Oakland Mills grocery might not have to close At meeting, Giant, Rouse offer no details, promise to report next month

March 06, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In an unexpected development, Giant Food Inc. and Rouse Co. officials said the Giant grocery store in Columbia's Oakland Mills village -- scheduled to close in June -- might remain open.

The concession came at a contentious village town meeting last night in which a Giant official said the small store lost more than $500,000 last year and more than $250,000 the year before because of sluggish sales.

At the 2 1/2 -hour meeting, more than 150 residents pressed officials from both corporations to make good on their statements that they were committed to the village and to Giant customers.

After more than an hour of discussion, Larry Angel, Giant district manager, said, "I don't think the door is ever closed until it's closed. Like the man said, it's not over until it's over."

Wayne A. Christmann, manager of Rouse's Columbia village centers, agreed.

Neither Christmann nor Angel specified what it would take to reverse the decision to close the Giant, but both said they would bring residents' concerns to their superiors and would report back at a village board meeting April 8.

The announcement that the store would close, made Feb. 21, alarmed many residents, who said that they feared the loss of the village center's anchor store would deal fatal blows to other merchants and that the entire center could close.

"The thing is, we really don't want a huge store here," said Richard R. Rodes, a village resident. "We don't need a pharmacy or some of the other things you see in stores like Owen Brown. This is a small, community store."

Some residents said they go to the store daily because it is intimate and because they are on a first-name basis with the cashiers.

Ann Wicke, a disability service coordinator for the county, said about 45 disabled residents who have no cars walk to Giant for food.

"There are the disabled, the elderly, the low- and moderate-income residents," Wicke said. "I have real concerns about those people."

Noting that Rouse allowed the store to break its lease four years early, many residents were angered by what they perceived as Rouse's flagging commitment to the village.

"You're being so kind to Giant, but in the meantime look what you're doing to this community," said Jerome Mirabile. "Rouse, you hold all the cards here."

The issue spurred some residents to solve problems in the village that, said one merchant, is "more depressed than it used to be."

One woman said she called 14 of her neighbors to come to the meeting and fight to keep the Giant.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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