Columbia to get new Food Lion store

Grocery chain to renovate old Oakland Mills Metro

January 30, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan and Laura Cadiz | TaNoah Morgan and Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A Food Lion grocery store is coming to the Oakland Mills Village Center in Columbia, filling a void left by a Metro Food Market store that closed nearly two years ago.

The deal was announced Tuesday night at a meeting of the Oakland Mills village board to a crowd of about 35 residents who cheered the news.

One local analyst said the lease was a coup for Kimco Realty Corp., which owns the village center, but he's not sure any grocer can operate in the center where two other grocers, Metro and Giant, have failed.

"I would say opening a grocery store [there] no matter who operates it is a risk," said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food World, a trade journal based in Columbia. "There's an opportunity [for Food Lion], but to me the question is purely location."

Mark E. Mueller, the agent handling the negotiations for Food Lion, said the chain has signed a contract to assume the lease left by Metro at Columbia's smallest village center.

The new tenant plans to renovate the 43,000-square-foot store and reopen it before the end of the year, said Mueller, of NAI KLNB Inc., the commercial real estate brokerage.

According to the contract, Mueller said, the grocer has about three months to apply for a building permit, and another two months to obtain it. He said it could cost the company as much as $1.8 million to transform the former Metro store into a typical Food Lion layout.

Jeff C. Lowrance,a Food Lion spokesman, said he could not comment on the deal because there was "no signed, finalized agreement," but he said the company's stores typically range in size from 30,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet and carry about 24,000 products. The stores contain a deli and bakery; some also have pharmacies.

Although the North Carolina-based grocer has been restructuring, it plans to open 45 new stores across the country this year. It previously announced plans to close 41 stores in 10 states, including two in Maryland, by the end of this month, affecting approximately 1,500 employees.

The food chain operates more than 1,100 stores in 11 states in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions, 73 of which are in Maryland.

Barbara Russell, who represents Oakland Mills on the Columbia Council, said she was ecstatic at the news. "I felt like jumping up and saying, `Hallelujah!' " Russell said.

Residents are hoping a new grocery store will be part of a rebirth for the area.

A local developer has plans to build a 96-unit apartment complex for seniors on the site of a former gas station.

And the owners of a building that housed an Allfirst Bank branch that closed in August are also in negotiations with a new tenant, Russell said.

But Metzger said the location could still spell trouble for the Food Lion.

"I just think that's a poor location. It has nothing to do with the quality of the retailer. ... The demographics [there] aren't particularly strong. [The area is] really land-locked [and] there's no access to any major road," Metzger said.

But, Metzger added, "with Food Lion's nonunion status, and their stripped down style, I think they would have a better chance of making it than anybody. But the question is, is that location meant to house a food store?"

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