Chain to fill vacant space


Boscov's, the long-awaited retail anchor for TownMall in Westminster, unmasked itself officially yesterday to an assembly of about 20 city and county officials, as well as mall executives who hailed it as just what the mall needs to keep shoppers in Carroll County, while creating at least 400 jobs.

"We're delighted to be here," said Albert R. Boscov, patriarch of the family-owned department store chain, who announced the company's arrival from a podium in the mall in front of the former Montgomery Ward space that Boscov's will take over.

Since Wards closed early last year, he said, "There have been changes in the town and the county is growing and seems sure of continued enormous growth."

The Pennsylvania-based department store will tear down the existing structure and start from scratch, adding a second floor -- and the mall's first escalator -- to become the mall's premier retailer at 178,545 square feet.

"The community's been very nice," Boscov said. "What impressed us most is the growth of the city and county."

Boscov, whose company has a store in Salisbury, said he had visited Westminster in 1987 to investigate opening an anchor at the newly built Cranberry Mall, now TownMall, before deciding the space was too small.

Only two of the original three mall anchors remain -- Sears and Belk (formerly Leggett's).

The third, Caldor, folded in 1998. Sears stands at 70,060 square feet and Belk at 65,282 square feet.

Local officials are optimistic about what Boscov's will bring to the region.

"It could spur additional growth in the other anchor stores," said Stanley T. Ruchlewicz, Westminster's economic development specialist.

"It's only the second one in the state. It's going to be a big draw. You'll see a lot more people staying in town to shop, and more employees, more job opportunities."

Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell predicted that "people will shop here instead of Owings Mills and Hanover."

Barbara J. Beverungen of the Carroll County Office of Tourism said the retailer will draw visitors from outside of the county.

"We found out that once people get to where they want to go, the No. 1 thing they like to do is shop. Boscov's is the beginning of the rejuvenation of that whole shopping experience."

The Westminster store will be the 39th in a chain begun by Boscov's father, Solomon Boscov, who started the family retail business in Reading, Pa., in 1911 and opened his first store in 1919.

Boscov said his stores each take in about $30 million a year, reaching $1 billion in annual sales for the company, making it the largest independent family-owned department store in the country.

"We believe in good values and in being good neighbors," Boscov said. "We like tying in with communities and making it a little nicer by our presence. We make our money here, but leave a lot of it here, too."

The strength of his stores, he said, is in their customer service, selection, and a lively attitude about specials and entertainment.

"We recognize that retailing is nothing but recreation," he said.

A merchant at one of the longtime retail kiosks around the corner from the future store hopes that it will benefit from Boscov's potential traffic.

"We're really hoping it will bring our sales up," said Piercing Pagoda manager Terri M. Stem, who has worked at the mall for five years in different stores.

At the time of yesterday's announcement, the mall, dotted with empty storefronts, had few customers.

Stem said men's apparel is lacking at the mall, the only choices being Sears and Belk.

"With Boscov's coming in, men will have another place to shop," she said.

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