A year after Festival at Pasadena lost its anchor store, leaving thecenter more than half empty and hurting for shoppers, a Natick, Mass.-based warehouse shopping club is negotiating to move in.
BJ's Wholesale Club, which tallied sales of $1.4 billion in 1991 and pushed ahead with an East Coast expansion, is expected to lease about 115,000 square feet in the strip center at Ritchie Highway and Jumpers HoleRoad.
First Washington Management leasing agents are close to signing atenant who would move into Channel Home Center's former 50,000-square-foot building, then need another 67,000 square feet built, said agent John Wingfield.
"This tenant coming in would be a real boon forthe area," said Wingfield, though neither he nor a BJ's spokeswoman would confirm the members-only wholesale club as that tenant.
Merchants who will be displaced have been told BJ's will move in, however.
"Due to the low tenancy rate in the Festival at Pasadena, the shopping center owners have been negotiating with BJ's Wholesale Club to move in," Mark J. Mazzetta, president of Dinette World, wrote in letters he sent customers.
First Washington plans to demolish one wing of the strip center now occupied by Dinette World, Annapolis Lighting, Radio Shack, Raimondi's Florist, Rainbow Jewelry and Sam's Worldof Golf, Wingfield said. The company will then knock out the front of the old Channel space and expand it toward the parking lot. Construction should start by May 1, he said.
First Washington offered displaced merchants comparable space in the center or bought them out oftheir leases.
"The owners have made us a lucrative offer, which Iaccepted," Mazzetta wrote in his letter. He added that Dinette Worldwill run a "lost our lease" sale until closing on April 15, then handle all Pasadena orders through its Perry Hall store.
Ryan's Pizza& Pasta also took a lease buyout. Annapolis Lighting, Radio Shack and Rainbow Jewelry will move into a partially vacant, free-standing building on the site, and Sam's will move into space vacated by Famous Footwear at the opposite end of the center.
Raimondi's owner was asked to leave his space by May 1, but he has yet to work out a deal on comparable space within the center, said employee Nicole Raimondi.
Mike Bentley, Dinette World manager, said he and the owner discussed keeping the furniture store open in another part of the center butdecided a year's worth of construction could drive an already slow business into the ground.
BJ's spokeswoman Susan Grieb failed to reach company real estate managers Friday to confirm the Pasadena site.
Typically, she said, BJ's offers discount prices on brand-name food and general merchandise, stocking some 3,500 to 4,500 items such as tires, automotive and office supplies, videocassette recorders, videos, books, clothing, frozen food and groceries.
Memberships, available to business owners and individual consumers, cost $25 annually.Business members are entitled to special hours.
The store marks up merchandise 8 percent to 10 percent over wholesale prices, while discount stores typically take 30 percent mark-ups and department stores take 40 percent to 50 percent mark-ups, Grieb said.
BJ's offers lower prices by maintaining a strictly no-frills environment -- cement floors, wide aisles, few signs and no sales workers, Grieb said. Store sizes average between 110,000 and 115,000 square feet, and most clubs employ 150 to 200 workers, she said.
The 30-store chain opened its first club in 1984 in Medford, Mass. BJ's came to Maryland lastmonth, opening in White Marsh, Baltimore County. The division of Waban Inc., a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange, will open eight to 10 more clubs this year from Florida to Maine, she said.
Merchants at Pasadena Festival were told construction could take abouta year. Meanwhile, construction already has begun on another members-only warehouse in Parole.
Sam's Club, a division of Wal-mart Stores Inc., will open its doors by midsummer, carrying a mix of productsat wholesale prices. Another shoppers' club, the Price Club, is in Glen Burnie.
Given the state of the economy, Grieb says she's not surprised by the growing popularity of the members-warehouse concept.
"Consumers are looking for value," she said. "Tough economic timeshave increased the awareness of BJ's more quickly than if these werenot tough times."
During the county development boom of the mid- to late 1980s, Trammell Crow partnerships built the Pasadena Festival, along with Annapolis Fashion Festival and Giant Festival at Riva, both in Annapolis, and Valu Food Festival in Severna Park. As part of a partnership bankruptcy proceeding, Aetna has taken over most of thePasadena center, a Trammell Crow commercial agent said.
Channel, a home-improvement retailer, closed last March as part of the Whippany, N.J.-based chain's bankruptcy reorganization plan, which called for closing all but one Maryland store.