HAMPSTEAD - They don't do much shopping these days at the Hampstead Village Shopping Center.
The Black Rock Road strip mall -- formerly the home of a small grocery store, a video rental shop and a pizza parlor -- has been vacant for more than year now, a year in which retail growth elsewhere in town has been steady.
Fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and small businesses have been built, boosting Hampstead's property tax base and economic well-being.
It is that economic growth that the Columbia-based developers of Roberts Field Shopping Center -- now taking shape less than a mile from the empty Hampstead Village -- are banking on.
"Hampstead is a rapidly growing area, and it is becoming a bedroom community for Owings Mills and Baltimore," said Christopher Kurz, chairman of the center's developers, McGill Development Ltd. "There is a very limited supply of retail in the area. If you want to reach eastern Carroll, Hampstead is where you have to be."
Roberts Field has some things going for it that Hampstead Village didn't, such as an anchor tenant with a proven track record. It is also along heavily traveled Route 30, a far more visible and accessible location than the off-the-beaten-path Black Rock Road.
Ann Kramer, the Reisterstown attorney who developed the Hampstead Village Shopping Center, could not be reached for comment.
The new 81,000-square-foot center will be anchored by a 39,000-square-foot Weis Market, and is expected to be the home of a card shop, a Chinese restaurant, a dry cleaners, a video store, and at least a dozen other stores, Kurz said. The $8 million project is about 25 percent leased, and Kurz said he is negotiating with several undisclosed national retailers to fill more space.
The Weis Market -- the 14th Maryland outlet for the Sunbury, Pa.-based grocer -- could be the key to the center's financial success.
"Strip malls die to get that major hub," said Chris Bair, an investment broker with the Westminster office of Legg Mason. "You've got to have a draw, something that brings folks to the other shops in the center."
Weis has the highest profit margins of any grocery concern in the country -- some 6.97 percent of sales. The second-most profitable grocery company is Landover-based Giant Foods, with profits totaling 3.33 percent of sales.
And, unlike the small, independent grocery store that was once part of Hampstead Village, Weis appears to be in Roberts Field to stay.
"We've been expanding into Maryland for the last five years," said Carol Ernst, the company's director of consumer services. "We studied Hampstead very carefully, found out we have a customer base, and know we can compete effectively."
Roberts Field will be the company's second location in Carroll. It also will be the only full-sized grocery in Hampstead when it is completed sometime next year.
The addition of Roberts Field to the business mix of Hampstead is getting good reviews from town business people.
"It's going to be a beautiful shopping center," said Jackie Hyatt, a longtime town business booster and owner of Hyatt's Animal Boutique on Main Street. "And while the piece of the economic pie is not that big here, we do have growth. I think the shopping center should do well."
Roberts Field has been in the works for about two years. The center, now under construction, is set to be completed by mid-1991.