Last mom-and-pop shop in Maryland? Retail: Some say the market is sated, but you'd never know it by the projects abuilding.

August 12, 1996

WHETHER OR NOT you own a small store, it's easy to sympathize with the trepidation of shopkeepers when you look around the retail landscape:

Target, a large chain from Minneapolis, just unveiled 13 stores in Maryland and Virginia with a promotional blitz to rival the Grenada invasion.

Liquor sellers in Howard County are fighting a plan by mega-discounter Total Beverage to open Maryland's biggest wine and beer outlet in Ellicott City. Their concerns are reminiscent of the fears of area car dealers when CarMax, a used-car operation belonging to Circuit City Stores Inc. won legislative permission to enter this market on a seven-day-a-week basis.

J. C. Penney opened seven new stores on a single Saturday last month -- six around Washington, plus one at The Mall in Columbia.

Plans are progressing for the $585 million American Dream mall in Silver Spring by the Canadian brothers who built the mammoth Mall of America in Minnesota. Aimed at tourists as well locals, it's to include a hotel, amusement park, even an indoor wave pool.

In Harford County, people were talking about news that the Rouse Co. is considering a regional mall at Interstate 95 and Route 543. Like the American Dream, it may never come to pass and even if it does, it would be five or more years off. But the fact that Rouse would consider putting up a regional mall not 15 miles from its large White Marsh Mall underscores the sense that there's no limit to this retail growth -- or, more precisely, retail churn.

Can small retailers survive in such an environment? Yes. They may have to adjust their merchandise and must continue to emphasize service. The tyrannosaurs of the modern retail age will largely fight their battles high above them: Target vs. Wal-Mart. Home Depot vs. Hechinger's. BJ's vs. Price Club. But some small stores, and some big ones -- Jamesway, Caldor -- will get stepped on, too.

Although retail growth has been tepid the last couple of years, the Baltimore-Washington region is still viewed as a corridor rich in professionals and disposal incomes. Anxious merchants will assert that the market has reached its limit. But just as quickly, another mega-project will hit the drawing board to stretch that theory some more.

Pub Date: 8/12/96

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