It might seem like a bad time to expand a retail business, with consumers cutting back drastically on spending and sales plummeting at many stores. But there are still some businesses thriving and looking to open up new stores.

Five such companies told a group of brokers and other retail and commercial real estate professionals they were looking for sites to expand their business in Maryland, Washington and Virginia during a session sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers on Thursday night.

Among those looking in the Baltimore area is up-and-coming burger joint Z-Burger, whose two restaurants have became a favorite in Washington. It's looking to open eight stores in the next year.

Eventually, the company wants to have 100 restaurants. Peter Tabibian, the chain's chief operating officer, said business was up 25 percent from last year with sales at its Tenleytown location bringing in $2.8 million. The burger chain, which has 75 flavors of milkshakes, is looking at several locations in Baltimore.

Tabibian said he has scouted property in White Marsh and Columbia. In Baltimore City, he has also looked at Fells Point, Belvedere Square and at sites near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Tabibian, who opened his first restaurant just last year, said his company has done well despite the economy because of marketing. The company has lots of promotions, including a recent hamburger-eating contest that help drive people to the restaurants.

"In a year, we've gone from nobody knowing who we are to being recognized," Tabibian said.

Noodles & Company, whose operations include sites in Pikesville, Hunt Valley Towne Centre and Westfield Annapolis Mall, is also looking to add more restaurants.

Lauren Pugliese, director of real estate for Noodles & Company, said they are interested in Towson and Harborplace - possibly in 2010. The chain plans to open 20 stores nationwide by the end of this year and 25 to 30 in 2010.

"We're doing well," Pugliese told the crowd. "We have positive comp sales and the chain is building and building."

The economy has made it tough even for companies doing well and looking to grow.

Cartridge World, which refills ink cartridges for computers, has seen business improve as companies looking to cut costs have been using its services.

"Businesses that would not have called us two years ago are now knocking down our doors to save money," said Brian Brandenburg, who does franchising for the company in the Mid-Atlantic.

He said people are interested in opening Cartridge World franchises, but they're having a hard time getting financing from banks. Brandenburg said banks are requiring applicants to have higher net worths and come with larger down payments than a few years ago.

"We're finding banks aren't opening their lender coffers for our franchises," Brandenburg said. The company has 650 stores nationwide, including one in Westminster, and is interested in opening more in the area in the next couple of years.

Tabibian is lucky to not have to depend on banks for financing. His family owns an import company and his partner owns a lot of real estate.

"I'm not worried about the cash," he said.

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