Oakland Mills Giant to close Store is anchor to village center

February 23, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In another big blow to Columbia's faltering village centers, the Giant supermarket in Oakland Mills village will close its doors in June because of sluggish business.

The announcement Friday by the Giant grocery chain prompted cries of dismay from village officials, residents and merchants -- and raised the prospect that the east Columbia village center may face even tougher times down the road after the loss of its anchor.

"Oh my god, I can't believe this," said Eliza Chappelle, owner of the nearby Oakland Mills Village Dollar gift shop, covering her face with her hands.

"We are just now beginning to build this business. I put my life savings into this. Now, I might as well put a 'Going Out of Business' sign in my window."

Rouse Co. officials have not yet decided what they will do with the 15,000-square-foot space that the Giant has occupied for more than 15 years, said Wayne A. Christmann, manager of Columbia's village centers for Rouse. He will answer questions about the store closure at a Oakland Mills village board meeting Tuesday.

"We're taking a hard look at what is the best alternative for Oakland Mills," Christmann said. "Our first priority is to replace the food component of the village center. This village has certainly vaulted to the top of our priority list now."

David Hatch, chairman of the Oakland Mills village board, noted that the village has many residents who have no other way to do their grocery shopping -- other than walking to the Giant store.

For example, Nicole Veney and Gary Williams, who live in the Dorsey Forge Apartments near the village center, have no car and walk to the Giant.

"What are we going to do?" said Veney, who went to the store Friday evening to get a dozen eggs. "I don't even know where the nearest market is. A lot of people in this neighborhood don't have cars."

Employees of the Oakland Mills store will be transferred to other Giant stores after the outlet closes June 28, said Barry F. Scher, ++ vice president of public relations for Giant Food Inc. No other Giant stores in Howard County are struggling or in danger of closing, he said.

The closing is the latest in a string of setbacks for Columbia's older villages, where many residents complain about outdated designs and small stores.

In recent years, new warehouse-style retailers have opened on the east side of Columbia -- one of the reasons for some of the store closings and higher vacancy rates at village centers in such older Columbia areas as Wilde Lake and Harper's Choice.

The Oakland Mills grocery, less than one-third the size of the much more modern and well-stocked Giant in Dorsey's Search village, had been dubbed an overgrown convenience store by some area residents because of its small inventory. It has no bakery. And it closed its delicatessen and salad bar, prompting complaints from some customers.

"This has been something of a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Erin Peacock, village manager in Oakland Mills. "You say the stores are not doing well, but then you take out the things that draw people. It's going to be a tough time in the village. Look at what happened in Harper's Choice."

After a Valu Food in Harper's Choice village closed two years ago, foot traffic drastically decreased there, businesses suffered and many residents believe crime grew.

That store now is being replaced by a new and much larger Safeway store. Safeway also has been planning an expansion of its older store in the Long Reach Village Center.

At the Oakland Mills Village Center on Friday, some customers and merchants questioned the commitment of the Rouse Co. to keeping the center vibrant.

"I knew this was coming," said Marilyn Cook, manager of the Casa Dora Hair Salon in the center, whose door faces the checkout lines at Giant.

"They are doing renovations at other village centers but not here," she said. "It doesn't make sense that they overlook Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills because those are the two oldest centers and they have the two smallest [grocery] stores. Why are we on the back burner?"

Three doors down, Peter Paley took over ownership of Columbia Video three weeks ago -- after weeks of assurances from a Rouse Co. official that the Giant was going nowhere, he said.

"I talked to them, and they led me to believe that all was well," Paley said. "I put off signing the lease for 30 days because I was totally concerned about the Giant."

Paley's employee, Shawntil Sturgis, who lives in the Stevens Forest neighborhood of Oakland Mills, said she would have to borrow her mother's car to go shopping in another village.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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