Dearth of Stores

I read your piece on higher-end stores with great interest [Michelle Singletary's Talkin' Money column, Prince George's Extra, Oct. 20, 1999]. However, I think you have missed the point that the Prince George's customer is being dissed by businesses other than higher-end stores and, further, we can't afford this perception that we are not worthy of decent goods and services.

I have noticed that service seems reluctantly, if at all, offered to Prince Georgians even by some of the more moderately priced stores. I also shop these stores and would like to point out the somewhat peculiar locations of some of them. Did you realize that Kohl's in Bowie is the only location within Prince George's County and only by a mile and a half at that? The other Kohl's locations that are closest to me, though by no means convenient, are approximately three-tenths of a mile over the Montgomery County line and just over the Anne Arundel line in Laurel. One would think the executives of this chain were more concerned with some kind of contamination than patronization of their stores.

And how did you ever find out about that sale on those pantyhose? Kohl's doesn't include an advertisement in the Sunday Post delivered to me in Hyattsville; I have to borrow one from a Montgomery County friend. I feel it's not impossible that some day I will be carded and deloused at Kohl's automatic door.

Neither do I receive ads from Waccamaw-Homeplace or Linens and Things, the latter store probably located closer to me than any I've mentioned. I don't know about Wal-Mart's advertising practices. I know I've never received a flier, even though I signed up on their mailing list not long after the Laurel Wal-Mart opened. I also know the only Wal-Mart in Prince George's County is just down the road from Kohl's in Bowie, the Laurel store being safely over the line, across the street from Kohl's. Target at Largo is its only Prince George's location other than Bowie. Why then, does it seem that as soon as you escape the Prince George's County line, there is a Target on every other corner? "They can't build 'em fast enough" elsewhere, but Prince George's still can't occupy the former Garfinckel's site at Landover Mall.

All this to point out that if these moderately priced stores only grudgingly, if at all, peddle their goods to Prince George's County residents, what does that say about the way our county and its residents are perceived?

In the last 25 years, I have seen Prince George's County store buildings and shopping centers lose viable, varied businesses to pawn shops, liquor stores, check-cashing counters, dollar stores and laundromats. NationsBank, now Bank of America, has closed three branches in my immediate area in the last three years. And why not? Don't Prince George's County residents take care of all their financial needs at check-cashing counters and pawnshops? Can a county trying to build a healthier economic base afford this perception? How many of that "litany of reasons why we ain't good enough" have to do with perceptions like this one?

I have been a Prince George's County resident all of my 45 years, and although I am white, I suffer the same indignities and inconveniences as my black neighbors because of the perception of this area as populated solely by impoverished, uncultured losers.

Why should we have to trek to the Hecht's in Bowie for decent career clothes? Who is the target customer for Hecht's Prince George's Plaza? I see very little at that mall but high-priced athletic shoes and midriff tops for teenagers. As for not needing "low-end" stores (whatever that means), now that Woolworth and Murphy's are gone, where do I buy an inexpensive potholder or dish towel or a spool of thread?

I can't afford to shop at Lord & Taylor, and I'm not saying we need them in Prince George's County. But we have to come up with something better than what we've got or we may soon find ourselves forced to go to Rockville for anything more sophisticated than a six-pack of cheap beer.

Norma Belt


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