2 Baltimore-area Giants to close by end of March Store in Cockeysville, one in Northwood called money losers

Food industry

January 08, 1998|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Giant Food Inc. will close two of its older Baltimore-area stores by the end of March, both of which had become money losers for the region's largest supermarket chain, the company said yesterday.

Giant will pull out of its 40-year-old Northeast Baltimore location in Belvedere Gardens Shopping Center Feb. 28, then close a store at Yorktowne Plaza in Cockeysville March 28. That store opened in 1969.

Neither could compete with newer, larger stores with full-service pharmacies, prepared foods and bulk food departments, said Barry F. Scher, Giant spokesman. Space in both strip shopping centers -- Belvedere Gardens on Hillen Road and Yorktowne Plaza on Cranbrook Road -- would not have allowed for expansion, he said.

All 135 employees, many in part-time jobs, will be offered similar positions at nearby Giant stores, Scher said.

"The business has decreased significantly at both stores in the last few years," despite some remodeling and changes in merchandising, Scher said. "It's been a steady decline. People in those neighborhoods are going to larger Giant stores that have pharmacies and a wider assortment of merchandise."

Both stores have about 17,000 square feet of selling space, compared with the 60,000-square-foot size of the average new Giant.

Over the years, the Landover-based chain has expanded while closing few area stores -- the last on Baltimore National Pike in 1995. The company announced in November that it plans to build its first store in Baltimore in 21 years, at 4600 Edmondson Ave. in West Baltimore.

Scher said the company has no other store closings planned. But, Scher added, "we're always looking at volumes at stores and trying to maintain those volumes. Some older stores -- it is difficult to build business that's decreased because customers go elsewhere to shop."

Kenneth M. Gassman, a retail analyst with Davenport & Co., said he expects company scrutiny of store performance to intensify, especially as Michael W. Broomfield, a former executive of J. Sainsbury PLC, becomes chief operating officer in March.

Sainsbury, a British grocer, owns half of Giant's voting stock.

"In general, Giant's profits are under pressure," Gassman said. "My guess is you're going to see the company take a closer look at every store in the chain, and if they're not meeting some minimum level of profitability [those stores will] become a candidate for closing. This may signal the beginning of that programming."

News of the Hillen Road store closing came as a disappointment to Glenda Denham, who has shopped there for 38 years.

"We're sorry it's closing," said Denham, adding that she has remained loyal to the store even as other chains have come in, sometimes with more competitive pricing, because "it's close, and I can find what I want."

She said the closing could pose problems for the many elderly people living in apartments nearby, many of whom walk to the store.

Dave Desmarais, a dry cleaning business owner who lives two miles from the store and grew up in the Upper Northwood neighborhood surrounding it, is hoping community pressure can still persuade Giant to stay. Desmarais said he hopes to organize a neighborhood campaign toward that end.

"I don't think we should let them go without a fight," he said. "To have a major retailer leave the area doesn't bode well for the area and could lead to a rapid decline for the neighborhood."

The shopping center's owner, Saul Centers Inc., is talking with prospective tenants, said B. Francis Saul, chairman. He said he could not comment on the likelihood of another grocer moving in.

"We're working on it," Saul said.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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