River Hill Village Center opening Its accessible design worries competitors

November 16, 1997|By Carolyn Melago and Dana Hedgpeth | Carolyn Melago and Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Columbia's 10th and last village center, River Hill, opens today, but it hardly resembles the design of, or philosophy behind, the planned community's nine other commercial focal points.

The red-brick strip mall with a 63,000-square-foot Giant and 11 other stores was not placed in the center of the village whose name it bears, but rather on Route 108 and near Route 32 to draw customers from Clarksville and other areas in western Howard County.

"Each village center, we try to improve on its design. It's the next generation in the development of village centers," said Alton J. Scavo, a senior vice president for Rouse Co. "We've tried to improve openness, visibility. In total, it's going to be a convenient, effective village center."

The center includes a bagel shop, bank, hair salon, liquor outlet TC and cleaner. A sandwich and yogurt store, an eye-wear shop, pub, gas station and fast-food outlets will open by year's end, developers said. A 55,000-square-foot recreation center is to open next summer, and a 22,000-square-foot medical office building is to open in the spring.

Positive effect

Local business people say the center will have a positive effect on River Hill and the community around it.

"[River Hill] is the last village -- they have the opportunity to avoid all the ideas that didn't work and use all the ideas that did," said Jackie Vaughn of Long and Foster, who has sold real estate in the area for 24 years.

Said Kayle Simon, a member of the River Hill Village Board, of the new center: "It's going to bring a lot of people into the area. People are generally excited about it."

But some store managers and owners -- particularly those from other village centers -- are concerned about River Hill's opening because they could lose customers.

"I'd say that whenever a shopping center is about five miles from another one, it definitely takes customers away," said Carlos Morais, an owner of the Harper's Choice Dunkin' Donuts.

The Harper's Choice center is within walking distance for most of the doughnut shop's customers, Morais said, but the similarities between stores opening in River Hill and those in Harper's Choice concern him.

"A lot of the things that are going to be there are here, too -- cleaners, a liquor store," he said. "So it'll be whoever gives them the best deals."

On the move

The new center has already drawn one shop from the Owen Brown Village Center. Rick Everett is moving his jewelry store to River Hill because he wants more store frontage.

He said he felt his store was buried in Owen Brown, a common complaint among merchants in the old enclosed-style village centers.

"Being that this is the newest and the fanciest village center, I knew that this would be a great place to attract a lot of customers," said Everett, who was in Owen Brown for nine years. "People couldn't find my store in Owen Brown. Here, it's right on the front. You couldn't miss it."

Steve Girard, who has Bagel Bin stores in the Wilde Lake and Kings Contrivance village centers, is opening another at River Hill and is enthusiastic about the new center.

"The village center thing is outdated," Girard said. "It worked well for 20-some years, but now people want price and volume. This is a traditional strip center."

Shoppers, too, seem to be moving from other village centers.

"I'm so glad that this Giant is here. It's been so long coming," said Yvonne Proch, a 30-year resident of Wilde Lake, who was shopping at the River Hill Giant, which opened a week ahead of the other stores.

"The Wilde Lake Giant has been open 30 years," she said of the much smaller store. "It's a good neighborhood store, but it just doesn't compare. This one is just fantastic."

One woman from Clarksville who did not give her name braved Friday's rain to make it to the Giant.

"I used to shop at the Dorsey's Search Giant," she said. "But this is much closer and more convenient."

Columbia or Clarksville?

Indeed, for some, the River Hill Village Center, near the intersection that has long been known as Clarksville, isn't a part of Columbia at all.

Norma Spicer, who has worked at the Clarksville Post Office for 25 years, said she first knew the site of the new village center as a farm.

"Now, they are calling it part of Columbia," she said. "But in reality it is still Clarksville."

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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