Flaunting larger departments and a new facade, the remodeled Giant Food - now nearly twice as big as before - will officially reopen in the Owen Brown Village Center today.
A key element in a planned revitalization of the village center, the store - which remained open during the $10 million project - has been expanded from 39,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet and has seven enlarged departments.
Shoppers are also greeted by 16 aisles with new lighting and decor. A one-hour photo developing center, pharmacy, health and beauty department and Chevy Chase Bank branch have also moved into the store.
"It's in essence a brand-new, beautiful store," said Jamie Miller, a spokesman for Giant Food Inc. "It will allow us to serve the community that much more effectively."
To celebrate the reopening of the 24-year-old store, Giant today will offer food sampling, random prize drawings and face-painting.
News of the remodeled store attracted Linda Rozzi, of nearby Kings Contrivance, to make her first trip there yesterday, instead of shopping at her village's Safeway.
"I think I'll start coming here now," she said after browsing through the frozen food section, where the aisles are wide enough to fit at least three shoppers with carts. "I don't mind the drive."
Neil Dorsey, chairman of the Owen Brown Village Board, called the store's remodeling one of the first steps in the refurbishing of the village center, which is owned by Giant Food Inc., based in Landover.
"It looks like a real grocery store now," Dorsey said. "The layout is bright, the aisles are large. I think it's everything everybody wanted."
As part of the six-month expansion, the five shops - including Hair Cuttery and Owen Brown Liquors - near what used to be the walkway to the rear of the shopping center were demolished in the spring and moved to a new strip in the center.
Giant is also planning to update the shops behind the grocery store, to have them mesh with the grocery store's brick facade with green awnings, Miller said. In that area, four of 10 tenant spaces are vacant. Giant is also working to find occupants, he said.
Another recent addition to the village center is an office for Assistant State's Attorney Lara Weathersbee, who has office hours there twice each week as part of the county state's attorney's office community prosecution program.
Dorsey said community response to Weathersbee's presence at the center has been positive, as she talks with residents about concerns and attempts to help them find ways to prevent crimes.
"I think everybody is very pleased with the outcome," he said.
When plans for the remodeling were unveiled to Owen Brown village officials in May 1999, residents were concerned that the enlarged Giant would prevent shoppers from easily getting to the shops and restaurants behind the store.
But those concerns have been somewhat eased, and Dorsey said those rear businesses, such as Sonoma's Bar & Grille, are destination stores that customers can get to via a short walk along a well-lighted walkway.
Michael Rhodovi, general manger of Sonoma's Bar & Grille, said the main effect on the restaurant's business has been a slight decline in lunchtime customers when the construction began. Despite Giant putting up signs stating those rear shops were open, customers were unsure if the restaurant was operating, he said.
Rhodovi said he is not overly concerned about the restaurant not being as visible as before, noting that "people have always had a hard time finding us, from Day One," because the village center is in a residential setting.
Visibility "could always be better, but we're used to it," he said. "We know that this is a location that's a destination."
Now that the Giant expansion is complete, Rhodovi said, he looks forward to the next phase, renovating the rear shops, including his restaurant.
"They did great work; the village center looks beautiful on that side," he said. "I just hope they do the same work on this side."