As times change, so does Santoni's Super Market

73-year-old store hopes to expand with city help

March 26, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

An East Baltimore supermarket founded 73 years ago by an Italian immigrant is embarking on a $2.4 million expansion of its Highlandtown location that appears to have bagged the financial backing of the city and state.

The city's Board of Estimates is to vote today on approving a $300,000 loan to Santoni's Super Market at East Lombard and South Eaton streets that would clear the way to completing additional bank and state loans needed to expand the store.

"This is a major expansion and upgrade," said Chief Financial Officer Robert Santoni Jr., who is the third generation to run the store's operations. "This expansion will solidify our presence in the community going into our fourth generation."

In addition to the city's loan, the state's Neighborhood Business Development Program is lending the project $500,000. Harbor Bank is providing the bulk of the financing with a $1.4 million loan. The Santoni family is contributing $300,000 for the project.

The store employs 110 people. The 3,000-square-foot expansion is expected to add nearly two dozen jobs. The city's loan, if approved, will allow Santoni's to make only monthly interest payments on the first $200,000 over four years. The store would then be required to pay monthly principal and interest payments over 11 years on what remains.

But if Santoni's creates at least 15 jobs by Dec. 31, 2005, the principal and interest payments on the final $100,000 of the loan would be forgiven. If those jobs are not created, Santoni's will pay a penalty.

The loan is part of the city's effort to encourage more grocery stores to open in the city and to help existing markets to expand.

"The only way a retail store can exist is if it changes with the times," said Kevin Malachi, director of small business and neighborhood development for the Baltimore Development Corp. "Santoni's has done a great job of that, and now they're going to do a great job of expanding."

It is not the first time the store has grown or changed with the times.

In 1930, Savino Santoni started Santoni's Super Market in the 100 block of South Eaton St. In 1960, Robert Santoni Sr. and his brother expanded the store to 15,000 square feet. In 1987, the Highlandtown Village Shopping Center opened across the street and the 27,000-square- foot Santoni's Super Market became an anchor tenant.

At the same time, the company attempted to create a chain of stores, building eight other markets and four convenience stores. But by 1997, the company sold all the ancillary stores to concentrate on the Lombard Street location.

"We downsized and threw our heart and soul into the flagship store," Santoni Jr. said. Since 1997, he said, the store's sales have increased 30 percent.

"Santoni's has always been there for Highlandtown," said Kim Kramer, president of the Baltimore Highlandtown Community Association.

She said Santoni's provides free food for several neighborhood events and finances local scholarship programs. The store is also known for its delivery service, which benefits nearby senior citizens, Kramer said.

Most of the money will be used to redesign the interior to allow for easier shopping for the 24,000 customers who frequent the store each week.

"This is like a dream come true," Santoni Jr. said.

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