Updating the upscale

The Baltimore Sun

The floors at the Shops at Kenilworth are stripped, the ceilings ripped out, and the fountain is drained. Scaffolding stands throughout the mall.

It's not a pretty sight now, but the Towson mall's owners promise major upgrades by next month as the 30-year-old center undergoes a $3 million makeover - its largest in nearly 20 years.

The owners, Kenilworth Limited Partners of Cincinnati, want to modernize the mall, which the owners acknowledge has a dated, 1970s look. The changes come as Towson is undergoing a billion-dollar renaissance with new condominiums, apartments and shopping. Business leaders hope to further develop the area as a regional hub for entertainment, dining and night life.

Nearby Towson Town Center mall is going through its own makeover, expanding by more than 100,000 square feet - its biggest renovation since Nordstrom opened in 1992. The mall will be 1.1 million square feet when renovations are completed.

Though much smaller than Towson Town, Kenilworth has long had a niche among a core of affluent shoppers from neighborhoods such as Ruxton, Green Spring Valley, Homeland and Roland Park. The 142,000-square-foot mall once served as one of the few spots in the area with upscale shopping.

With other malls and businesses renovating, Kenilworth officials decided it was time for some changes there, too. Among the renovations planned is giving the storefronts a sleeker look than their current town village facades. Tall glass doors and simple lines will replace heavy crown molding, and the current red clay tiles will give way to light-colored flooring. Developers want to create a brighter mall with hopes that it will give off more energy, said John F. Harrington, senior vice president at Mackenzie Retail, which does the leasing for Kenilworth.

"This ... has really been a successful project for us, and we really want to take it to the next level," said John Heekin, a partner with Kenilworth Limited Partners.

Despite its appearance, Kenilworth has remained an area favorite with a loyal following. The mall has had 20 percent sales growth in the past five years, Kenilworth officials said. Average sales are $394 per square foot, and Heekin expects that to grow to $450 per square foot as it attracts new tenants with the renovations. Nationally, malls averaged sales of $406 per square foot in August, according to International Council of Shopping Centers. Among Kenilworth's shops are Stebbins Anderson, a throwback in an era of huge hardware chains, and lacrosse gear retailer Lax World. The mall also houses the flagship Jos. A. Bank Clothiers men's store and South Moon Under, an upscale clothing store.

When Kenilworth opened in 1978, there wasn't as much shopping in the area. Shoppers then were drawn mainly to the Hochschild Kohn department store, a Baltimore retail institution that once anchored the mall. When Hochschild Kohn closed in 1987, Kenilworth lost some of its appeal.

Kenilworth Limited Partners became part owner of the mall in 1989 and bought out the rest of the partners in 1994. The new owner began an overhaul, replacing tenants typical of many strip shopping centers such as drugstores and liquor stores with higher-end boutiques. It also worked to differentiate itself from the larger malls.

Harrington said Kenilworth has succeeded by going after tenants different from those at Towson Town Center. He said Kenilworth officials saw the opportunity for improvements as Towson upgrades. The mall added a new parking deck a few years ago and will revamp the exterior of the mall by next summer.

"We needed new energy here," Harrington said. "We had gotten a little staid."

Kenilworth recently signed leases with Azura Clothing Co., a high-end clothing store in Rehoboth Beach, Del.; Fells Point Surf Co.; and Bluehouse, an eco-friendly housewares and furniture store that also has a location in Harbor East in Baltimore.

Ravyn Potts, the assistant manager at Azura, said Kenilworth was a good size for the boutique.

"We didn't want to get lost in a large mall," she said. "Here, it's easy and small."

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