Safeway Inc. has signed a letter of intent with the Rouse Co. to open a 55,000-square-foot grocery store at Columbia's aging Harper's Choice Village Center and to nearly double the size of its store in the Long Reach Village Center.
The new and expanded stores could open by late 1997.
The plans -- announced at Rouse's annual shareholders meeting in Columbia yesterday -- came as welcome news to both communities, particularly at the Harper's Choice center, which in December lost Valu Food, its previous supermarket anchor.
That loss came on the heels of a number of reversals for the 25-year-old village center, including a vandalism incident last year that raised security concerns and the closing in recent years of a Subway Sandwiches store, a High's Dairy store and a Little Caesars Pizza shop.
"We are very excited," said Wendy Tzuker, Harper's Choice village manager. "We think it'll just be very good for the residents and merchants here to have a nice solid anchor like Safeway."
The new Safeway at Harper's Choice would be almost twice the size of the now-closed Valu Food store, said Cathy A. Lickteig, vice president and director of corporate public affairs for Rouse, whose subsidiary, Columbia Management Inc., owns and manages the property.
The Harper's Choice center, which opened in 1971, got a boost recently when a Dunkin' Donuts store, a Papa John's Pizza shop and a Gringada Mexican restaurant and pub opened. But residents still lamented the lack of what they saw as the hub of a good shopping center.
"We need a [grocery] store around here," said Tracey Estep, one of the few shoppers at the nearly-empty village center yesterday afternoon.
Estep, who lives in a nearby apartment development, said she has to make an hourlong round trip to a Giant grocery store in the Wilde Lake Village Center. "If you don't have a car and you run out of a little bread, it's difficult," Estep said.
Yvonne Harris, another shopper, hustled through the maze of the quiet center in the hot sun seeking a bottle of ginger ale for her sick daughter.
"This is disgusting," said Harris, looking at the closed Valu Food store. "I just need one bottle of ginger ale, and there's nowhere to go. You come up here, you have to worry about getting mugged."
Harris found a bottle of ginger ale at the center's liquor store.
Other shoppers, though pleased about the idea of a new grocery store, worried that Safeway's prices would be higher than Valu Food's.
Across town, Safeway plans to add 24,500 square feet to Long Reach center's Safeway, increasing its size to 53,000 square feet. The move is part of a long-awaited renovation of the village center, which opened in 1974.
"There's significant sales potential in that area," said Brian Dowling, director of public affairs for Oakland, Calif.-based Safeway's Eastern Division.
He said another Safeway is due to open at the Long Gate Shopping Center at U.S. 29 and Route 100 in Ellicott City by December.
Safeway has 58 stores in Maryland with 5,700 employees.
Final details of the Safeway plans for Long Reach and Harper's Choice -- including the costs -- are expected to be worked out within 30 to 45 days, Lickteig said.
She and others voiced relief that the lengthy negotiations with Safeway appear to have borne fruit.
"It's very hard to get deals done in this business climate," said Lickteig. "Retail -- whether apparel or grocery -- moves ahead cautiously. I'm glad we waited. I'm glad we persevered."
Tzuker, the Harper's Choice village manager, said, "If it's right, I think it'll be worth waiting for."
Pub Date: 5/24/96