Merchants want more tenants for Wilde Lake Village Center Businesses, residents seek solutions to area's decline

September 11, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

Concerned about the future of the Wilde Lake Village Center, some of the aging center's merchants are urging the community to help lure specialty shops to fill five vacancies there -- six vacancies when it loses its longtime bank branch next month.

"We have to fill up the vacancies. It creates a terrible image in the village center," Steve Girard, owner of the Bagel Bin and president of the center's association of merchants, told 100 residents at a meeting Thursday.

"I think Rouse has lost the concept of what village centers are about," said resident Joe Cappelli, 72, drawing loud applause at the two-hour meeting sponsored by the Wilde Lake Revitalization Steering Committee.

Thirty years old next spring, Wilde Lake is Columbia's oldest village center. Merchants and residents say it lacks vibrant lighting and coloring and adequate signs. Because it's hidden, it's difficult for shoppers to find. Some also have growing safety concerns there.

High rents charged by the Rouse Co. and increased competition from "big-box" retailers -- the huge retail centers popping up in east Columbia and Ellicott City -- have hurt the center, merchants said.

They also worry about competition from a new Safeway coming next year to the Harpers' Choice Village Center in west Columbia. Wilde Lake's anchor, an aging 24,000-square-foot Giant food store can't compete with larger grocers because it has little room for expansion, they said.

Girard said another blow will come next month when Wilde Lake's NationsBank branch closes. "We can't exist without a bank," he said. "The bank is the commercial hub of the center."

Wayne Christmann, general manager for Columbia Management Inc., the landlord for most of Columbia's eight village centers, said that two banks are interested in replacing NationsBank and that a shoe repair store will open soon in the Wilde Lake center.

Meanwhile, the revitalization committee has talked to Produce Galore about expanding to include a table service delicatessen; talked with Home Depot about setting up a satellite hardware store; talked with the Bagel Bin about expanding; and talked with a local pharmacy about opening an ice cream parlor to attract middle school and high school students.

"Our village center is in big trouble," said Bill Miller, president of Today's Catch seafood shop. He warned that if signs of trouble are ignored at the Wilde Lake center it could suffer greater problems.

That's why luring more niche shops is important, Girard said. "A half glass is better than an empty glass," he said. "We need pizazz."

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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