Friday, March 23, 2012

Oakland Mills: In Chains


There's been some very interesting news that has come across our beloved Oakland Mills Village Center' Chains, this Village Center that for most of its existence has hardly had a chain store will very soon be getting two chains; A Dunkin Donuts and a Little Ceaser's Pizza. Chains are a lot harder to woo into a Shopping Center than an Independent Merchant due to the fact that a chain can go anywhere it wants; usually on a bust thoroughfare and even then the bigwigs at the chain's headquarters are very picky. So given that Oakland Mills, off the beaten path has landed not one but two chains is a VERY big deal because it shows that the Village Center is seen as attractive to outsiders.
Now I have seen Oakland Mills at its best like it is today and I have seen it at its worst. The history of this Village Center is one plagued with vacant storefronts, empty parking lots, and crime. Oakland Mills opened in 1969 as Columbia's second Village Center with a Pantry Pride anchoring it. The Grocer Space in Oakland Mills believe it or not was smaller than the Giant at Wilde Lake. Other than Pantry Pride, a Bank and Chevron Gas Station, chains eluded Oakland Mills. The Center in its earlier days was an enclosed Mall not unlike Baltimore's Rotunda.

Pantry Pride didn't last long as the Chain went bankrupt in the early 1970s, this was the only time in the Village Center's history that finding a Grocer to anchor it was not a problem. Giant decided to open its second Columbia Supermarket in Oakland Mills. Small businesses came and went, the Chevron Station became an Exxon, an independent free standing Burger Joint became a Roy Rogers and a Royal Farms opened where a putt putt course once stood. A Rite Aid Pharmacy operated out of one of the Center's larger spaces before becoming a People's Drug and finally a CVS.

Some may say that the opening of a new much larger Giant at the new Owen Brown Village Center in 1978 which featured its own Pharmacy the first of its kind in the area was the beginning of the end for Oakland Mills Giant. The Giant didn't close in Oakland Mills until 1997 but shoppers were turned off by its small size, and lack of amenities that new stores had like a Bkery, Deli, and Seafood Section. Oakland Mills originally had some of these but as business declined, they were discontinued. It became obvious that Giant wasn't satisfied with the performance of its Oakland Mills location but at the same time it didn't want to do much to improve the store.

In 1995 or 1996 perhaps the only other chain at the Center; Roy Rogers was bought out by McDonalds and rather than convert it into one they boarded up their free standing building. In the years I've been following Oakland Mills Village Center I can't say I remember a chain opening up there except for the ill fated Metro Food Market and the Food Lion.

At the time of Giant's closure, Oakland Mills had several independent businesses such as the Shoe Doctor, Alexander's Restaurant, Venerrai's Pizza, Lucky's China Inn, Oakland Mills Dollar Store, Last Chance Saloon, Oakland Mills Cleaners, Oakland Mills Liquors, Oakland Mills Barber Shop, Casa Dora Hair Salon, and Columbia Video. After a complete redevelopment of the Village Center after Giant's closure, Oakland Mills attracted a Metro Food Market which opened in late 1998 or early 1999 with only a small number of tenants from the old center; Last Chance Saloon, Columbia Bank, Oakland Mills Liquors, Lucky's China Inn, Oakland Mills Cleaners, and Village Barber Stylist (this was the old Oakland Mills Braber Shop however they expanded to a full salon with women's hair as well as tanning beds.)

There was still a vacancy in the new Center, Residents went and campaigned to have Vennari's reopen and the owners heard their cries loud and clear, (I can see why, their pizza is delicious), they reopened in the summer of 1999. The Center's only vacancy by then was the boarded up Roy Rogers which soon became the Center's second Chinese Restaurant known as Congee House, it didn't last long which was good news for Lucky's and myself because the food is excellent Congee House then became Bankok Garden, a Thai Restaurant.
After crime reared its ugly head in the fall of 1999, the Royal Farms, 1st National Bank, and Exxon all located on Stevens Forest Road on pad sites closed up due to excessive holdups. Although these were the only two businesses to close at this time, business and foot traffic at the Village Center dropped off dramatically. In 2001 the Metro closed as part of "corporate restructuring" It was at this point that Sam's Mart took over the old Royal Farms. For more than a decade, the Exxon and 1st National Bank sites would remain vacant blighted eyesores. Not too soon after Metro left, the Last Chance Saloon closed which was a shame because my Family and I used to go there often for their superb burgers.
Now that Food Lion has roared into the Village Center and as a tribute to the befallen Last Chance Saloon, the Second Chance Saloon has opened in its place. Now after decades of not having chain stores in the Village Center and vacant pad sites on Stevens Forest Road, Oakland Mills will have redevelopment of the vacant Exxon site with a Dunkin Donuts!

This is great news for the Village whose Center was lacking this key Retail Component. Also the First National Bank building has been leased to a Little Ceasar's Pizza, a chain that has come back after being run out of town by Papa Johns. I haven't had a Pizza from there in 20 years! My only objection to that is that Little Ceasars will cut into the business of Venari's. I can only hope that the two businesses can both survive and thrive together.

It's been decades since Oakland Mills has been viable enough to attract chain stores but finally it's turned a corner in a positive direction that chains have decided to make the investment into Oakland Mills. It's finally in Chains!

1 comment:

Amber Wendland said...

I just wanted to comment on how great your blog is and ask where you get all of your historical information from. I grew up in the Oakland Mills area and am now a graduate student at the University of Maryland. Since I am studying architecture and community planning, Columbia is of special interest to me. My final thesis proposal deals with the evolution of Columbia over the past half century and how Rouse's initial visions have (or have not) progressed. I just wanted to thank you for your blog and if you have any thoughts, ideas, or sources to share feel free to send them my way!