Price Club plans store in growing Timonium

October 01, 1994|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,Sun Staff Writer

Price/Costco Inc. and a Timonium landowner are pushing a plan to build a Price Club membership warehouse on a prime piece of business property just off Timonium Road near Interstate 83.

The deal, if completed, would put a cavernous Price Club store in a well-off, growing area with no other membership clubs nearby.

Roger Campbell, senior vice president for Price/Costco's Southeast region, said the company is in the "very preliminary" stages of investigating the site, occupied now by SACO Supply, a building materials warehouse on Aylesbury Road. One hurdle is a zoning waiver that would be sought under a new, little-tested Baltimore County law.

But the parties have gone to the effort and expense of formally applying and filing detailed plans with the county, indicating that they expect the project to fly. Mr. Campbell declined to discuss terms.

Buildings on the 13-acre site, owned by Stebbins Anderson Co., would be demolished to make way for a 136,500-square-foot Price Club store and 700 parking places.

Stebbins Anderson owner Richard Powers did not return phone calls.

At Price Club, Sam's, BJ's and similar operations, members buy everything from food and small appliances to tires in big warehouses with rapidly changing inventory. The stores, which often average more than $1 million in weekly sales apiece, are among the biggest retail operations around.

The nearest warehouse clubs to Timonium are BJ's in Owings Mills, westward, and White Marsh, eastward. Price Club has stores in Glen Burnie and White Marsh.

The Timonium site is one of the few developable properties in prime retail corridors in the region that can hold a "big box" store so favored by supermarkets, wholesale clubs, discounters and other high-volume merchants these days.

"We could have leased that thing out 10 times," said J. Lawrence Mekulski, a principal with Towson real estate brokers KLNB Inc. "It's an excellent piece of retail real estate." KLNB wasn't involved in the deal.

However, the tract is zoned for manufacturing. It would require a waiver granted under a county law passed in May that allows some commercial projects to bypass the often cumbersome rezoning process.

As in other areas, a Price Club in Timonium would pull sales from nearby supermarkets. Warehouse clubs typically draw customers from up to 10 miles away, said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade newspaper based in Columbia.

But supermarkets have learned how to fight back, fine-tuning their pricing, offering bigger packages and emphasizing perishables, analysts said. That, combined with the fact that the clubs don't have as much new territory to conquer as they once did, has helped put them out of favor with Wall Street.

"You really have lackluster sales growth," at Price/Costco, said Amy Ryan, who follows the company for Prudential Securities in New York.

Price/Costco, based in Kirkland, Wash., operates more than 200 warehouses and had sales of $16.14 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 28. Profits haven't been reported yet for the full year.

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