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Blue Ridge dwindles to 10 stores

September 09, 1999

Blue Ridge BluesBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Movers packed up display racks and shelves Wednesday afternoon, removing the final remnants of the Tommy Hilfiger store at the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg.

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The closings of the Lenox store and the WSG Gallery have left the Crawford Building with no stores inside while Tuesday's closing of Bon Worth marked the departure of the last store on the second floor of the Berkeley Building.

Ten stores are now left scattered throughout two of the outlet center's three buildings on West Stephen Street in Martinsburg.

In it's heyday, Blue Ridge boasted more than 50 stores and restaurants.

"This is depressing," Torin Zielenski said.

Zielenski and his wife, Michelle, said they had planned to spend a day of their honeymoon shopping at Blue Ridge but were shocked to discover how many stores had left.

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Recalling how she and her parents would do their Christmas shopping at Blue Ridge, Michelle Zielenski said the now-empty halls are a far cry from the bustling outlet mall she remembered.

"There was always a lot of people and a lot of food. Now look at it," she said.

The last restaurant at Blue Ridge was replaced by vending machines after it closed this summer and no new stores have been brought in to fill an increasing amount of vacant space.

Blue Ridge owner Moncure Chatfield-Taylor did not return phone calls for comment Thursday.

Bob Reintsema, commissioner of the state Bureau of Commerce, said he was disappointed to see how many stores had left the outlet center.

"It's distressing to lose that many businesses. That's revenue we aren't getting from the state sales tax," Reintsema said.

Reintsema said he and other state officials met with Chatfield-Taylor during last week's visit by Gov. Cecil Underwood and his Cabinet.

Reintsema would not comment on specifics of the conversations but said optimism was expressed that Blue Ridge could be used for a nonretail purpose such as a college campus or a government center.

"We talked about potential options and uses," Reintsema said.

Chatfield-Taylor's public silence about the future of the outlet center has led to uncertainty for Dooney & Bourke store co-manager Pam Stolipher.

"They haven't told us anything. We still have no idea what will happen," Stolipher said.

The flight of stores out of the outlet center led The Paper Factory to rework its lease with Blue Ridge, but even a more economically viable lease is no guarantee the store will stay if the current trend continues, said Steve Rose, the vice president of retail development for The Paper Factory's parent company, Party Concepts Inc. in Appleton, Wis.

The company may keep the store at Blue Ridge through the Christmas holiday, but that possibility is "becoming increasingly more in doubt," Rose said.

"I don't want to be the last store there, and it's almost that bad," Rose said.

Competition from newer outlet centers in Hagerstown and Leesburg, Va., has taken its toll on Blue Ridge, Rose said.

"If anyone is to blame, it's the stores that have left. That includes us," Rose said.

Rose, however, said the attraction of newer outlets would have affected Blue Ridge even if his store had not opened up shop in Hagerstown.

The Woolrich Outlet Store has already 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.

Stores that have left the mall this year include Polo Ralph Lauren, Nautica, Dansk and the Corning Revere Factory Store.

Janet Lee and her husband, Arthur, looked in vain Wednesday for the Levis Outlet by Designs store, only to find it had closed since their last visit three years ago.

The Lees have made it a tradition to stop at the Blue Ridge on their trips from home in the Poconos to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Walking around the mall Wednesday, Janet Lee said she had not expected to see so many empty stores.

"I thought where is everything," she said. "Then I thought maybe I was in the wrong mall."

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