the chain's flagship.
The 6,945-square-foot store, representing an investment of $2 million, will be the largest outlet in the country for the 71-store California-based chain, which sells art, books, clothing and other merchandise that encourages people to enjoy and protect nature. It will make the Nature Co. one of the largest stores in Harborplace and a prominent anchor for the north end of the Light Street pavilion.
Representatives of the company, which is affiliated with the non-profit Nature Conservancy, say the expansion is a prototype for a type of larger store that they might open in other areas as well.
They say it will provide more room for more distinct departments at Harborplace, including a children's-event area, an art gallery with limited-edition prints and an interactive "space dome" with changing constellations.
"We've been called a cross between a museum, a toy chest and the contents of a 7-year-old's pockets," said spokeswoman Jennifer Kaiser. "The added space allows that museum-like quality to expand. . . . The Chesapeake Bay location provides a marvelous setting for our mission."
Richard Peters, director of development, said Nature Co. officials chose to test the prototype at Harborplace because it is already one of the company's highest-producing stores in terms of sales volume and because they like the city's new emphasis on promoting the life sciences.
By expanding to become a mini-department store at Harborplace, he said, the Nature Co. will be in a better position to take advantage of the general public's growing interest in ecology, the environment and other subjects related to nature. Because of its proximity to science-related attractions such as the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Maryland Science Center, "Harborplace was a natural fit for us," he said.
The store has taken over the space formerly occupied by Vicenzo's, a produce merchant, and its enlargement has resulted in the creation of eight to 10 new jobs. When it opens Saturday, its main entrance will be dominated by a life-size, animated woolly mammoth and a babbling brook.
The Nature Co. is part of a flurry of changes that include the opening of 10 new stores and the renovation or expansion of 16 others in preparation for the beginning of the summer tourist season at the Inner Harbor.
J. Martin Lastner, vice president and general manager of Harborplace and the Gallery, said the changes are largely a response to the opening of the Orioles' new downtown ballpark three blocks from Harborplace.
The first retailer to open is Stadium Sports, a 1,500-square-foot store that features merchandise bearing the Orioles logo. It opened yesterday next to the Nature Co. on the north side of the Light Street pavilion.
Other merchants opening by Memorial Day are The Butcher, Baker and Sausage Maker; Daddy's Deli; How Sweet It Is; Oasis Juice Stop and Statements by Bruce Johnson, all in the Light Street pavilion, and the Greenhouse Cafe, Lady Footlocker and Shingar, all in the Gallery.
Also opening by the end of summer will be Lechter's Home World, a 4,093-square-foot store on the fourth level of the Gallery.
Expanding or renovating merchants include American Baseball Classics, As the Wheel Turns, Beach Graphics, The Big Iguana, Big Time, Everything Yogurt and Salad Cafe, The Fudgery, Grey Horse Antiques, Haagen-Dazs, Honeycomb, Kids Clothes International, Shuckers, Uzzolo and What's Your Game?
The new and expanding tenants will bring Harborplace and the Gallery to 100 percent occupancy.
Around the region
* RTKL Associates Inc. has been awarded the contract to develop a master plan for the repair and rehabilitation of the U.S. Naval Academy's Bancroft Hall.
* D. I. Design and Development Consultants Inc. of Baltimore was honored in the 1992 Design Awards Competition of the International Council of Shopping Centers for its design of two retail projects, Coco- Walk in Coconut Grove, Fla., and Victoria Eaton Centre in Victoria, British Columbia.
They were two of six projects to receive awards.
* Construction has begun on a 15,000-square-foot cancer center at St. Agnes Hospital. Columbia Design Collective's director of interior architecture, Susan Lee Boyle, headed the design team. Work will be completed this summer.
* First Real Estate Investment Trust of New Jersey, an affiliate of Hekemian and Co. Inc. of Hackensack, has acquired the 255,000-square-foot Westridge Square Shopping Center in Frederick for $27.1 million. Westridge Square Associates Limited Partnership was the seller.