Boscov's prepares for April 6 opening


Gil A. DeWitt, who manages Littman Jewelers in Westminster's TownMall, can hardly wait for the new Boscov's store to open. His store has spent $300,000 on renovations and expansions in anticipation of the 16-year-old mall's biggest addition ever.

"I'm as excited as can be," said DeWitt. "I'm 50 feet from the entrance, and everyone and their brother is going to come by my store."

Motorists on Route 140 can get a glimpse of the new Boscov's through a gigantic glass window above its entrance, where a brightly lighted chandelier built into a wall of mirrors can be seen. The mall's newest anchor store is scheduled to open in a little more than two weeks - and, mall management says, bring five more stores in its wake.

Three of the new stores are national chains, said Gregory E. Harris, mall spokesman. He wouldn't name the stores, saying that an announcement is scheduled for tomorrow.

"We think this is a great opportunity for Westminster and the mall," Harris said.

Rene F. Daniel of the Daniel Group, the mall's leasing agent, said that VIP guests would be able to enter the store April 4, with the official ribbon cutting two days later.

"They're really going to draw business from outside Carroll County, especially from Owings Mills," he said.

Although much of the new store remains under wraps, with windows covered with brown paper, officials from the county and Westminster received their first looks at the store yesterday.

"It's exciting," said Steven D. Powell, the county commissioners' chief of staff, who accompanied Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. on the tour. "The city and county have worked hard with this national chain. It should be a good addition to economic development."

Boscov's and the mall did not allow a reporter to accompany the officials on their tour. Boscov's employees manned the door to prevent entry.

But a quick glimpse of the store's interior showed employees cleaning glass counters in the jewelry and cosmetics departments. Chandeliers hung over the counters.

On one side of that section, empty garment racks took up the floor space in the Junior Dresses section. Unopened boxes, apparently full of merchandise, were stacked four high near the Young Men and Activewear sections.

Outside, workers on cranes adjusted light fixtures. Mounds of gravel were in the parking lot.

A construction worker, who declined to be identified, said yesterday that the project has been on a fast track since ground was broken in August. He said rain during the fall and snowstorms this winter hampered workers, and that pouring concrete while under huge tents set up at the construction site presented challenges. At one time, 300 men worked at the site.

The Westminster store will be the 39th for the family-owned Boscov's chain, which has one other Maryland property, in Salisbury. A Frederick store is in the works.

Most of the chain's stores are in Pennsylvania, and others are in New York, New Jersey and Delaware. The chain employs more than 12,000, and the Westminster store is expected to provide 400 jobs.

Solomon Boscov started the family retail business in Reading, Pa., in 1911 and opened his first store in 1919. His son, Chairman Albert R. Boscov, visited Westminster in 1987 to look into opening an anchor at the newly built Cranberry Mall, now TownMall, before deciding the space was too small.

In May, the company decided to open a store at the mall after all. In announcing the decision, Boscov said his stores each take in about $30 million a year, making Boscov's the largest independent family-owned department store in the country, with $1 billion in annual sales.

The size of the new store is 178,545 square feet - almost a third of the mall.

Kurt Barnard, a New Jersey- based analyst who founded the International Mass Retail Association, said Boscov's likes locations where it is the largest store. "It's a big fish in a small pond," Barnard said. "Most others look shabby by comparison. Against Boscov's, forget it. Boscov's makes itself felt."

The mall has lost major tenants such as Montgomery Ward, Caldor and CVS Pharmacy within the past five years. It lost more than $20 million in value when Cranberry Properties MM Corp. purchased the 525,000- square-foot mall at Route 140 and Route 27 in April 2000 from Shopco Regional Malls for $33.5 million. Shopco had bought the mall in 1988 for $53.8 million.

Two of the original three mall anchors remain - Sears and Belk (formerly Leggett's). The third, Caldor, folded in 1998. The mall has 54 tenants besides Boscov's, including a multiplex cinema, a food court and new stores such as Dress Barn, Asian Gift City and Gold's Gym, which opened a 6,000-square- foot workout facility in the fall.

DeWitt, the Littman Jewelers manager, said a Boscov's store is in the same mall in Altoona, Pa., as another Littman store.

"We know basically what type of draw Boscov's brings, and it will be tremendous for the area," he said. "Next year at this time, you'll be complaining about parking because there won't be enough."

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