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More stores leaving Blue Ridge

August 03, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Uncertainty surrounding the Blue Ridge Outlet Center continues to grow with the departure of more stores from the Martinsburg shopping center.

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Lenox will close its doors in the Crawford Building Sept. 6, leaving WSG Gallery as the last remaining tenant in that building.

Tommy Hilfiger will close its store in the Dunn Building in September but has not set a final day for business yet, company spokeswoman Catherine Fisher said.

The Woolrich Outlet Store has closed the clearance items side of its store in the Dunn Building and employees have told customers Woolrich will close its Blue Ridge store in October, although Woolrich workers on Tuesday would not comment on the store's plans.

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A Lenox manager declined to comment on the reason for closing.

A Tommy Hilfiger spokeswoman said the company decided not to renew its lease with Blue Ridge.

Big Dog Sportswear and Van Heusen have already left Blue Ridge, joining a growing list of recent departures that includes Polo Ralph Lauren, Nautica, Dansk, Levi's Outlet by Designs and the Corning Revere Factory Store.

The latest round of Blue Ridge closings leaves 12 stores spread out through the outlet center's three buildings on Stephen and Raleigh streets in Martinsburg.

The dwindling number of stores in an outlet center that once boasted more than 50 shops is frustrating, Tommy Hilfiger saleswoman Vicki Bohrer said.

"I get a lot of customers telling me they're disappointed that the outlet center is closing," Bohrer said.

Blue Ridge owner Moncure Chatfield-Taylor has not announced any plans to close the outlet center and has repeatedly declined comment on the mall's future.

He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"We would like to know what's going on. The owner of the outlet center has left us in the dark," Dooney & Bourke store Co-Manager Pam Stolipher said.

"Nine out of 10" customers who come into Dooney & Bourke ask when then the store is closing, Stolipher said.

"It's very frustrating not knowing what's going to happen," she said.

A New York firm that rates investment bond risks predicted last month that Blue Ridge would be at least 75 percent empty by the end of September.

Blue Ridge is collateral for a $13.5 million loan but has been rendered "functionally obsolete" by competing outlet centers in Hagerstown and Leesburg, Va., according to a report by Standard & Poor's.

Managers at several stores at Blue Ridge said they have no plans to leave the outlet center.

"I'm not going anywhere. I'll be one of the last to go," Capacity store Manager Suzy Cowger said.

Among those expressing similar sentiments were managers at Pfaltzgraff, Hawkins Leather, WSG Gallery, Factory Brand Shoes, Bon Worth, the L'eggs/Hanes/Bali/Playtex store, Book Warehouse and the Paper Factory.

The Robert Scott & David Brooks store in the Berkeley Building has addressed the issue of the store's future at the Blue Ridge by holding a "We Are Not Leaving" sale.

Paper Factory Manager Nancy Ferner said officials with her company have told her they plan to keep their Blue Ridge store open through at least December.

"But the picture changes all the time," Ferner said.

The lack of any new stores coming to replace the departing ones doesn't ease concerns about the future, she said.

In addition to cutting back the hours of operation for the outlet center, Ferner said Blue Ridge operators no longer have anyone staffing the information booth.

"That's the straw that broke the camel's back," Ferner said. "Nobody knows what's going to happen. That's the big thing, it's the unknown."

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