CarMax may take over vacant site along U.S. 40

Chain says it has signed a lease for empty supermarket building, which could be razed


A building on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City that has been unoccupied since it was built in 2000 as a supermarket site eventually could be torn down to make way for a CarMax auto dealership, the used-car retailer confirmed this week.

The national chain signed a lease for the 55,000-square-foot, one-story building, less than a half-mile east of the U.S. 29 and U.S. 40 intersection, said Trina H. Lee, a CarMax spokeswoman.

The site's 6.5-acre location would fit a satellite store with 300 to 400 vehicles and employ about 75 to 100 workers, Lee said. The company has a wide window for when such a store could open - within 12 to 50 months, Lee said.

"We would likely have to tear that building down," Lee said. She said it is rare that CarMax would use an existing building for a dealership, especially a supermarket structure. A typical CarMax satellite store is 15,000 to 20,000 square feet.

"This is so early in the process, and we are in the wrap-up of our ... consideration stage - looking at the aspects of the site and the feasibility of a store location," Lee said.

Efforts to reach the property owner and real estate firm that listed the land were unsuccessful yesterday.

The building originally was to have housed a Metro Food supermarket, but the grocery store chain said it never opened the story because of poor access to the location.

Drivers heading east on U.S. 40 would have had to make a U-turn several block away on Rogers Avenue to get to the site, which is on a hill.

CarMax, a Richmond, Va.-based subsidiary of Circuit City Stores Inc., operates 67 used-car stores in 31 markets in addition to seven new-car franchises. Lee said the company looks to expand by 15 percent to 20 percent each year.

A CarMax is scheduled to open in Harford County next month, she added.

Howard County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, said he has mixed feelings about CarMax coming to that section of Ellicott City.

"The good aspect is that we will not have a vacant building on Route 40, but I was hoping for more than a car dealership at this location," Merdon said.

Merdon said the U.S. 40 corridor has an abundance of auto dealerships, and the community could benefit more from other types of commercial operations.

"It would be nice to have more restaurants and high-end retailers," Merdon said.

But Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the county's Economic Development Authority, said, "It is good to see this actually going to be used for commercial purpose. Vacant sites don't look good."

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