How now, Owen Brown? Howard County: Columbia village center faces challenges of other, older plazas.

March 13, 1998

THE OWEN BROWN VILLAGE Center already has several vacant stores. When the News Center and Cover to Cover Bookstore and Cafe close this month, the empty buildings will radiate an aura of failure that may send shoppers elsewhere. The aforementioned businesses had specific problems drawing customers, but some relate to how much the planned community of Columbia has changed since its origin, when the village center concept was more viable.

Some comparisons ought to be made to the Oakland Mills Village Center, which last year lost its Giant grocery because of poor patronage and saw other stores founder. A Metro Food Market is being constructed in Oakland Mills and major renovations are under way to make that village center more attractive.

Unlike Oakland Mills, the larger Giant store in Owen Brown draws lots of customers. Why they didn't frequent the News Center and Cover to Cover is open to opinion. Cover to Cover lacked enough titles or literary verve to entice customers from larger, nearby chain stores such as Borders in Snowden Square or Crown Books in Dobbin Center. As for the News Center, it offered few popular periodicals not also found at Giant.

Whatever the specific shortcomings of these businesses, however, their failures are related to problems facing all of Columbia's older villages. With more shopping choices available today, people don't have to go to the village centers.

Indeed, if it's not a matter of convenience, they won't. Thus, a unisex barber shop, parcel mailing service and liquor store in Owen Brown Village Center are holding on. A Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop is having trouble, but might fare better if it moved to the more visible location being vacated by the News Center.

Visibility is the key. You can't see what's inside older village centers by driving by, and billboards that might direct shoppers there are verboten in sign-conscious Columbia. Consequently, village center shops must rely on repeat customers who like to frequent convenient locations.

Renovations may help, but some stores simply need to be relocated and replaced with businesses that can better thrive in a low-profile village center setting.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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