For weeks, the billboards along Ritchie Highway with Abe Lincoln's likeness in copper circles have slyly asked, "Guess who's coming?"
As if no one knew.
J. C. Penney is opening at Marley Station mall in Glen Burnie and the competition better watch out, employees and construction workers at the new store say.
"The store is arranged differently so it automatically attracts customers," explained Bob Herbold, a carpenter who worked on J. C. Penney as well as the neighboring stores.
The 134,000-square-foot store is the first new department store in the mall since it opened in 1987 with Macy's and Hecht as anchors, said Ed Ladd, the mall's general manager.
"We've been looking forward to their opening for some time now and I'm quite surprised and glad to see its finally happening," he said.
J. C. Penney has been the single most requested store, according to mall customer service representatives.
Mr. Ladd said he estimates that at least 1,000 people a year have asked for the store.
"Customers have been saying how they think this mall needs a J. C. Penney store," Mr. Ladd said.
"In the minds of the public, J. C. Penney is the 'all-American store.' That particular description of a department store wasn't here before, so we've brought what [the customers] have wanted here," he said.
The store will attract more customers to the mall because it "has a customer base that is unique to them," he said.
"There are some really loyal J. C. Penney customers out there who didn't have a store close to them," he added.
Construction on the store began two years ago after a Penney's catalog store in the Pasadena Festival shopping center produced high sales, according to J. C. Penney store manager David Vandehei.
"The Pasadena catalog store was one of the best stores in the state and there weren't any nearby stores for our Glen Burnie customers so it was a perfect marriage to put a store in the Marley mall," Mr. Vandehei explained.
The catalog store in the shopping center closed Friday and its offices were moved to the first floor of the new store.
The J. C. Penney store at Marley Station will be one of the first in the chain to offer a bridal registry program, where customers can use a computer with a screen sensitive to touch to select gifts for anyone who has registered with the company, Mr. Vandehei said.
"We've had a lot of requests at other stores for the registry service and we've invested time, training and equipment to get it started at the Marley mall," he said.
Mr. Vandehei said the computerized service will be available when the store opens.
A portrait studio that uses television screens to show customers a color image of the picture, before it is taken, also will be available at the new store.
The new store, which has hired about 250 full and part-time employees, is expected to have a ripple effect on the local economy as competitors change to keep up.
"Once one store opens a new branch, everybody starts to build buildings and remodel," said Lenard Tracey, a painter with the Painters Local Union No. 1 in Baltimore.
"More stores are going up and more people are getting work as things really start to pick up. There certainly are people out there ready to be hired to help," Mr. Tracey added.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony has been scheduled at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at the mall's entrance. Promotional activities, including make-up and fashion shows for men, women and children and drawings to give away sweat shirts, jewelry and housewares have been planned.
The United Way will sell $5 tickets at the new store to give customers a preview shopping day tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
The tickets will allow customers to get an extra 10 percent off all sales merchandise.