Rain on Macy's Parade


It was just a few years ago that R. H. Macy & Co., a retailer best known in metropolitan New York, doubled its presence in Maryland. It brought floats from its famed namesake parade to celebrate the opening of showcase stores at Marley Station and Owings Mills malls. Local prep marching bands joined in. Robin Leach, of the syrup-thick English accent and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," even helped christen the Marley Station store.

But quickly, the fortunes of Macy's changed. On Wednesday came the announcement it was closing its Hunt Valley Mall store, along with seven others outside Maryland, by Aug. 1. About 200 people work at the Hunt Valley store, and although the company said it would help them explore other job options within the company, that's a slim hope because the closures are part of a downsizing in response to the retailer's Chapter 11 bankruptcy status.

The restructuring, it is hoped, can save the venerable chain, which hasn't had a storied history in Maryland but has anchored some of the region's most successful malls nonetheless. (Macy's fourth Baltimore area store is at White Marsh Mall.)

Just as Macy's faces a critical juncture, so does the shopping center in Hunt Valley. The irony is that the enclosed shopping center in upscale Hunt Valley struggles while the malls in working-class Woodlawn and Dundalk have been rejuvenated. That's how unpredictable the retail market can be.

Hunt Valley Mall has been affected as much by local zoning decisions as by the winds buffeting retailing. The mall owners bet that Baltimore County would allow Hunt Valley and Cockeysville to grow into a population center. They lost that bet. As late as this spring, the county gave the cold shoulder to a mammoth residential project proposed just north of the Hunt Valley Mall, although that project isn't dead.

Macy's and Hunt Valley share esteemed names. Macy's is banking on that name, and its consolidation plan, to lift it from bankruptcy. Hunt Valley, the mall, may have an even tougher go with the emergence of Towson Town Center last year and the arrival of Nordstrom there this fall.

There was a time you would have seemed foolish for suggesting bad times for the historic retailer or the mall in the lucrative north county. Of course, Robin Leach is now hawking car mufflers. Who could predict?

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