Bolton Hill grocery to close

Only supermarket in neighborhood shuts doors today

January 27, 2001|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The only supermarket in Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood will close at the end of business today after last-minute negotiations failed to keep the Super Fresh open another year.

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., parent company of the Super Fresh chain, and Rite Aid Corp., landlord of Bolton Hill Shopping Center, were unable to agree on lease terms during the past few days, both companies said yesterday.

Super Fresh has been closing older, smaller stores in favor of full-service stores of up to 60,000 square feet.

But the chain wanted to continue operating the 20-year-old, marginally profitable supermarket on McMechen Street, said Richard De Santa, vice president of corporate affairs at A&P's headquarters in Montvale, N.J.

The company had intended to renew its lease, which expired in October, but decided a month ago to close the store after Rite Aid asked for a "drastic rent increase" that would have made the store unprofitable, De Santa said.

"Stores that size [10,000 square feet] are not the stores of the future for our company, generally speaking," he said.

Residents, with the help of Del. Verna L. Jones and state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, intervened and persuaded the two companies to renegotiate.

"The fact that Super Fresh was leaving is their business. However, it did impact the neighborhood, and we were caught unprepared for it," said Stan Smith, president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association.

He said many elderly people who are without transportation patronize the supermarket.

De Santa said that in further negotiations, the two sides reached an agreement on rent but not on the duration of the lease.

Super Fresh needed a year's commitment, he said, but Rite Aid offered only three months. Over the past two days, Rite Aid offered to increase the term to six months, but it would be too costly for Super Fresh to have to plan to re-enter negotiations in that time period, the A&P spokesman said.

Rite Aid officials said yesterday that they offered Super Fresh rent well below market rates to stay in the center.

"When that didn't work, we offered short-term incentives until a new tenant is found," said Jodi Cook, a Rite Aid spokeswoman. "We were surprised that Super Fresh decided to leave the location. Its rent had not changed in 15 years."

Cook said the Rite Aid drugstore in the center is being expanded to include a convenience food section that will offer bread, milk, beverages and frozen foods.

"We are actively seeking another tenant to fill the vacancy," Cook said. "Our priority is to find a grocery tenant."

In the meantime, the Mount Royal Community Association is working to start a shuttle service for residents to one or more supermarkets in the city and is hoping for help from the city, state and possibly from Rite Aid, Smith said.

Despite pulling out of Bolton Hill, A&P still considers the Baltimore area a strong market and continues seeking new store sites, De Santa said.

The company is continuing a strategy of closing smaller, outdated stores without strong growth potential and building stores of 50,000 to 60,000 square feet that include large fresh-food sections and pharmacies.

Two older Super Fresh supermarkets will close Feb. 8 - one at 7117 Security Blvd. and another at 800 North Rolling Road.

A new Super Fresh will open in a former Hechinger's store on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn on Feb. 9, with another supermarket scheduled to open in the Parkville Shopping Center in March or April, De Santa said.

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