Concern voiced over closing of Wilde Lake Giant

Village board to schedule an information session

September 17, 2006|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,sun reporter

When the Giant grocery store at Wilde Lake Village Center opened in July 1967, a circular in a local newspaper advertised sirloin steak at 99 cents a pound. It also let shoppers know that "We've done everything to bring you the `Store of the 1970s' - the very latest thinking in retail merchandising."

Nearly 40 years later, the price of sirloin is five times higher, and the Giant, the first tenant in Columbia's first village center, will close its doors next week.

Since Giant made the announcement last month that the store would close Sept. 28 because it could not "adequately service the community," residents and merchants have been concerned about the fate of the village center and whether another supermarket is on the horizon.

Tomorrow, the Wilde Lake Village Board is to set the date for an information meeting next month for residents that will include a panel of local officials and representatives from Kimco Realty Corp., the New Hyde Park, N.Y., company that owns the village center,.

"This will give a chance for residents to get substantive answers to some of their questions," said Rhoda Toback, the Wilde Lake Village Board chairwoman.

Kevin Allen, director of retail and office properties for Kimco Realty, said that while the small size of the store, about 25,000 square feet, is not ideal for a Giant or Safeway, other supermarkets could be interested.

"Our main objective is to advocate for the like-kind merchant in the Giant location," Toback said.

Anthony Richard, owner of Anthony Richard Barber Shop, the last original merchant at the village center once the Giant store closes, said he remembers when the grocery store opened in 1967 and the fanfare that came with it. But now, the image is much different. The building and its selections of food and other items can't compete with today's larger stores.

"People stay out of that Giant," Richard said. "Other than picking up a few things, they don't do their regular shopping there. Just like me, I go there for a few things. When I go shopping, I go off to a bigger store, too."

While the supermarket is considered the anchor of a village center, many people, including other Wilde Lake merchants, consider David's Natural Market and Produce Galore - two popular produce and specialty food stores - the center's main attractions.

Still, closing the Giant store will have an impact on many people.

Barbara Glick, 50, has lived near the village center since 1992. A vegetarian and an environmentalist, she often walks to the village Giant for her supermarket needs.

"I don't use any other grocery store, and I have not gone to any others because I wanted that Giant to stay in business," she said.

Glick said she likes the small aisles in the older Giant.

"I don't understand the appeal of a large store," Glick said. "I don't get my exercise by walking down long aisles, I get my exercise by walking around Wilde Lake and swimming in the pool."

Merchants and village officials said they are concerned about senior citizens, some of whom live near the village center, and other village residents who do not have cars.

"We definitely need a grocery store for the needs of the community. ... People got so used to the lifestyle that they come to the village center," said Anita Bansal, owner of Absolutely Wine or Spirits.

Toback said village officials are looking at ways to help residents who do not have cars. She said some possibilities are offering residents busing to nearby village centers for their food shopping and having some goods sold by other merchants at Wilde Lake Village Center.

Supermarket closures and renovations are nothing new for some of Columbia's 10 village centers. Safeway closed its Kings Contrivance store in June, and the village center will be without a supermarket until fall 2007 when a new Harris Teeter is to open. Harper's Choice went without a supermarket for more than two years after Valu Food closed in 1995. It has a Safeway now.

Supermarkets in Long Reach (Safeway) and Owen Brown (Giant) expanded - and stayed open - when its village centers were redeveloped. Oakland Mills redeveloped its village center, but lost a new supermarket (Metro Foods) and was without an anchor for three years before Food Lion took over in November 2004.

While the Wilde Lake Giant store had expanded slightly, the village center has not had a major renovation.

Allen, the Kimco Realty representative, said, "The catalyst for change" at a village center "is the expansion of a center's anchor or an anchor store going vacant."

But he said the closure of the Giant does not necessarily mean a renovation is in the village center's future.

"It just means that we may have an opportunity now whereas before we didn't," he said.

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

Grocery prices from 1967

Here are some advertised prices when Giant had its grand opening July 26, 1967, for its Wilde Lake Village Center store:

T-bone steak: $1.09 a pound

1 lb. loaf of Heidi rye bread: 25 cents

Jumbo shrimp: $1.19 a pound

Whole watermelons: 79 cents each

Green cabbage: 5 cents a pound

Giant soft drinks: 12 cans (12 oz.) for 89 cents

[Source: Circular provided by Columbia Archives]

We want your opinions

THE ISSUE:

The Giant supermarket at Wilde Lake Village Center will close Sept. 28. How will this affect the community? What is the best way to use the soon-to-be vacant space?

YOUR VIEW:

Send e-mail responses by Thursday to howard.speakout@baltsun.com. A selection of responses will be published Sunday. Please keep your responses short and include your name, address and telephone number. Addresses and phone numbers will not be published.

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