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Blue Ridge Outlet Center losing stores

February 18, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

Blue Ridge Outlet Center losing stores

[The outlet stores]

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Billboards for the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg boast more than 50 stores inside the shopping complex.

A walk through the three buildings that make up Blue Ridge tells a different story.

[cont. from front page]

Several stores have closed since late November, leaving the outlet mall at Stephen and Raleigh streets with 32 shops, including a candy store across the street.

American Eagle, Fuller Brush Outlet, Nine West, totes, Johnston and Murphy Footwear, Dress Barn Outlet, Technics Musical Instruments and London Fog are among the stores remaining.

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Others, including Britches Great Outdoors Factory Store, Jones New York and Perfumania closed in Blue Ridge and made the move to Prime Outlets at Hagerstown, which opened last August.

"The business I did in a week at Blue Ridge I can do in two days at Prime," said Perfumania Manager Brenda Dailey.

A manager at Pfaltzgraff, one of 12 companies that has stores at both Blue Ridge and Prime Outlets, said sales have dropped off in Martinsburg, but not dramatically.

"The two locations are doing well for us," said Michelle Andrie.

Michele Davis, manager of the Leather Loft at Blue Ridge, said Martinsburg is losing customers to the north in Hagerstown and to the south at a new outlet center in Leesburg, Va.

"We aren't as busy as we once were but we seem to be holding our own" Davis said. "I think sales are healthy enough to sustain us - at least I hope so."

With 80 stores already in place and plans to add 20 more stores this year, Prime Outlets is enjoying a bit of a boom, said General Manager Gil Brooker.

"Our stores are reporting they are exceeding their own projections," Brooker said.

Those in the best position to gauge the health of Blue Ridge aren't talking.

Tom Rice, general manager of Blue Ridge Outlets, said he takes a strict "no comment" approach to the outlet center.

Blue Ridge developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor did not return calls made by The Morning Herald.

The Blue Ridge Outlet Center opened in 1984 with four stores and grew to include about 58 stores in 1995. Since then, Blue Ridge has sold one of its buildings and has had a number of tenants opt not to renew their leases.

The increasing amount of empty space at Blue Ridge has caused concern for the City of Martinsburg and the Martinsburg Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce.

While Blue Ridge representatives have not approached city officials on the topic of dwindling business, Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin said the city is waiting to see if recent store departures are a sign of a developing pattern.

City officials fear more closings could cut into the city's tax base and have a domino effect on other businesses, including restaurants, hotels and gas stations.

"That's something that could happen, not something that has happened," said Baldwin.

Blue Ridge has been the topic at recent area Chamber of Commerce meetings among local business representatives who believed Prime Outlets would have an effect on Martinsburg.

"We've discussed it at Chamber meetings, but there really isn't a whole lot we can do," Chamber President Max Oates said. "We can't force businesses to stay if the dollars and cents aren't there."




-- list of outlets

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