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Regulars keep Blue Ridge outlets afloat

December 14, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The usually hectic holiday shopping season has not caught on at Blue Ridge Outlet Center, where only six stores remain.

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Pam Stolipher, co-manager at Dooney & Bourke in the Dunn Building, said customer traffic has been lower than one might expect for the time of year.

Still, the leather goods store does not plan to close because it has a good regular customer base, Stolipher said.

Unlike many of the stores that have closed at the three-building outlet center on West Stephen Street, Dooney & Bourke does not have stores at the outlets in Hagerstown or Leesburg, Va., so customers still shop in Martinsburg, she said.

The clothing store Capacity also has a good regular customer base, said Manager Suzy Cowger.

"My business is still good every day," Cowger said.

Capacity, Dooney & Bourke, Robert Scott & David Brooks and Factory Brand Shoes plan to stay at the Martinsburg outlet center.

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Book Warehouse officials said they haven't made a decision yet about whether to stay or leave.

The Paper Factory, which has stores at the newer outlet centers in Hagerstown and Leesburg, is closing its Martinsburg store on Jan. 8, said Manager Nancy Ferner.

The store's business is down because it is no longer fully stocked, Ferner said.

Many items have been marked down, and soon those items will be marked down an additional 50 percent, Ferner said.

The once busy outlet center has seen a dramatic drop in tenants during the last year with competition from the newer outlet malls.

Despite the decrease in weekend foot traffic from those closings, some of the neighboring independent stores are doing well.

"We're impacted by the loss of traffic, but our local people are supporting us," said Carla Hopkins, whose husband owns Roses, Garden & Treasures on Stephen Street.

The floral and gift shop also has built up its out-of-state customer base during the last two years, with some people from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania visiting every three months, she said.

The shop also holds a November open house with The House With the White Picket Fence gift shop next door and with Ambassador Flags on South Raleigh Street.

That event was even more successful this year, Hopkins said.

"Whether the outlets survive or not, we'll survive," Hopkins said.

Ambassador Flags owners Tom and Jackie Keys said their business is booming.

The Keys and Peggy LeMaster, owner of The House With the White Picket Fence, said they would like to see something happen at the outlet center so the buildings don't go to waste.

Shepherd College is still considering the outlet center as a possible site for a Martinsburg branch of the college, said college spokesman Tim Haines.

Blue Ridge owner Moncure Chatfield-Taylor could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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