For the past year, Maisy Ota has traveled several miles from her home in Clary's Forest to shop in Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, Dorsey's Search and Catonsville.
Now she is minutes away from Columbia's newest village center in Hickory Ridge.
"This is just wonderful," said the 80-year-old woman during Wednesday's grand opening, which featured jazz bands from Atholton and Hammond high schools, puppet shows and face painters.
"It's much more convenient," said Hickory Ridge resident Linda Brightfield, echoing the sentiments of many shoppers at the new center.
Located at the corner of Cedar Lane and Freetown Road, the 20-store center will attract residents from about 6,500 households in Hickory Ridge and River Hill villages, Clarksville and other surrounding areas, said Elizabeth P. Buckley, marketing manager for Columbia Management Inc.
The $10 million center, which is 97 percent leased, includes a Giant Food store, Hair Cuttery, Citizens Bank, a Chinese restaurant, an Italian restaurant and a dry cleaners. Blockbuster Video and a Mobil Oil station will open in September, Buckley said.
Hickory Ridge Village Center is the seventh center owned and operated by Columbia Management. Giant Food owns and operates an eighth shopping center in the Village of Owen Brown.
"With each center we learn and improve," Buckley said. "Hickory Ridge Village is the first time we've done something so contemporary."
A pedestrian thoroughfare called The Avenue slices through the heart of the emerald and cream-colored brick shopping center. Benches, potted plants, and trees line glass storefronts, giving the center the flavor of an open-air market.
"We wanted to make a deliberate departure from what we've historically done," said design manager Clarence G. Jackson Jr. "Most other village centers are more traditional. We wanted a more contemporary look."
The new shopping center is already performing beyond the expectations of its developers.
"Senior citizens can walk around while they shop," Ota said, eyeing The Avenue and Giant Food store as prospective walking routes.
Rouse Co. officials said the 57,000-square-foot Giant Food store is the largest chain in the area, featuring a bakery, gourmet meats, a full-service seafood counter, a flower shop, pharmacy and a salad and soup bar.
Justin Wilson, 14, of Clarksville said he has high hopes for Hickory Ridge Village Center.
"I'm waiting for the Blockbuster to come, and I hope the Domino's Pizza delivers to my house," Wilson said.
But not everyone's attention was grabbed by Columbia's newest village center. Five-year-old Sarah Wheltle of Ellicott City liked the clowns and magician best, said her mother, Marian Wheltle.
Throughout the day, children made Father's Day cards, decorated T-shirts, watched puppet shows and had their faces painted.
But other shoppers had much weightier issues on their mind.
Sameer Sharma, a 19-year-old Vassar College sophomore, was looking for a job.
"Nobody is hiring in Columbia," Sharma complained after applying for a job at Blockbuster Video. "I need money for college. That's all."