A $5 million renovation project at Hecht's Arlington store has kept customers away since construction began last August, according to store officials. But J. Warren Harris, chairman of Hecht's Co., said that this trend is expected to be reversed in a few weeks when renovation is completed.
"Right now, people have been staying away," said Harris. "But in a couple of weeks people will start coming back. When the entire mall is completed, we expect even more customers."
According to Harris, Hecht's prefers to anchor its stores within a mall because "it's been our experience that free-standing stores don't do as well as stores in malls."
The renovation of Hecht's is part of a larger plan to redesign the old Parkington Center on Wilson Boulevard and Glebe Road. The old mall, except for Hecht's, was demolished last year by its developers, May Centers Inc., the parent company of Hecht's. A slicker shopping mall is now under construction, to be completed by August of next year at a cost of $100 million.
The new three-level mall, renamed Ballston Commons, will house 125 trendy, upscale shops and a J C Penney. The design of the mall's interior will be similar to Georgetown Park, said Harris. A 3,500-space parking garage also is under construction.
Hecht's, the only store allowed to remain open during all the construction, spent $5 million to renovate the store. Renovation included adding a fifth floor, raising the height of the ceilings and replacing most of the inside fixtures with modern chrome-and-glass fixtures.
In addition to the renovations, Hecht's is in the process of moving its corporate headquarters from downtown D.C. to the Arlington store. In the last three weeks, about 500 corporate employes have been moved into the fourth and fifth floors of the store.
Another 100 to 200 are expected in the next two weeks, according to Harris.
The headquarters were moved because the new Metro Center Hecht's store in D.C. will not have enough space for these employes and because Arlington is relatively close to D.C., said Harris.
"Arlington in itself is experiencing tremendous growth," said Harris.
"This was also a factor in our moving the headquarters here."
There will be 115,000 square feet devoted to office space and 160,000 square feet devoted to retail space.
Renovation of the outside, as well as the inside, is helping Hecht's make the leap from the 1950s to the 1980s. The green tiles on the front of the store, popular in the 1950s, are being replaced with a rust-colored stucco finishing that will complement the rest of the mall.
"The old tiles stuck out like a sore thumb, so everyone is glad to see them gone," said Harris.
Customers who now shop at Hecht's have to walk under ladders and around buckets of plaster to get inside the store.
Katherine Nelson, a frequent customer, hasn't let construction keep her away. "I think it's great," she said. "I like what has been done. It's really improved the store."
The few who now make their way to Hecht's amid the construction, Harris said, are, for the most part, old local customers, such as Dorothy Nolton, who has lived in the area for 55 years. "I like the modern look," said Nolton, who has always shopped there. "But some of the new styles I don't care for very much."
The new styles are an attempt to cater to young professionals moving into Arlington, even though the older customer is still very important to Hecht's, said Kenneth Winfield, senior vice president of administrative services.
"We recognize that there is an increasing number of yuppies moving into this area and we are trying to accommodate them, but we're also maintaining the traditional," said Winfield. He pointed to a black and white combination of dishes and cups. "That's the sort of modern look we're trying to sell, but then we also have, next to that, this combination, which is more traditional."
In an effort to update the store, some areas have been expanded, such as women's sportwear and electronics. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Hecht's store at the old Parkington Center is undergoing $5 million in renovations while the rest of the mall is rebuilt. BY WAYNE PARTLOW -- The Washington Post