New GM Considers Improvements for Owings Mills Mall
Owings Mills Mall is here to stay—at least for now, the new general manager says, and he hopes to change it for the better.
While plenty of reasons exist to give up on Owings Mills Mall—its rows of empty storefronts, lack of customers and the public's general speculations of failure—newly appointed general manager Clinton Cole says he won't be throwing in the towel anytime soon.
As the once teeming epicenter of commerce and community has steadily declined over the years, rumors about its future have grown. Cole, who replaced Charles Crerand as manager on March 16, wants to put them to rest.
"We're not tearing it down, we're not closing it up," Cole said. "We're looking into ways to improve for our customers."
The mall is owned by General Growth Properties, which operates seven malls in Maryland, including The Mall in Columbia, Towson Town Center and White Marsh Mall. It has been open since 1985 and seen the likes of Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Sears as some of its anchors.
GGP was due to emerge from bankruptcy in 2010, "freeing it of millions of dollars of debt and putting the company in a better position to reinvest in its properties," according to a Baltimore Sunreport.
Emerge it may. Cole said that since he began at the Owings Mills location, he has been considering his options for improving the mall. One idea is to relocate vendors to a central area, which could help with business and recreate foot traffic, he said. It could also make some of the existing storefronts happier.
Jasmine Highsmith, associate manager at Payless Shoes, said her shop is located at the end of the lonely corridor near the former Boscov's anchor store. Surrounded by empty storefronts, Highsmith said the store is often overlooked because of its location and rarely sees any foot traffic outside its doors.
"I would love to have us move closer in (near other stores)," she said. "But is the mall going to help us?"
Highsmith said that because of the store's specific layout, another location would require some renovations, and she's not sure that Payless would be willing to foot the bill.
One of the mall's two existing anchor stores, JCPenny, is the only reason Celeste Beverly, of Charles Village, said she makes the trip to Owings Mills. Macy's is the other anchor.
"It's a ghost town," she said. "We used to shop a lot out here, with my mom, my grandma. Not anymore."
She said she was dubious that clustering the stores together would make a big difference.
"You rarely see people in here," she said. "I don't think it's going to do very much."
For shopper Silvia Salazar, who has lived in Owings Mills for 15 years, visiting the mall has become a matter of convenience. It used to be one of her favorite places to go, but now she travels to the Towson Town Center to find what she needs, she said.
"I have my kids, so I'll come during the day," she said. "It's definitely not what it was when I first moved here. I don't see much around."
Cole said he's hopeful that while he continues to focus on his day-to-day tasks, merchandise, sales and the summer will bring more shoppers. The odds are against him, with Owings Mills Mallclassified as a “dead mall” since 2005 on Deadmalls.com, a website that provides a directory and history of malls across the country.
Users who submitted reviews of the mall on the website said crime and inaccessibility have led to its plight. A path from the Metro Center to the mall was closed in 1992 after a mall employee leaving work was shot and killed, according to a Baltimore Sun report. An Owings Mills High graduate was killed in 2001 after a drug deal gone bad, according to the Owings Mills Times.
For now, Cole has at least one shopper on his side. Salazar said she hasn't given up either.
"I hope it gets better," Salazar said. "I like Owings Mills Mall. I don't want to go out of my own town to shop."