Saving La Tienda Howard County: Rouse should relocate Spanish grocery being forced to vacate.

October 30, 1997

LA TIENDA showed that there is a demand in Columbia for a store that caters to the area's Latino community. But the Rouse Co., its landlord, has to evict La Tienda (translation: "the store") to make room for a 42,000-square-foot Metro Food store in the Oakland Mills village center.

Rouse's next step should be to find another place for La Tienda or another grocery that meets this demand.

The developer, which operates all Columbia village centers, did the right thing. The large Metro market is exactly what residents said they needed in the dying Oakland Mills center. The landlord also showed its commitment to revitalizing the struggling shopping venue by attracting the supermarket chain.

Metro will invest $5 million in the new store. Rouse will spend millions more to update the complex.

Residents had questioned whether Rouse still cared about the villages it created while it shifted much of its attention to power retail centers and its planned community near Las Vegas. The company responded to the community activism, taking major steps to revitalize three older village centers.

But there is limited room for the Oakland Mills center to grow. To accommodate the new, full-service supermarket, there was little choice but to send La Tienda packing.

The Hispanic grocery opened in June, when Giant Food bailed out of slumping Oakland Mills. It did not take long before Linda Glaeser knew that success would come to her small store, which is tucked into a space in the enclosed center across the hall from the former Giant and near a Chinese restaurant, a shoe repair shop and a fingernail shop.

Ms. Glaeser stocked her store with plantains, tortillas, cactus leaves and other Latin delicacies to serve Oakland Mills' growing Hispanic population. Word of mouth made the store a popular stop.

For Mexican immigrants such as Connie Popvich, La Tienda has become a place to find products fondly recalled: Santo Domingo-brand strawberry sodas, Ibarra-brand powdered sweet chocolate, tamales and spicy sausages.

Until the store came, Columbia's Hispanics had to travel closer to Baltimore or Washington to find such stock.

The growth of the county's Hispanic population -- up 43 percent from 1990 to 1994 -- has created a market for non-traditional grocery items. Some supermarkets in the Baltimore-Washington area have awakened to this demand and added Mexican food sections.

But Hispanic shoppers and non-Hispanics who like Latin foods have shown they can support a specialty grocery that caters to this niche. They don't want to have to drive to Baltimore, Silver Spring or Washington for the items they like.

The company would be smart to help Ms. Glaeser and other entrepreneurs find room to set up businesses that cater to various tastes in Howard County's planned city.

Like viable village shopping centers, a culturally diverse and vibrant community was another important pillar of the Rouse dream.

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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