Major Towson store to expand

Greetings & Readings, one of the largest independent bookstores in Maryland and a Towson mainstay for 35 years, will open a second location in Hunt Valley next spring.

Company leaders had been thinking for a long time about expanding - they get at least several offers a month from developers and brokers hoping to lure them to places as far away as Massachusetts.


In the end they settled on Hunt Valley Towne Centre, a Main Street-style redevelopment of the mall on Shawan Road.

Greetings & Readings is the second new retailer to announce it is coming to the Towne Centre. Wegmans Food Markets Inc., the chain of mega-supermarkets, also will open a store there in the spring, joining other retailers already there, such as Sears, Roebuck and Co.


"We waited for what we believe was the right opportunity," said Steven S. Baum, president of Greetings & Readings, which sells cards, party supplies and gifts as well as books.

"We were looking to be a part of a shopping and entertainment complex rather than being just a single store center."

Local independent booksellers have struggled to compete against Borders and other huge national chains and Internet merchants such as, said Tom S. Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.

Bigger rivals, too-fast expansion and management missteps put Bibelot - another local independent bookstore - out of business in 2001. It had four stores in the Baltimore area.

Nationally, independent bookstores have been faring a bit better recently after a steep slide.

They were selling nearly a third of the books in the United States in the early 1990s; by 2001, their market share was 14 percent. Now it's 16 percent, helped in part by a nationwide branding campaign, said Hut Landon, executive director of Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

"In the last two years, the independent bookstore market has not only stabilized but appears to be making small growth inroads," he said.

To survive, independents find a niche. For Greetings & Readings, it's about diversification beyond the printed page to things like stuffed toys and scented soaps.


Still, about a third of its 24,000 square feet of retail space in Loch Raven Plaza is devoted to books.

Its new store in Hunt Valley will be larger, about 30,000 square feet. Baum expects to hire at least 75 people, full time and part time.

David L. Goldbloom, a vice president at Erwin L. Greenberg Commercial Corp., which owns the Hunt Valley center, said the company is delighted to sign Greetings & Readings because it doesn't want only national retailers.

"We've got a Baltimore landmark," he said. "It gives us a distinct flavor."

David S. Iannucci, executive director of the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, said it's good news not only for local enterprise but also for the Hunt Valley property, which struggled for years as a retail center.

"Even though it's half the age, the Hunt Valley Mall showed some of the same challenges of the older areas of Baltimore County," he said. "So this is a positive sign."


Hunt Valley Towne Centre will have more than 860,000 square feet of retail space. About a quarter-million of that - including Greetings & Readings' store - will be part of an open-air, Main Street setting.

"It's the creation of a lifestyle center, the idea being that this will be where people will come to congregate," Goldbloom said. "This is not one-stop shopping."