Face lift sought for shopping center Dwindling shoppers, vacancies are noted

March 04, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Ritchie Highway Shopping Center merchants and shoppers were thrilled two years ago when the center's management company made improvements. Now they are asking what it has done for them lately.

The 41-year-old shopping center, particularly its south side, needs a face lift, they say; stores are vacant, a supermarket has left, and shoppers dwindle to a handful at night.

The local civic group, the Olde Brooklyn Park Improvement Association, has sent a letter to Rucker Enterprises Inc., reportedly threatening a boycott if the management company does not make repairs.

Charles D. Mason, vice president of Rucker, said the repairs are not going to be done until he can find an anchor store for a 3,400-square-foot site to shore up the south side of the center.

"We can't and won't do it. It doesn't make sense," he said.

Civic activists and merchants say that if Rucker fixed up the south side's facade, it would draw tenants for the owner, North Joleh and South Joleh Corp. Both companies are based in McLean, Va.

"It's ugly. Who wants to move into an ugly shopping center?" said Albert D. Bowen, vice president of the Olde Brooklyn Park Improvement Association. "We don't want the shopping center to go belly up and, as investors, we don't think they want to see that happen either."

F. W. Woolworth Co., Rosso Music Center, Starlight Video and Provident Bank of Maryland are tenants on the south side.

A short-lived flea market moved out in January after the county informed its owners that the space was not zoned for such use. That storefront and the space the White Coffee Pot Family Inns once occupied are vacant.

"We had planned on putting a new facade on after we got the flea market in. Then we found there was a problem with the flea market," Mr. Mason said.

The north side of the shopping center is a different story. Rucker renovated it two years ago, installing a new facade, canopy lighting and other improvements.

Except for two vacant storefronts, it is full, with a pizza shop, dry cleaner, eyeglass shop, beauty supply store, drugstore, card shop and jewelry store. Workers are building a Subway sandwich shop.

But even the successful side has its problems. Basics supermarket, which had anchored the north side, closed Feb. 17 and reopened in larger quarters at Southview Shopping Center.

The Basics lease extends to November 1998, but Mr. Mason said he will talk to company officials about freeing the site for another tenant.

But the loss of the supermarket has further worried merchants and residents. By nightfall, business tapers off, and customers mistakenly believe the stores are closed, merchants said.

"This shopping center dies at 7:30 p.m. Nobody's around," said Wayne M. Locher, 32, who opened Starlight Video a year ago.

He estimated that his business was off by at least 30 percent from a year ago. "Mornings are fine. But you need that extra. People won't come in the dark," he said.

David P. Greenberg, 46, of Greenberg Jewelers Inc. says he is optimistic about the center but that he is bothered by the letter from the improvement association board of directors to Rucker Enterprises. The letter threatens that unless the management company makes improvements, the association will not support the merchants, Mr. Greenberg said.

That would be "really wrong," said Mr. Greenberg, whose store has been in the shopping center since 1956. "I can't control what Basics does. I can't control what the management company does."

Arlene Hodges, president of the improvement association, refused to discuss the letter. Mr. Mason said late last week that he had not yet received it.

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