GOING FOOD shopping in Ellicott City? Cruise U.S. 40 and pick your market. There's a Safeway at the Normandy Shopping Center, a Super Fresh at the Golden Triangle, a Giant in the Chatham Mall and another Safeway at the Enchanted Forest shopping center. If none of those stores suffices, try yet a third Ellicott City Safeway a few miles south at the Long Gate Shopping Center.
Even this bounty of choices fails to satisfy some people. At least one Ellicott City resident I know who lives near U.S. 40 says only the "Gucci" Giant in Dorsey's Search will do.
Most people, though, would say there's no shortage of places to shop for groceries in the town of the industrious Ellicott brothers and African-American scientist Benjamin Banneker. (OK, Mr. Banneker called Oella home, but close enough.)
The ever-changing picture of food shopping is about to change again. Super Fresh is expected to close its 25,000-square-foot Golden Triangle store and skip across the highway to a new facility on North Ridge Road now in the planning stages.
The Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning has approved the site plan for a 63,500-square-foot store near the Wal-Mart there.
If developed, it would be among the largest markets in the Baltimore area. The average size of new grocery stores now is equivalent to the playing area of a football field as chains push competition with sheer size.
Bigger must be better
In the rough-and-tumble world of supermarket competition, grocery chains believe that bigger not only is better, but is necessary.
Most of these store wars take place in suburbia, where new retail businesses go to track down new residents.
Things are different in Baltimore, where spacious, well-stocked supermarkets are far less numerous per capita, although Giant and Safeway have taken steps to open stores in the city.
North Laurel-Savage residents also have a grocery store shortage. The population grew by more than 7,000 between 1990 and last year, and now is about 42,000 residents but only one supermarket.
Grocery near CarMax?
The opening of CarMax, the used-car superstore, was viewed as the anchor for a new shopping center at the former Freestate Racetrack, but grocery chains have not rushed to the area.
Weis Markets has a 46,000-square-foot store about three miles from the CarMax site. Some residents travel 10 miles to Laurel in Prince George's County.
Community leaders, even those who are satisfied with Weis, believe the area deserves a second store.
They could get a supermarket in what they would consider the worst way.
They have fought plans by the Rouse Co. to develop a 517-acre mixed-use center along Interstate 95 south of Gorman Road. But if its project is approved, Rouse may want to attract a grocer to accommodate the eventual 1,395 households in the development as well as the surrounding area.
Whether or not the Rouse project might bring a grocery store, of course, should not be a factor in its approval.
One of the reasons that southeastern Howard residents supported CarMax was the promise that it would attract a grocery store-anchored shopping center. They deserve a little help from influential county and state officials who can help make it happen.
Other news: Hospital's future
That sigh of relief you heard came from everyone who feared that Howard County General Hospital would fall into the hands of a for-profit company more concerned with its bottom line than with the county's well-being.
You could feel the electrocardiogram shoot up when circumspect hospital officials announced a while ago that at least one of the final four candidates in pursuit of HCGH was a for-profit firm, and that at least one was a religious institution that might prohibit services such as abortion.
Those fears were put to rest when the hospital's president, Victor A. Broccolino, and board members announced Feb. 14 that only nonprofit institutions were still in the running as potential suitors.
The announcement was good news for Howard County, which has helped to nurse the hospital from a 59-bed facility to a multifaceted medical center.
Although officials say the sale to a large company is necessary to ensure the hospital's strength in the future, its local mission should not change.
A nonprofit organization -- whether it is the University of Maryland Medical System, Johns Hopkins Health System or another group -- should continue to provide a wide array of services and to expand.
HCGH, which has been approached by 16 suitors in recent years, is in the enviable position of choosing its buyer.
The hospital would be an attractive acquisition because it owns a solid reputation and has the luxury of operating in an affluent community.
Norris West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.
Pub Date: 2/22/98