Metro Food to open store Grocery will replace smaller Giant that closed in June

October 15, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Metro Food Markets will open a 42,000-square-foot store next year -- its first in Howard County -- in Columbia's Oakland Mills Village Center, replacing the old, small Giant that closed in June.

The Richmond, Va.-based chain, which has 18 stores in Maryland, will invest more than $5 million in the Columbia store and hire about 300 employees, said Kevin J. Nielsen, a vice president of Richfood, the chain's parent company.

Construction of the store will begin in March and the Rouse Co. said it is planning a multimillion-dollar renovation of the aging village center that is to include a more open style, like a strip mall.

At a meeting last night at The Other Barn, about 50 residents and local politicians applauded the announcement of the supermarket, a large attraction that will draw much-needed customers to the village center.

"Metro Food will be the kind of anchor store that will bring business into the village center for all of the merchants," said Alton J. Scavo, a Rouse vice president.

Since the 15-year-old Giant closed this summer, Oakland Mills merchants have reported lossing as much as 70 percent of their business. In Harper's Choice, where a 55,000-square-foot Safeway is scheduled to open in March, merchants said they have lost as much as 35 percent of their business in almost two years while waiting for the store.

Without a major store, many merchants in both villages said, they are not sure if they would survive. Wendy Tzuker, the Harper's Choice village manager, said: "The merchants in here have been hanging on by their teeth."

For residents, the absence of a grocery store in both villages infringes on one of the planned community's hottest selling-points -- convenience.

"This town was sold to residents and to merchants on the idea that there would be a central, easy focal point for shopping and for getting together," said Larissa Keyser, owner of Uniphoto RTC Labs Inc. in Harper's Choice. "You tear up that core village center and you create the one thing all Columbians hate -- inconvenience."

For most of Columbia's 85,000 residents who have cars, losing a grocery means a longer trip to another store. For those without vehicles, it can be difficult. Residents of Harper's Choice village must walk a mile to the nearest supermarket in Wilde Lake Village Center.

Take Joanna Ridgely. Being able to walk a few blocks to the Valu Food store drew her to live in Harper's Choice. But within a few weeks after she moved there in November 1995, the store closed. Now Ridgely, 37, and others walk, they say, as many as three times a week to the Giant in Wilde Lake. Otherwise, they shop at a small convenience store in Harper's Choice where prices are higher.

"It is really hard to keep asking people for rides to the store and you sure do get tired of walking," Ridgely, a warehouse worker.

In Oakland Mills, some residents formed car pools to nearby grocery stores after the Giant closed. At last night's meeting, Oakland Mills resident Lori Kassoff, who has lived there for 26 years said, "I can hardly wait to finally start shopping in my own village center and not go to Owen Brown or Kings Contrivance."

Rouse officials say the search for a grocery store for Oakland Mills progressed much faster than for Harper's Choice because they better assessed residents' and merchants' needs.

"In Harper's Choice, residents wanted a Fresh Fields, but [Fresh Fields] didn't want to come there," said Wayne Christmann, Rouse's general manager of village centers. "We spent a lot of time in Harper's Choice trying to put a round peg into a square hole. In [Oakland Mills], we did a better job of looking at who would be a good candidate and going after them."

Because the Metro Food store will have a full-service pharmacy, CVS Pharmacy will not return to the renovated village center. The Thursday farmer's market at Oakland Mills will end in mid-November and the 20 growers who sell there will be moved to the Tuesday market at Dobbin Center.

"We thought we were getting to be the downside of Columbia," said Carolyn Adams, who has lived in Oakland Mills for 17 years. "This [Metro Food] is so much better than what we have ever had in here before."

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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