The Peebles Department Store at Free State Mall in Bowie is closing its doors in August and will lay off about 40 employees, ending nearly four decades as an area fixture.
As part of a mall redevelopment plan, Giant Food, which has been an anchor store at the shopping center since the mall opened in 1972, will move from its current spot to Peebles's vacated space. The new Giant will have more room and will offer more services.
"In a nutshell, the shopping center is in need of a renovation," said Theresa Vivona, spokeswoman for JBG Rosenfeld Retail, a Bethesda real estate developer and the mall's owner. Peebles's lease was ending, and Giant wanted to update its old store, the developer said. The new Giant is scheduled to open in the spring.
This is the second phase of a plan to remake the mall into an outdoor-style shopping center like the popular Bowie Town Center, which opened in 2001.
"People are outraged that it's closing," said Lisa Sidgwick, a Peebles assistant store manager. "They've shopped here for 40 years. It's an end of an era."
Peebles, with headquarters in South Hill, Va., began as a single department store in 1891 and now operates more than 140 stores in the mid-Atlantic, southeastern and Midwestern states. There are seven other Peebles Department Stores in Maryland. Last November, Peebles was acquired by Houston-based Stage Stores Inc., which operates department stores mainly in the south-central United States.
The Peebles in Bowie opened in 1967 across from Free State Mall and moved to the shopping center in the mid-1990s for a bigger location.
"Compared to similar size stores that we have, it's just [that] the store did not perform as well," said Steve Hannah, vice president of marketing for Peebles. "The competitive landscape has changed dramatically in the Bowie area over the last five or six years. More retailers have moved into the area, which had an effect."
Peebles employees knew the end was coming. The number of shoppers fell and the store's sales slowed when Sears, another mall anchor, left for Bowie Town Center two years ago. The employees received word of the closing in late March.
Jean Colton lives in Bowie and has been shopping for dress clothes at Peebles for years. "I was surprised in a way, but every time I had come in the last several times, I guess I had noticed there weren't as many people in here," Colton said. "But I didn't really think it would close, because it's been here for so long."
Mary Nusser, 48, who grew up in Bowie and is president of the Bowie High Alumni Association, said she feels bad for the community and the workers. "I'm sad," she said. "I bought my clothing there. They really are the ones that have my tennis shoes."
Peebles suggested its loyal customers could shop at its nearest store, in Prince Frederick, but its employees say that's too far a drive for many of their regular customers -- or for them to seek transfers there.
Giant seems willing to extend a helping hand.
"With a larger store, there will be additional new jobs," said Jamie Miller, spokesman for Giant. "We're probably looking at hiring 50 new positions for the new store."
The Free State Mall project is part of a broader revitalization effort by city leaders, business owners and developers to remake the Route 450 corridor into the town's Main Street, where people can walk around to shop or sit down to dine. With a new performing arts auditorium slated to open this fall at nearby Bowie High School, residents are readying for a community facelift.
"This has been a long time coming and has taken a lot of work," said Valerie Bennett, a City Council member who represents northern Bowie. She once owned an office supply and services store at Free State Mall. "It's great to finally see some results."
Some residents, however, are still taken aback by Peebles's closing.
Bowie resident Shantel Wade was driving when she saw the racks of clothes outside the Peebles store and a giant "Going Out of Business" banner. With her 1-year-old daughter Shamya in tow, Wade decided to see what was going on -- and take advantage of last week's special discount of 20 percent off everything.
"I was just here a couple of weeks ago buying some shoes for her, and they didn't even have the going-out-of-business sign up there," said Wade, 26. "So, it's a shock."
A Peebles regular, Wade shops for perfumes and for clothes for her daughter and husband, whose birthday is coming up.
With Peebles soon to be gone, Wade said she will find some consolation in the new and improved Giant.
"Well, this Giant has been here since I was a little girl, so they still have the same outline and store display, not like the new Giants that now have banks and things like that inside of them," she said. "It would be a positive change for Giant, but it would be a sad thing for Peebles."