Plans for Walgreens anger Liberty Heights merchants

10 stores in 3800 block told to move for pharmacy

August 09, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Some Forest Park merchants say they feel blindsided by plans to move them out by Aug. 31 and demolish the block where their businesses have stood for decades to make room for the city's first Walgreens, a national pharmacy chain store.

Ten merchants in the 3800 block of Liberty Heights Ave. were told last month by Liberty-Garrison Shopping Center Inc., the corporation formed in 1982 to buy and preserve the retail area, that they would have to vacate by the end of this month.

The corporation is finalizing a deal to sell, and then tear down, a block-long, Spanish-style building that houses the merchants' stores. The buyer is Village Properties, a California-based development company that would lease the site to Walgreen.

"I think it's horrible to have to go out of business just because a big business is coming in," said Condessa M. Tucker, the owner of a laundry service. She said a move will cost her $25,000. "They are taking away people's livelihood."

Merchants such as Tucker are questioning the sale because their businesses have been thriving -- unlike many Baltimore neighborhood retail strips, which have vacant storefronts.

The merchants also are upset that they didn't learn about the closings until they received letters dated July 19 informing them they had until Aug. 31 to make way for the block's demolition. The Baltimore Development Corp. is helping the merchants move, but no money is being provided.

"We only got three weeks left, and we can't open another store," said June Kim, whose family owns Maria's Carry Out.

Walgreen has 2774 stores nationwide. The proposed store will be 15,000 square feet. Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin did not know when construction would begin, but said the store would probably employ 25 to 30 people and have a drive-through pharmacy.

Several other Walgreens are planned in the Baltimore area in the next few years, Polzin said.

The City Council approved the store in early June, said City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, a Democrat who represents the 5th District.

"I see it as a direct plus, a win-win for the community," Spector said.

But some of her constituents are unhappy.

"It was a community that had anything you wanted and needed," said Beverly M. Wilson of the 3900 block. "If I did not have enough money [to buy something], they would say they would bill me later."

Sixty Forest Park leaders set up the corporation selling the property. They had bought the one-story stucco building, built in the 1950s, to protect it from encroaching blight.

Theirs was one of the first community corporations formed to protect a retail district, said LeRoy Adams, director of the city Housing Department's Business Assistance Group."We purchased the property and fixed the property up to help fix up the community," said John E. Saunders, one of the investors. Many area residents, noting the Rite Aid pharmacy across the street, said the group's decision to sell the property will gut community spirit.

"Why would you tear down [the block] and put up something we don't need?" asked Mickey R. Lee, 40, of 3500 block of Berwyn Ave.

Several Northwest Baltimore community groups support the new store, though, said Mereida Goodman, director of the Greater Northwest Community Coalition.

Saunders declined to comment on why the investors decided to sell the property or to disclose the selling price. The city appraised the building at $120,000 in 1998, tax records show.

Saunders also declined to comment on the merchants' complaints that they were not told until last month that they would have to vacate.

"No one can move out in 40 days; I don't know why they did this," said Jim Won So, owner of Queen's Gift Shop, a hair-care product store.

City Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings, another 5th District Democrat, supports the proposed Walgreens but was distressed over how the merchants say they are being treated.

"It is not Walgreens vs. the little people," Rawlings said. "It is the fact the little people did not get the heads up they deserved."

But Spector believes the merchants -- who were on a month-to-month lease -- should have known the corporation was preparing to sell the property.

"How could they be on a-month-to-month lease and not know something like this was about to happen?" Spector asked.

Pub Date: 8/09/99

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