Monday, October 20, 2008

Harpers Choice Village Center

Talk about the text book case of a Village Center coming back from the brink of death not only to survive but to thrive. I can only hope that Wilde Lake Village Center can come back the same way Harpers Choice has. I hope that other Village Centers that are showing signs of slipping (Oakland Mills and Long Reach) can reach this same bench mark. They are however, on the east side of Columbia where there are many more retail oppurtunities than just the Village Centers. That's why those two Village Centers need to offer a better mix of tenants so they're aren't left to the wayside.
Now back to Harpers Choice, it opened in 1971 under a different name; "Joesph Square" a part of the current Harpers Choice Village Center is still refered to as Joseph Square. Its original "anchor" tenant was a Pantry as was with Oakland Mills. This space made Wilde Lake Giant look like a modern day Wegmans. It was tiny, it was the same size as the space currently occupied by Tuesday Morning which was originally meant for a drugstore. A People's Drug and eventually a CVS were tenants of that space.
Harpers Choice was different from the get go in that it had residences above its shops as well as offices. Today, as other Village Centers redevelop housing above the shops has become a common concept. The Pantry Pride chain went bankrupt in the 1970s and pulled out of both Harpers Choice and Oakland Mills and were replaced by a Valu Food and a Giant respectively.
Over its 38 year history Harpers Choice has played host to a variety of different tenants which include but aren't limited to: Parcel Plus, Today's Catch Seafood Market, Subway, Jerry's Subs & Pizza, Nations Bank, Chick 'N Friends, Trolley Stop, Hair Cuttery, Amoco Gas, Uniphoto Labs, Little Ceasers Pizza, Tropical Juice Bar, Gringada Mexican Restaurant, Atlantis Seafood & Grille, Lily's Southwestern Bar & Grill, and Modern Haircut.
Not surprisinly the 1990s brought change to Harpers Choice. Both neighboring Villages opened brande new centers each with a Giant that made Harpers Choice's Valu Food a joke. With the Village of Harpers Choice shouldering 25% of Columbia's low income housing crime began to increase (it had been a problem before hand but it became more frequent and serious)
The center also suffered from poor lighting and visibility from the road and an increasingly blighted appearance. Valu Food and many of the cneter's smaller tenants began leaving at an alarming rate. Other outside influences included white flight caused by the building of River Hill and a higher concentration of poverty. By 1996 Harpers Choice had only a hand full of tenants holding on. They inluded Nations Bank, Harper's Choice Liquors, Cleaners Plus, Strand's Hair Studio, CVS, Hunan Diamond, Gringada Mexican Restaurant, the Amoco Gas Station, and McDonalds. I remember going to the McDonalds and it feeling like it was the entire Village Center. I thought Harpers Choice was gone for good. Harper's Choice had other attributes such as The Athletic Club and the Florence Bain Senior Center and Kahler Hall. Also on site is Harpers Choice Middle School and the Cedar Lane School.Little did I know that the Rouse Company (Owners of the Village Center at the time) weren't about to let Harper's Choice go down without a fight. The Rouse company was prepared to open up the Village Center by demolishing and rebuilding a substantial part of it. First off the old Valu Food could not be back filled it was too old, too small, and too hidden. It had to go, McDonalds was attached to the building that housed Valu Food so it went with Valu Food. But wasn't McDonalds the only saving grace for the Village Center? Yes and it got a brand new building with better visibilty and access. Now came the hard part, selling the center to a national grocer and where to build it. Any national grocer or local one for that matter would be taking a huge gamble by coming to Harpers Choice especially because the new store would be the same size as newer stores in Dorsey's Search and Hickory Ridge. Safeway took a leap of faith and decided to be Harpers Choice's new anchor.
With the addition of Safeway back filling vacant store fronts became much easier. They included Nail Center, Parcel Plus, Papa Johns, Dunkin' Donuts, The Columbia Bank, The Hair Cuttery, and Uniphoto Labs.Renovations occurred in 1997 and by 1998 a new Harpers Choice Village Center was born. The question that everybody was banking on was "if we build it will they come back?" The answer was and is yes. Harpers Choice is one of Columbia's most profitable Village Centers new or old.Eleven years later Harpers Choice has continued to thrive. New additions include Columbia Sports Park which has a Mini Golf Course and a Skate Boarding Arena and an Adult Day Care Center. Renovations of the Florence Bain Senior Center, Kahler Hall, and the Athletic Club have also occurred.The current retail tenants are as follows; Safeway, Tuesday Morning, Nail Center, Harpers Choice Liquors, Ritas Ice Cream, Strands Hair Studio, Howard County Police Sataleitte Office, Papa Johns, Zapata's Mexican Grille, Acheiver's Hair Salon, The Columbia Bank, Hunan Diamond, Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Misko's Ballet Studio, Bank of America, Harpers Choice Cleaners, Maiwond Kabob, and a BP Gas Station. Both the Safeway and Dunkin Donuts have undergone renovations which suggest a long term commitment to Harpers Choice.
Harpers Choice still has residences above and may not be the only Village Center to have them in the near distant future. Harpers Choice has made a come back that is beyond remarkable and with new development above Route 108 its clientele will only grow. Wilde Lake, now it's your turn!