New year brings a new Safeway to village center


January 04, 2000|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE SUN rose like a fiery red ball at dawn New Year's Eve. Not long after, at 7: 30 a.m. Fridayin the Village of Kings Contrivance, neighbors stood in line enjoying free coffee and doughnuts, waiting for Columbia's newest Safeway supermarket to open.

A month ago, Valu Food, the local grocery chain that occupied the 44,000-square-foot space in the village center, declared bankruptcy.

Safeway Inc. acquired the property and was able to refit it in time for the New Year's Eve opening.

The early-morning customers waited patiently, nursing their breakfast and listening to a lively jazz duo, while politicians and company officials milled around behind a thick red ribbon.

Speeches were thankfully brief -- given the hour. Howard County Executive James N. Robey offered congratulations and cheerful remarks before whipping out his red Safeway Club Card. He came there with his wife, Janet, and brought his card, he explained, to get some shopping done before hunkering down with officials awaiting the possible perils of midnight.

A giant pair of scissors was produced. Robey, with County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone and state Del. Shane Pendergrass, crowded in with Safeway officials to cut the ribbon.

With big smiles and camera flashes popping, the deed was done.

Richard Greer of Kings Contrivance was first in line. He wasted no time when the doors swung open.

"I came to buy flowers," he said as he accepted a cart from a Safeway employee before disappearing into the store.

Pushing her half-filled cart, scanning the shelves, checking her list and minding her coupons, Kings Contrivance resident Rachel Cook, a loyal Safeway customer, said she felt right at home in the new store.

"We traveled to Harper's Choice and Long Reach to shop [at Safeway]. It's not that far to go, but this is nice," Cook said, explaining that her family is delighted to have the store in the neighborhood.

Originally from Atlanta, the family has lived in Columbia for 16 years. The Cooks moved from Clary's Forest in April.

Cook said she was "picking up a few extras" for the traditional southern New Year's Day dinner she likes to prepare.

In her basket -- with cans of tuna and bottled juice -- was a big bag of fresh collard greens, canned black-eyed peas and a box of cornmeal. With a nod to the Y2K bug, Cook also had a large package of toilet paper.

"Just trying to be on the safe side," she said, laughing.

A few minutes later, Joseph Jones of Elkridge hurried from the store after checking out. He said he hadn't known the store was opening Friday.

"I went to High's to buy bread and they were out, so they told me that Safeway is open," he said.

Jones, a maintenance man who works nights in a building across the street, liked shopping at Valu Food because the store was open late. He says he'll "probably be a regular here," if the hours are convenient.

A steady stream of customers rolled through the doors all morning. Some pushed carts handed to them by employees stationed outside.

Store manager Larry Kunze and two assistants greeted folks as they came through the door with a cheerful "Good morning!" and "Happy New Year!"

Kunze and his greeters handed out free boxes of Safeway-brand toasted oat cereal and bunches of fresh-cut flowers to the early birds who arrived before supplies ran out.

Newcomers paused to tell Kunze how glad they were that the store had opened.

A few customers wanted directions to find an item they needed, and Kunze led them to the spot on the shelf where the product stood.

Some shoppers remarked that "it was not like that" with Valu Food.

Bruce Brown of Kings Contrivance said his family is glad to be rid of the former store, which, he felt, did nothing to contribute to the well-being of the village.

"Valu Food had limited selection, surly, inattentive help, and the place never quite seemed clean and looked like it hadn't been updated for decades," he said.

Grocery stores are typical anchors for village centers and, Brown said, he is concerned about the fiscal health of the village businesses.

"Knowing that Safeway is here is a boost to the whole community," he said. "We are excited about the draw that Safeway represents to the rest of the village center. We rue only that parking will be more dear."

Brown, who is capacity development manager at Sylvan Prometric in Baltimore, says his family members did their shopping at Giant but have visited Safeway stores in Columbia and Burtonsville.

A California native, Brown said he considered Safeway -- which is based in Pleasanton, Calif., near Oakland -- to be "king of the west."

The store opened to rave reviews. Only a month ago, empty shelves stood behind dark windows in the brick building. Now, a bright and shiny store hugs a corner of the plaza.

The refitting was done in less than four weeks. The store was auctioned in Federal Bankruptcy Court at the beginning of the holiday season.

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