Beer, wine super store is proposed 15,000-square-foot outlet would be largest in Maryland

'A real fight for us'

Small retailers fear being driven out of business

July 24, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Total Beverage, a chain of beer and wine mega-stores in Virginia, aims to open a 15,000-square-foot outlet just north of Columbia next spring -- a proposal that has local liquor stores banding together for the fight of their retail lives.

Featuring 500 varieties of beer and 5,000 different wines, it would be the largest alcoholic beverage store in Maryland, according to retailers and trade groups. The store, to be opened in the so-called "power center" of Long Gate, off Route 103 near the Village of Dorsey's Search, would not sell hard liquor.

In October, the Howard County Liquor Board is scheduled to review a wine and beer sales license request from Total Beverage, a subsidiary of Landover-based Dart Group Corp., which also owns Crown Books and Trak Auto stores.

But small beverage retailers in and around Howard County oppose the store, claiming it is not needed, would drive them out of business and hurt Columbia's ailing village centers.

"That's definitely going to kick us in the rear end, no question about that," said Mark Ridings, an owner of Ridings Village Liquors in Columbia's Wilde Lake Village Center.

The liquor store owners are to hold a strategy meeting tomorrow night at the Turf Valley Resort & Conference Center in Ellicott City.

"People could just throw in the towel if they get the license," said Bill Harrison, owner of the Kings Contrivance Liquor Shop. "It's TTC going to be a real fight for us."

Harrison also fears the impact on Columbia's village centers, designed in the 1960s to be the retail and social centers for Columbia's nine villages. The centers traditionally have used small liquor stores to help draw shoppers.

The village centers already are losing shoppers to the one power center in Columbia -- Snowden Square, off Snowden River Parkway. Two more are under construction, at Long Gate and Columbia Crossing, off Route 175.

Said Harrison, "The village centers are going to be in trouble, naturally."

But Robert Ampula, president of Total Beverage, said his experience in Virginia shows there is room for smaller liquor stores in the area. And he added: "This country was built on competition, and I think they would welcome it."

Ampula said the store, though the size of a small supermarket, would be smaller than his 25,000-square-foot Virginia stores. But it would offer just as many varieties of beer and wine, a walk-in cooler, gourmet food and a chateau room for wines costing up to $500 a bottle.

Ampula said the Virginia stores have been well received because of their selection, service and value. He said the company targets two types of shoppers:

Those 35 to 54 years old who make more than $75,000 a year, have an average household of three people and buy wine.

Those 21 to 35 years old who make $50,000 to $60,000 a year, have a household of one or two people, and buy beer and low-end wine.

In Virginia, Total Warehouse owns stores in Chantilly, McLean and Landmark. It had two stores in Virginia that went out of business -- in Manassas and Dale City, Ampula said. He blamed poor market research for their demise.

Harrison, owner of the Kings Contrivance Liquor Shop, said that he could not offer beer and wine for the same prices as a larger store. The large stores can buy large volumes of beer at a discount and can store large amounts of wine they buy at special rates.

"You just can't compete with the warehouse-type stores," he said.

The store would be the largest of its kind in the state, according to officials at the Maryland Liquor Store Association, Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association and the Beverage Journal, a trade publication for the Baltimore/Washington market.

As for the other stores in Long Gate, the retail center also is expected to house a Target, Safeway, Kohl's, Barnes & Noble and Homeplace, among other stores.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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