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21,000 pack Prime Outlets for opening

August 08, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

More than 21,000 shoppers swarmed the new 51-store Prime Outlets at Hagerstown Friday for a grand opening marked by unrestrained fanfare, praise from shoppers and officials, and huge crowds.

"I know from the crowds we are already seeing ... this center is well on its way to being Maryland's outlet shopping destination," said Brian Downie, vice president of development of Prime Retail, the center's Baltimore-based owner.

Shoppers flooded the center by 4:30 p.m., according to the company's traffic counts.

They were first wave of what is expected to be 50,000 shoppers this weekend. The stores kept busy as customers searched for bargains, while cramming the 1,800-space parking lot and backing up traffic onto nearby roads.

"It's very nice. The prices are very good and I just think there are a wide assortment of stores," said Donna Vest, 34, of Fairplay.

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"I think it's great. It saves us a lot of driving down to Frederick and Martinsburg looking for things," said Amy Everett, 31, of Hagerstown.

Sandy Curtis, manager of Book Cellar, said crowds were about as big as she anticipated, but that she expects to see many more shoppers today.

"People are at work right now. (Saturday) is going to be awesome," she said Friday afternoon.

Grand opening festivities included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a fashion show, performances by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's brass quintet, and kudos from Prime Retail officials and local politicians, including U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md.

Many marveled at the relatively quick construction of the center, which had its ground-breaking last December.

"I never imagined (then) that this beautiful, beautiful operation would be in place today," said state Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

A 1,000-pound cake, featuring the center's facade, was cut into thousands of pieces and given away to customers. The center also gave away flowers, balloons and bottles of water to customers walking about the courtyard of the open, village-style center.

Stores include Nike, J. Crew, Nine West, OshKosh B'gosh, Nautica and Jones New York. The center also has a food court, customer service center, a children's playground, an ATM and a drop box to mail packages.

"I don't feel like I'm in Hagerstown when I'm here. I feel like I'm at the beach or something," Everett said.

"It's very modern, which you don't see that much of in Hagerstown," said Kathy Henson, 37, of Hagerstown.

Mall workers spent much of this week painting, cleaning, planting flowers, adding parking spaces and attending to other last-minute details for the 218,000-square-foot center, located near the interchange of Interstate 70 and Md. 65.

Many of the stores opened before Friday, and the steady stream of shoppers was a indication of bigger things to come for William H. Carpenter Jr., president and chief operating officer for Prime Retail.

"It gives me a tremendous sense this will be one of our best openings ever," Carpenter said. Prime Retail has 50 outlet centers in 26 states, covering 14 million square feet.

The grand opening ceremonies actually marked the first of what is planned to be a three-phase construction project for the center. The initial section, with room for 60 stores and food vendors, will employ 400 retail, management and maintenance workers.

The second phase, about 100,000 square feet with 25 additional stores, already is under construction and is expected to open this fall.

A final phase, to be added as more leases are signed, will give the outlet center a total of 100 stores covering more than 418,000 square feet, with an estimated 800 employees.

"Good things are happening in Washington County and this is certainly one of them," said state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

The first phase alone is expected to draw about 3 million people annually, according to Prime Retail. And for many of those shopping Friday, it felt as if that many people were already there, filling the courtyard walkways. Lines at the food court stretched for more than 70 feet.

"It's a little too crowded," said Mark Hurwtiz, 34, of Hagerstown.

"I just want to leave," said Stephen Paugh, 21, a Sharpsburg resident who was becoming quickly exasperated with the crowd, especially those shoppers who quickly moved from store to store.

"You've got to watch for those doors flying open," he said.

But big crowds also mean big money. Prime Retail estimates the first phase will produce $40 million to $60 million a year in sales, generating state sales taxes of between $2 million and $3 million.

Local officials also are hopeful the many out-of-town customers expected will use the center as a springboard for visiting other local attractions.

"We look forward to the economic development this center can bring to our community," said County Commissioner John S. Shank.

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