On the first floor near the nut shop, not far from the tubular glass elevator and inside La Boucherie Bernard, is the meat. It might be assumed that veal is veal, steak is steak, liver is liver. But the meat of White Flint, a shopping center in Montgomery County, claims to be something else.
"La Boucherie Bernard introduces the first designer line for meat," says one store's brochure. "The best-dressed meat in town comes to you clad in clear, pure nylon. Nylon packaging so durable, sheer, you might think of it as a stocking. Our cuts are tucked lovingly into our fashionable signature bags because you'll want everyone to know you bought the best dressed meats in town."
Around the elevator and the fountain, down the cobble-stoned Via Rialto, is the Perfect Cup.Edith Kingston often drinks coffee there. She is public relations director for White Flint. She formerly held a similar job for Bergdorf Goodman in New York.
"The consumer taste in Washington is now on a par with New York," she says. "I would say it's been equal for the last year or two. Before that, there was quite a difference. The fashion here was a bit conservative, never right on the mark. Today we come in with the most advanced styles. Five years ago, maybe, White Flint couldn't have succeeded."
Five years ago, White Flint was an old golf course off Rockville Pike in south Rockville. Today it is a $50 million, 800-square-foot, three-storied enclosed shopping mail in North Bethesda. The land did not move, even though the address is different. The proprietors of White Flint just like the ring of North Bethesda.They are meticulous about sounds, names and impressions.
In fact, they do not really want you to call what they have created a mail. "A shopping environment" is acceptable, but even that is too definitive. What they want White Flint to do, according to the radio advertisement, is to leave people awe-struck, at "a loss . . . for . . . words."
So where does one begin describing a place that promises to leave you at loss for words? Some would begin, perhaps, at the Discount Record and Book Shop, where they are selling a new book entitled "poplollies and Bellibones: A Celebration of Lost Words."
There is a lost word in this book, a verb, called "to spuddle." Its definition: "To assume airs of importance; to make trifles seem important."
White Flint spuddles more than any shopping center in the Washington area. It spuddles with valet parking, with two premier stores, Bloomingdale's and Lord & Taylor with a third on the way, I. Magnin, with a Mediterranean-style street, Via Rialto, and a recreated Georgetown M Street, to open this fall, with designer meats, dresses, furs, jewels, suits, shoes, pipes, sheets, ties and trinkets, with custom-designed shops and piped in classical music. Even the ashtrays at White Flint spuddle - they are filled with a fine, dark-grained sand that lends a certain elegance to a cigarette butt.
The trifles at White Flint are, in essence, an art form. Many people appreciate it; many don't. The difference between White Flint and downtown Washington is comparable to the difference between the Houston Astrodome and Fenway Park. One is flashy, brilliant, sharp-edged, homogenized and clean. The other is well-worn, unorganized and inimitable.
Enough people prefer White Flint to fill its lanes, shops, movie houses and top-floor, gardened restaurants to capacity on most weekends, to make it a social, as well as shopping center.
The spuddling at White Flint began a year before the shops opened in the spring of 1977. It started with a series of magazine and newspaper advertisements that won awards (ANDYs) from the New York Advertising Club. These ads offered a glimpse of what would be done at White Flint - Rialtoing, Eat Streetling, Plain and Fancying, Bloomingdaleing, Friday Nighting, Lord & Tayloring and, of course, Name-Dropping.
"Emily Post would hardly approve of name-dropping," said one of the advertistments, "But then Emily Post never experienced anything quite like White Flint."
H. V. Waldrove, a member of the Dutch National Food Institute, had never experienced anything quite like White Flint before he stopped by the other day on the first day of a national tour of shopping mails.
It's quite different from anything we would recognize," said Waldrove. "It is clear that the consumer who buys products here must have a high income.I've been in America less than 24 hours, but I don't think this is America. This is a very special part of America. The highest part."
The White Flint promoters partially agree with that assessment.
"There was a time when places like Bergdorf's made special efforts to restrict their business to the carriage trade," says Kingston. "A shopping mall cannot cater solely to that trade. We don't want to be known for supersophisicated merchandising. You can get a $15 pair of jeans here or a $15,000 coat."
There are many things, however, that you cannot get a White Flint. There are no discount stores of the Sears and Penneys variety, no drug stores, no five and dimes, no hardware or auto or full-stocked sporting good stores.
Thus, although White Flint does not stop customers at the door to check their annual incomes people who buy things there tend to be in the over $30,000-a-year bracket, they tend to go to White Flint without children, and they tend to go out without knowing exactly what they are looking for.
Lenoard Kolodny is the retail bureau manager of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade. He is also an avid shopper.
"When my wife and I go shopping, we usually know precisely what we want," he says. "In those instances, we usually go to Montgomery Mail . . .
"We go to White Flint for different reasons. It's relaxing to walk around listening to classic music. It's almost a museum atmosphere. And, if you want sophisticated ready-to-wear clothing, you go there. I have a sense that many people go to White Flint to look and to other places to buy.
That may be true to some extent, but the people who do buy things at White Fint apparently buy enough to keep the stores in business.
"The people who do come in (to his White Flint store) spend an awful lot of money," says Robert Radner, proprietor of Radner's of California, a bracelet and purse-oriented store. "We had a princess from Japan or some place like that who came in here the other day and spend several hundred dollars in less than a half-hour. That's common here. You get dignitaries and all of Washington's rich freedloader.
Theodore N. Lerner, the owner of this mall, and developer of several others, reported in February that sales volume for the first nine months was 27 percent ahead of projections.
"The figures are staggering," he said. "Beyond our wildest dreams."
White Fint is, first and foremost, Lerner's dream. "Everything about this place is Teds," say Kingston. "He's the one who controlled what type of store got in, he had those stores custom-design their facilites to make them stand out."TLerner, who declined to be interviewed, also controls the hours for all the White Flint shops and the advertising for the mall. Most malls have a merchant's association to do that; at White Flint, merchants pay an annual advertising stipened to lerner who decides how the place will be promoted.
For the last several weeks, the key promotion has been the "lost for words" radio advertistment, which was developed by Diane Dym of Weitzman a Associates Ind. "We commposed the music for the ad," says Dym. "We wanted to reflect how unique and fantastic this place is." Dym said, "We came up with a sexy, Streisand-type of style for it."
Style is what White Flint continually strives for. Old style and new style. Lerner now plans to introduce a new restaurant and bar - the Intermission - which will feature disco dancing and tuxedo-wearing waitresses. "It will be the first shopping mall disco in the country," says Steve Leipsner, who runs the mall's food ventures. "We want people to spend their whole day and night at White Flint - shopping, eating, going to the movies (there are five movie houses), and dancing."
Henry Fairlie, the British journalist, spent one hour at White Flint once. That was enough for him. "I realized that this is not meant to last," he later wrote. "A vast temple is built, where the citizens go to venerate their only god, pouring their money into his lap, and yet it is less substantial than Novick's general store or the Mizell's lumber yard."
Although Novick's and Mizell's - two neighborhood stores in Montgomery County - have not asked to get into White Flint, many other stores have, fully aware that leasing space here costs between $12 to $50 per square foot. The White Flint leasing department estimates that about 100 applications are rejected each week.
"White Flint is based on the assumption that downtown is not viable," says Kingston. "This is one wonderful alternative."