One week before Drug Emporium was to open in Pasadena Crossroads, formerly known as Jumper's Mall, store officials got just the thing they'd been working toward for months. A shopper.
There she was, pushing her cart down wide, well-lighted aisles, scrutinizing prices, grabbing health and beauty products off well-stocked shelves.
Nothing seemed amiss to this shopper. She never noticed that she was the store's sole customer, that no cashiers stood ready to ring her purchases, that a cardboard sign on the front door claimed the store hadn't opened.
Only one thing registered in this shopper's mind: savings.
Manager Kevin Ramminger admired her enthusiasm, but had to tell her the supermarket-sized drugstore wouldn't open until this Thursday.
When the doors do open for business at 9 a.m., Ramminger expects many more eager customers to be drawn by discount prices.
The Ohio-based chain, which opened a store last year in Glen Burnie, is continuing its major expansion into the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area with the 25,000-square-foot Pasadena store and another store opening this week in Laurel.
Drug Emporium Inc. runs 200 franchise and corporate stores nationwide, eight in Maryland and Virginia. The company plans to open seven more stores in the Washington suburbs by March, said Vice President Robert J. Ramsey.
The Pasadena opening also marks the end of Jumper's Mall's metamorphosis to Pasadena Crossroads, a strip-shopping center made up of such large stores as K Mart, Burlington Coat Factory, Basics & More Food Market and Kiddie City.
"Everyone will be drawing everyone else's customers," Ramminger said.
"With the movies, Burlington's and a restaurant here, it's a well-balanced mix."
The former mall of about 25 small stores had suffered from increased competition along commercially saturated Ritchie Highway, where the shopping center sits at the corner of Jumpers Hole Road. During the past eight years, as many as 30 smaller stores moved out.
"The mall was dead," said Dwight Sweatt, manager of the 15-year-old K Mart. "We (K Mart) were drawing everyone."
Four years ago, the Connecticut-based Hooper Co. took over the mall and started overhauling its image.
Now, new stores like Drug Emporium are breathing life into the center.
In August, the nation's first My House home-furnishing outlet, a division of the Jamesway Corp., opened in a 45,000-square-foot space.
The addition of Drug Emporium could force K Mart to lower prices on some of its similar products, Sweatt said.
Drug Emporium managers, meanwhile, say they'll meet anyone's price on 25,000 items of predominantly drug, health and beauty products.
"We don't mark up the retail price once an item is on the floor," Ramsey said. "We let customers buy everything we have at that price. If the retail price goes down, we put a lower retail out there."
They can do that, managers say, by buying in volume and cutting out the middle man.
Ramminger buys directly from 400 vendors, who deliver the merchandise themselves. That cuts Drug Emporium's need for a distribution center and delivery people.
Friday, two weeks after crews in the Pasadena store began installing shelves, vendors had nearly completed stocking them. Some of the store's 30 employees were arranging displays.
Ten years ago, when Ohio businessman Phil Wilbur started the chain with one store in Columbus, "there was nobody out there imitating what we do," Ramminger said. "It caught on real quick."