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Becker Group opens area Christmas storesThe Becker...


Becker Group opens area Christmas stores

The Becker Group, a Baltimore-based company that has decked the malls of America for nearly 40 Christmases, has finally succumbed to the selling bug.

Last week, the company launched its new retail division by opening S. Claus Collection stores at Owings Mills Town Center and Towson Town Center. The stores will carry an assortment of Christmas merchandise, as well as gift items.

The seasonal stores, which will be open from late October through Dec. 31, are a pilot project for The Becker Group, said Marsha Becker, director of S. Claus Collection and wife of company President Gordon Becker.

If S. Claus is successful, The Becker Group probably will expand to about a half-dozen stores throughout the Baltimore-Washington area next year, she said.

The S. Claus concept takes advantage of the relatively wide availability of temporary space in malls today, Ms. Becker said. Her stores occupy space that was formerly rented by The Limited Express, which has moved to larger quarters.

She added that the Becker Group, which creates holiday displays for more than 600 shopping centers in North and South America, has the advantages of experienced designers on its staff and long-standing contacts with many manufacturers of Christmas decorations.

Bombay ringing up big sales increases

If The Bombay Company were posting lackluster sales, it would have plenty of excuses.

The 363-store chain specializes in furniture, at a time when slow housing sales have few people furnishing new homes. It presents an elegant, upscale image, at a time when recession-weary consumers are going back to basics. And it's a mall-oriented chain, at a time when traffic is off at many malls.

But instead of excuses, Fort Worth-based Bombay Co. Inc. has been ringing up sales increases Wal-Mart would envy. For October, the early-reporting Bombay has recorded a 16 percent sales gain at stores open for at least a year -- the eighth time in the last 10 months that comparable-store gains have been in double digits.

Total sales for the period that ended Oct. 25 increased 29 percent, to $14.2 million, from $11 million in October 1991.

The key to The Bombay's success appears to be its emphasis on value: Look behind the polished presentation and you'll find that the company's prices aren't all that high.

There's a good mix of big-ticket and less expensive items, and unlike that of many mall-based furniture chains, its merchandise is designed to blend in well with antiques.

The company is also poised to benefit from an aggressive program of store enlargement. It recently began replacing its standard 1,700-square-foot stores with stores of 3,500 to 4,000 square feet.

The chain has Baltimore-area stores at Towson Town Center, Columbia Mall, White Marsh Mall, Owings Mills Town Center and Marley Station Mall.

Sondheim to receive award from retailers

The Maryland Retail Merchants Association will present its annual service award to Walter Sondheim Jr., the former Hochschild-Kohn executive who helped lead the revitalization of downtown Baltimore, at its annual Merchants' Ball Nov. 7.

Mr. Sondheim, who is being honored for his contributions to the growth of retailing in Maryland, is the eighth recipient of the award, joining a group that includes Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Comptroller Louis Goldstein.

The ball will include a "silent auction" of items donated by association members, with the proceeds going to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

The Children's Center also will be one of the beneficiaries Nov. 12-15 when seven Baltimore-area retailers get together for the thrice-annual Mammoth Sale at Timonium Fairgrounds.

Athletic Attic, Apparel Associates, Dan Bros. Shoes, Elegance Fashion Jewelry, Gage Menswear, Hiken Formal Wear and Members Only Outerwear will offer merchandise at discounts of up to 80 percent.

The $2 admission price will go to the Children's Center's Child Life department, which provides recreation for young hospital patients, and to the Maryland Food Bank.

Clothing makers making pitch to gays

Rag trade companies are quickly getting the message that gay dollars are worth going after.

Out magazine, which is aimed at male and female homosexuals, announced this month that Calvin Klein Inc., designer of jeans and just about anything else, and 2(X)ist, an athletic sportswear maker, will join Out's roster of advertisers. According to Out, their appearance in a gay publication is a first for both companies.

The two companies will join apparel companies Benneton and Banana Republic in using the glossy magazine's pages to promote their wares to gay consumers.

According to Michael Goff, Out editor in chief, more companies are putting aside their fears of a conservative backlash and aggressively pursuing gay consumers.

Still, he said, there is considerable resistance among corporate advertising managers -- even those who are attracted by the demographics of his readership.

"Homophobia remains one of the only things stronger than the profit motive," Mr. Goff said. "It's un-American, really."

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