Retailers face uncertainty as White Flint Mall prepares to shut down -- Gazette.Net


After more than 30 years in business at White Flint Mall, Esterman Estate Jewelers has closed its doors. Customers walking the mall are sparse, and empty storefronts are scattered among the retailers still in operation.

Esterman Estate Jewelers, which opened in 1980, had seen fewer customers and declining sales recently.

Steven Sharabany ran the store on the second level of White Flint Mall. His son, Eric Sharabany, said the 10-hour work days, six days a week, became too much for his 74-year-old father. When the lease was up, he decided to close the store and retire.

“Business has been down,” Eric Sharabany said. “There’s not a lot of stores in the mall, so there hasn’t been a lot of foot traffic.”

White Flint Mall’s owners, Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos., are preparing to tear down most of the 1977 indoor shopping center to make way for a new transit-oriented, mixed-use town center complex. Under a sketch plan approved in October, developers will demolish all but Lord and Taylor, the mall’s last anchor store. The owners have not yet said exactly when construction will begin, but a county planner said the approval process to begin building will take at least a couple of years.

Not far from Esterman Estate Jewelers’ former location, Bert Oser owns and operates Bertram’s Inkwell, a high-end writing instruments store he started in the mall in 1985. Oser said he has also seen a decline in business recently.

“Our mall business ... has been as you would expect in a mall that is closing down ­— abysmal, at best,” he said.

Fortunately for Oser, about a third of his business comes from trade shows and Internet sales, so those sources make up for the lost business at his physical store.

Oser said his lease isn’t up for another three years, although he would be open to moving out before then, depending on the timeline for redevelopment. Until he finds that out, his plans for relocating are somewhat up in the air.

“The only plan we have is an idea that we want to move north about a mile, and that’s about it,” he said.

After the mall comes down and a mixed-use development takes its place, Oser said, he might be interested in moving into the new development, but that could be way down the road. Nkosi Yearwood, a planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said developers still have to submit a site plan before they can begin to build the mall’s replacement.

“Construction would be at least two years out,” he said.

Representatives from Lerner Enterprises did not return calls by press time.

The proposed redevelopment project’s sketch plan calls for building a town center area in three stages on a 45-acre property. It includes 21 buildings at heights from 50 to 250 feet along Rockville Pike and an extended Executive Boulevard. Under the plan, Lord and Taylor would be surrounded by almost 4.2 million square feet of new high-rise office, residential and hotel buildings, as well as more than 1 million square feet of new retail space around an outdoor piazza.