Stores enjoy a weekend buying binge Back-to-school spirit moves some shoppers


It was a nasty, drippy, cold, miserable weekend for beach-goers, but for retailers it was like Christmas in August.

Shoppers streamed into malls all around the Baltimore area, jamming parking lots and spending money as if it could clear the skies.

Alan J. Fink, manager of Westview Mall, said the merchants in his shopping center did booming business both Saturday and Sunday. He said he spoke with managers at Marshalls, Value City and T. J. Maxx, and "each of them said they had a record-setting week."

"Everybody's sort of got grins on their faces," he said.

Back-to-school shopping led the way, Mr. Fink said, adding that the hottest item in the mall was a "high-tech lunch bag" called the Chill-Pak. But the traffic brought benefits for a variety of merchants.

"After Mom and the kids did their back-to-school shopping, Mom just happened to stop in a Dress Barn," Mr. Fink said.

Christopher Schardt, general manager of Towson Town Center, said the mall enjoyed a strong weekend thanks to back-to-school shopping and the rainy weather.

"My retail coordinator compared yesterday to Christmas," Mr. Schardt said, adding that although clothing was the primary attraction, jewelers at his mall were delighted with the heavy traffic.

A. N. Petraglia, Kmart Corp.'s Columbia-based district manager, said that his stores were having a slow week as of Friday but that Saturday and Sunday "really pulled it out." Instead of flat or lower sales, he said, Baltimore Kmarts picked up about 4 1/2 percent over the same week last year, he said.

"People really had nothing outside to do so they were out shopping," Mr. Petraglia said. Traffic was so heavy, he said, that it was tough to find a good parking space when he visited Harford Mall. "I had to walk quite a ways in the rain," he said.

Janice Biele, marketing director at White Marsh Mall, said traffic was heavy there -- and not with window-shoppers. People were parting with their cash much more readily than usual, she said, raising her hopes for future sales.

"I'm optimistic about the rest of the year," she said.

Not everybody in the retail business was ecstatic. At Metzler's Garden Center in Columbia, where most of the selling space is outside, business was "real stinky," said marketing director Robert Hendrickson.

"Our business relies so much on the weather," he said. "It would be great for our industry if it only rained on Tuesday and Wednesday."

Still, Mr. Hendrickson found some consolation in Metzler's brisk sales this year compared with those of a drought-ridden 1991. "Spring, summer have been terrific," he said. "Everything's lush and green."

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