Annapolis grocery fills a basic need

Main Street `mini mart' fills the gap left by Rite Aid departure

April 07, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Sitting on the dock in Annapolis, you can see a place to buy chai tea shakes with bee pollen for $3.50, but let's say all you really need are Band-Aids or just a Coke.

That's where Cecilia Benalcazar's new shop comes in, a "mini mart" at the top of the Main Street hill, opened in answer to the grumbles of Annapolis residents who say they can't find anything practical within walking distance.

Sure, there's a sushi bar, a French restaurant and shop windows with hand-woven Irish sweaters and pewter chalices, but since the local drugstore closed in December, Main Street has been woefully lacking in "those little things of life," said Manjit Anand, owner of The Fashnique shop for women's clothes.

"It has really hurt," Anand said, referring to the empty building next door, where Rite Aid used to be.

So Benalcazar, who owns the Fancy Frocks dress shop on Main Street, decided to risk responding to a need she kept hearing people talk about. Unlike the dress business, she said, "you need a lot of transactions to pay the rent" when you try to replace Rite Aid.

On March 1, Benalcazar opened her 800-square-foot shop, paying $2,000 in monthly rent. She offers shipping services along with soft drinks, milk, snacks, over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin and other small necessities. Her first month got off to a good start -- in March, the fledging business made more than four times the rent, she said.

Pointing to the dock, she added, "The rents down there are much higher. This is much more economical," she said. She described the venture as "a very calculated risk." Among the advantages, she figured, is the location, close to the state government buildings and St. John's College.

Born in Ecuador, the 30-year-old Benalcazar has lived almost all her life in Maryland and holds a marketing degree from Towson University.

She plans to add cigarettes, state lottery tickets and ice cream during the summer.

"It's like a challenge to me now. If I go wrong, there's something wrong with me," she said.

Yesterday afternoon, people bought toilet paper, root beer, cheese curls and other small-change items.

Ken Scott, a lawyer whose offices have long been on Main Street, is glad to see the small market thrive. "I admire them," he said. "They had what I wanted, a Chapstick. There are things I don't want to take the time to buy on my way home from work."

Annapolis native Dorothy Frantum, 66, works as a school crossing guard near Main Street and is keeping her eye on the new shop. "I think she'll do a tremendous business. It's the only place around here with milk. She did really a smart thing," she said.

A United Parcel Service deliveryman, Michael Bell, had a very immediate reason why he was glad to see the new business. "I look for things to munch and drink during the course of the day. It's great."

A St. John's College student, Mark Alznauer, works across the street at The Treaty of Paris restaurant and says, "It's definitely a blessing" to have a new place to go for candy bars. He said his father owns a Main Street jewelry store in Ohio, which has been hurt by suburbanization. So, he said, "I can't complain," looking at the picturesque curve down to the water.

The city's economic development director, Susan Zellers, said that it takes a "savvy operator" to fill the need left by the departure of Rite Aid. She added, "I'm also very grateful to her when I need an aspirin."

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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