Leedmark: 'Sensory Overload'

It's Big, It's Surreal And It's In Glenburnie

May 29, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

AT LAST — fresh octopus, men's socks and a computerized cake-decorating systemunder one roof.

It's about time.

Imagine, you used to have to chase around to three different stores to find this stuff, if you could find it at all. And picture the hassle if you also needed a can of custom-mixed paint, a box of lava rocks, a lawn chair and a live trout.

Those were the old days, before the French stepped ashore with a $10 million Leedmark store, billed as the cutting edge of retail. When they did, they chose Glen Burnie.

Since last week, New Ordnance Road near Route 10 has been home to what the public relations people call America's first "hybrid market," a combination K mart, Safeway, True Value, Circuit City, T.J. Maxx, CVS pharmacy, bookstore and office supply center. It's the sort of place where you might stop in for a package of turkey pastrami and,on the way out, pick up a biography of William Faulkner and a small outboard motor.

Sure, it's big. The sales floor alone nearly fits three football fields. The whole place -- the warehouses, children's play rooms, bakery, food concessions -- comprises seven acres, enoughto grow a reasonable crop of feed corn.

The shopper walks in and faces a line of 48 checkout lanes. Beyond this, to the right, is a great wall of televisions: 119 screens of many brands and sizes. On themorning after the store opened, all sets were tuned to the Sally Jessy Raphael show featuring a panel of experts discussing drug and alcohol addiction. One hundred and nineteen Sallys got warm and personal with 119 Marion Barrys.

Next to this is a giant screen comprised of nine smaller screens. This screen will display public service announcements. Now, it presents a video explanation of the Leedmark store.

"You're led from one thing to the other in a very "Alice in Wonderland" jump," said a customer, Lynda Ready, of Odenton. "It's almost sensory overload."

Ready was standing with her husband, Bill, nextto the tank at the fish counter in which a dozen live trout awaited their fate in retail paradise. Live lobsters lolled in the adjoining tank. From the seafood case, a wolf fish carcass on ice scowled at customers. A seafood clerk reported selling two octopuses.

"We came in for nail polish remover and clothespins," said Ms. Ready, of Odenton, peering into her plastic bag. "We looked at stereos, lobsters, and picked up a loaf of bread."

They were impressed, although they reported seeing similar stores in Oregon.

Impossible, say the public relations people. The press release says this is the first store ofits kind in the United States. It's operated by the New Eldis Corp. and modeled on stores that were first established in France by Edouard Leclerc. Leedmark is an acronym for Leclerc, Edouard and market.

Vicki Gohr, of Crofton, said she'd never seen anything like it. She fell in love with the place shortly after the computerized store directory coughed up a free chicken recipe.

She and her husband, Michael, stood at the computer screen, their backs to an elephant-high stack of tennis balls and a display of patio furniture. The computer cantell you in seconds the precise location of, say, the Vidalia onions. And depending on the day and the recipe selection, it might also tell you something you could cook with the onions.

"Yeah, I'm in love," said Gohr, after her husband hit the PRINT button on the computerized "Information Center." In seconds, out popped the recipe for barbecue baked chicken, complete with sodium, fat and vitamin content, recommended side dishes and a wine selection (California Chardonnay).

Imagine, the Gohrs had yet to check out the computerized cake-decorating system in the bakery (a portrait of your Aunt Mildred painted in lifelike four-color icing on a sheet cake), or watched Cable News Network at the television monitors positioned at nearly all 48 checkout lanes.

The couple had come in to look at Leedmark's camping gear. After browsing just four aisles, the Gohrs had picked up a box of lava rocks -- for use in gas and electric barbecue grills -- a utilityknife and a child's game called Magic Mitts.

"This whole store isamazing," said Ms. Gohr. "I don't think I'm going to make it to the other side."

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