Experts say Wilde Lake center needs to specialize Marketing survey shows customers coming back for small, upscale stores PTC

November 03, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore survey company has two words for the 30-year-old Wilde Lake Village Center: specialty shops.

A monthlong survey of 250 shoppers in the center, conducted by Baltimore consulting firm Chesapeake Group Inc., shows that it is not the Giant supermarket -- considered the anchor of the center -- that attracts shoppers, but smaller stores such as gourmet-oriented Produce Galore and health product outlet David's Natural Market.

Wilde Lake "is a center that is still salvageable," said Howard S. Kohn, president of the Chesapeake Group. "The key is bringing in unique, convenient businesses that have a niche market."

In the past few years, at many of Columbia's aging village centers, merchants and shoppers have complained of outdated store and center designs, escalating crime and mounting competition from superstores sprouting on the edge of east Columbia and in Ellicott City.

Wilde Lake Village Board, the Merchants' Association and Columbia Management Inc., a division of Rouse Co. that manages the centers, paid for the $3,500 survey.

Driving merchants' concern is their fear that the Giant store -- which industry experts consider so small by current supermarket standards that it borders on being a large convenience store -- will eventually close.

That causes many to worry about the viability of the remaining stores. There are currently two vacancies.

But the survey says that with the right shops, the center will survive.

"If the Giant leaves and if the village center has a strong core of merchants and people are willing to drive from other villages to Wilde Lake to shop, we will survive," said Bill Miller, owner of Today's Catch seafood shop.

In the past few months, the center has improved, merchants say, as new stores such as a hair salon, a meat shop and a pharmacy have opened, and Produce Galore and David's expand. A flower shop and a bakery are expected to open in the coming months.

"It is on the right track, it just needs to keep going in that direction," Kohn said.

The survey suggests adding a sit-down Spanish or Japanese restaurant, a camping store, a coffee shop and a cosmetics store.

The survey's findings gives this portrayal of shoppers at the Wilde Lake Village Center:

About 44 percent are coming from work. Few of them live in Wilde Lake.

Most Giant shoppers are Village of Wilde Lake residents. Their average income is $78,300.

About three of every four patrons come at least once a week; 44 percent come more than once a week.

The most popular stores are Produce Galore, Bagel Bin, Today's Catch, David's Natural Market and The Pub.

Although CMI has invested more than $5 million to revitalize the Long Reach and Harper's Choice village centers -- including enlarged supermarkets -- the company has no plans to pay for renovations at Wilde Lake center, Columbia Management officials said. That leaves merchants disappointed.

"It was the merchants' idea to do the survey and it was done, but [Columbia Management] just nod their heads," said Greg Resch, a manager at David's Natural Market. "All their money is dumped into other village centers."

Pub Date: 11/03/97

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