Until recently, Giant Food Inc. officials didn't consider Carroll County a large enough market for one of its supermarkets.
But with the rush of residential growth in the county in the last decade, the Baltimore-Washington region's largest grocer is preparing to open its first supermarket in the county.
The new store is to open April 17 in a new development called Cranberry Square, on Md. 140 in Westminster next to the four-year-old Cranberry Mall. The new Giant will be the Landover-based chain's 153rd store in a market that covers Maryland, Virginia and Washington.
Giant sees its market for the store as being all of Carroll County, except the heavily developed area around Eldersburg. Not that Giant will have the market to itself. Company officials identified Super Fresh, Martin's and Weis among big supermarkets that have preceded it to the Carroll County seat.
"We will meet competition," company spokesman Barry Scher said.
Giant expects to employ more than 180 people at the Westminster store, about two-thirds of them part-time. However, about 100 of those jobs will be filled by workers who have requested transfers to Westminster from Giant stores elsewhere, said David White, the company's employment representative for the greater Baltimore area.
For the 80 or so jobs he plans to fill locally, between 800 and 1,000 people have applied, White said. That's more than Giant usually gets for a store opening, he said, attributing the response to the economic slump of recent months. Most of those applications came in just the three days, he said.
In addition to traditional supermarket fare, the new Giant will offer a gourmet meats department, a delicatessen, a pharmacy and a prepared foods section.
With Cranberry Mall and the new Giant, "the potential to mutually draw customers is definitely there," said Bill Jenne, of the county Economic Development Office. "When a company like Giant moves into your area, they tend to attract a lot of smaller merchants who like to lease space in the same development."
The Giant will anchor Cranberry Square, whose developer, The KMS Group of Columbia, expects to have about 20 stores. The company has signed up 12 tenants so far, KMS spokesman Larry Lichtenauer said.
Giant has had its eye on Carroll County since the opening of the last leg of Interstate 795 in 1986. Only in recent years has residential growth reached a critical mass for Giant to consider opening a supermarket in the area, said Gene Doerfler, Giant's director of locations. As Giant kept enlarging its prototype store for Maryland over the last 10 years, it needed a bigger market to sustain one.
The new store will be be about 56,000 square feet, Doerfler said -- typical for Giant operations in Maryland.
Although Carroll's growth has been slowed by the hard times pervading the state's economy, Doerfler sees the new Giant as being positioned to benefit from a rebound.
"When the economy turns around, there's going to be a lot of residential development taking place in Carroll County," he said.