4th strip center planned in Mount Airy Growth, location lure Super Fresh anchor

June 16, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Mount Airy, a community whose location defines its potential for growth is set to get its fourth strip shopping center, anchored by a fourth supermarket. But some are wondering whether the commercial surge is too much, even for the burgeoning four-county area.

The 75,000-square-foot shopping center, with a 56,000-square-foot Super Fresh as its anchor, is planned for 13 acres just off Interstate 70 and is scheduled to open next spring.

A supermarket's "only reason for living is to follow the people," said E. Brooke Lee III, developer of the Twin Ridge residential subdivision and business center in the Frederick County portion of the town.

At the junction of Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties, small-town Mount Airy is fast becoming the hub for an area that has 30,000 residents. Its convenience for commuters to high-tech jobs in Frederick or down the Interstate 270 corridor toward Washington has pushed the town's population to 5,400.

And it is those homebuyers -- with young, growing families -- whom retailers target, Lee said.

"The overriding reasons why people are moving to Mount Airy are price and quality," although a sense of community and the low crime rate are also attractive, Lee said. Buyers find four-bedroom brick houses for $100,000 less than they would pay in Montgomery County and $50,000 less than in the Westminster area, he said.

Super Fresh will be competing with the family-owned Foodrite-Groceteria on South Main Street, founded in 1947; Safeway, in the Mount Airy Shopping Center since 1980; and Weis Market, in the Twin Arch Shopping Center since 1989.

Gerald R. Johnson, Mount Airy's mayor, is concerned that the community may not be large enough to support all four centers. "I don't want them to come in and force one of the others out of business, because there you don't gain a thing," he said.

Michael Rourke, senior vice president of A & P, Super Fresh's parent company, said the growing population and excellent site lured the grocery company to Mount Airy.

"We think down the road it certainly will support [four supermarkets], and with the kind of store we're going to put in there, we expect to be able to draw a lot of customers," he said.

A look at Carroll's other large commercial areas would seem to bear out that prediction. The Westminster area, for instance, has five supermarkets in an area with a 1990 population of 45,600 in the 21157 and 21158 ZIP codes.

The Eldersburg-Sykesville area, with a population of about 25,000, also has five supermarkets.

"I think they're pushing the timing" of the new store, said Jimmy Linton, one of three owners of the Foodrite-Groceteria. "Any competition is good. However, it's a matter of money, and is there enough to go around?"

Linton said he thinks Super Fresh may be four to five years ahead of the community's ability to support another supermarket. He pointed out that local grocers already face competition from two supermarkets in Damascus.

Mount Airy's closest competition in Frederick County is a Weis Market in Spring Ridge. No commercial development is planned in western Howard County.

Linton and his partners, who also own the shopping center that Foodrite anchors, are considering expanding the 33,000-square-foot grocery store into space vacated by a closed Jamesway store. Jamesway, a discount chain, closed many of its stores after entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995.

Weis Market plans to expand its 40,000-square-foot store into space in the Twin Arch Shopping Center, now occupied by the Health Unlimited fitness center, which will move to a larger space in the center, said Dan Strayton, the fitness center's general manager.

Dennis Curtin, public relations director for Weis Markets, declined to discuss details of the chain's plans until it reaches a final agreement with the shopping center's owners. Weis owns the nine-tenths-acre site where the store is situated; the rest of the shopping center is owned by a limited partnership.

Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling refused to say whether the chain plans to expand or upgrade its 35,900-square-foot Mount Airy store.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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