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Towson’s new stores fuel retail optimism

The owners of Towson Town Center unveiled five new stores Wednesday amid optimism that retail sales figures are increasing there and shoppers are starting to open their pocketbooks once again.

White House/Black Market is one of the five stores that will open in Towson Town Center’s second floor luxury wing this summer.

As a trio of musicians played upbeat Dixieland tunes, Charles P. Crerand, Towson Town Center’s senior general manager and an executive with mall owner General Growth Properties Inc., led a group of media and curious onlookers through the mall’s second floor “luxury” wing to unveil locations of the new stores: Lilly Pulitzer, Marbles: the Brain Store, Sur la Table, L’Occitane and a relocated and expanded White House/Black Market.

“This will step up the appeal of Towson Town Center to our core customers,” Crerand said.

None of the stores was open; Crerand said they would be ready this summer or by early fall.

In addition, workers were putting the finishing touches on an 8,000-square-foot project, also on the second-floor luxury wing, that sources said would hold a new and expanded Apple computer store this fall.

The 110,000-square-foot wing of the mall cost GGP $76 million and opened just as the recession hit in the fall of 2008. For the first year and a half, only 50 percent of the luxury wing was leased.

Nevertheless, the project has been celebrated as a way to offer upscale choices to suburban shoppers, including Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and BCBG. Tiffany & Co. opened a store in the wing in September 2010.

Sales figures for the mall are not public, but Crerand said the retail figures at the property have been steadily strong.

“Most of the merchants in this wing have performed strongly,” he said. “Overall, it’s a big success.”

The five new stores and the pending Apple store, relocated from a smaller space on the mall’s fourth floor, will nearly fill all of the available space on the luxury wing, Crerand said. Leases for two other stores are in negotiation, he said, leaving just two empty retail spaces near the Crate & Barrel store close to Dulaney Valley Road.

The Sur La Table and Lilly Pulitzer stores will be those chains’ first in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Anirban Basu, a local economist and chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc., said the new stores point to the establishment of Towson Town Center as a “viable center for luxury shoppers.”

“And that’s very good news,” Basu said. “It speaks to a part of the economy that seems to be doing reasonably well — luxury retail. There has been a rising demand for all kinds of luxury items recently, whether handcrafted leather goods, jewelry or automobiles.”

Overall, though, Basu cautioned that the addition of the new stores doesn’t signal that the local economy is rebounding.

“The message here is that I don’t think this speaks to the broader economy,” he said. “I don’t think we can interpret it as saying that the Baltimore economy is going to boom again.”

The more than 1 million-square-foot Towson Town Center opened in 1959. Then, it was an open-air shopping center that was enclosed and first expanded in the 1970s and then again in the 1990s. Crerand has said the property draws more than 14 million shoppers each year.

“Sales have been up every month this year and they have increased at Macy’s and Nordstrom, too,” Basu said of the mall’s two anchor stores. ‘We do see [retail] coming back now.”

Rachael Eagan, manager of the two-level Crate & Barrel store, stood outside her front door offering a light snack as the announcement was made. She said the addition of the new stores near her property will be a good addition.

“Hopefully, there will be more traffic,” Eagan said. “Sometimes there is no reason to walk the whole length of the wing — now with more stores, they will come.”