Friday, August 16, 2013

Wilde Lake Village Center: Demolition is Underway

It's been close to seven years since Wilde Lake has lost its 22,000 square foot Giant Anchor but it appears finally that the long awaited redevelopment of Wilde Lake Village Center is underway. Since Giant closed, there have been multiple businesses that have closed their doors since. They include Produce Galore, Riedel's Florist, Tokyo Cafe, Star Nails, Feet First, Great Clips, The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, The Columbia Bank, and KFC. Luckily a big new lease has been signed; CVS Pharmacy will build a store on the grounds of what is now a Crown Gas Station. With that and David's acting as Co-Anchors it is believed new tenants will flock to the Center. I hope they're right.

In addition to the businesses who have departed, there are still tenants who have held tough through it all and are eagerly awaiting redevelopment; Anthony Richard Barber Shop, Wilde Lake Cleaners, Absolutely Wine & Spirits, Bagel Bin, Pizza Bolis, The Melting Pot, Wilde Lake Karate, Hunan Family, Achievers Hair Salon, The UPS Store, and finally the two known stores that will be housed in new buildings; David's and Today's Catch Seafood Market. 
With most of the aforementioned businesses agreeing to stay on, this begs the question; Who should be joining them i.e. what businesses should to the Village Center? Whatever businesses they are they should be "draws", businesses that will draw people into the Center and patronize other businesses. 
I had originally proposed (years ago) a Quiznos Sub Shop but given how many of them have closed in the past few years. Jimmy Johns, is opening lots of new restaurants in the area and I think a Wilde Lake location would be a great addition. Although not necessarily a draw, a Nail Salon would also be good given that it's a staple in most Village Center and Wilde Lake currently doesn't have one. 
In the redevelopment plans there's a very small Retail space proposed in the middle of the Courtyard. This would be perfect for an Ice Cream Stand similar to Rita's or The Meadows Frozen Custard. Obviously neither of these would work at Wilde Lake given that they're at Harper's Choice and Hickory Ride respectively. Ice Cream stands are also draws. Along Lynx Lane there's a new space proposed for a Bank. Given that the Columbia Bank has left a new Bank for that space will have to be sought out. 
Not included in the renovation plans are what is to be done with the old KFC space. I don't believe Kimco originally owned it but they're talking about leasing it out which makes me believe that they have either bought it or are taking over leasing duties on behalf of the owners. I personally think that building is outdated and will stick out like a sore thumb in the newly redeveloped Center. I believe it should demolished and replaced with a Sonic. There's one coming to Ellicott City and I think Wilde Lake should usher Sonic into Columbia. I had originally proposed it for Long Reach but I have other plans for it so Wilde Lake it is.
The redevelopment of Wilde Lake has been seven years in the making and has been filled with pitfalls. I don't doubt that such problems won't continue until completion but at least for now we can say; The demolition has begun.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Family Market: Why it Closed

I know I'm a little behind the curve on this one but I was on vacation for two weeks so please forgive me. As we all know just 19 months after its opening, the Family Market the long awaited replacement for the beleaguered Safeway in Long Reach has closed. There are numerous reasons and theories behind its closure, ranging from Health Department Complaints to unpaid rent. What it boils down to is that it's impossible (or darn near) to run an independent Grocery Store that size. But how will Long Reach come back?
When the Family Market opened in February of last year, it was hailed as the Village Center's rebirth. The poorly stocked Safeway that offered overpriced expired foods had worn out its welcome and was no longer a good anchor. The plethora of vacant storefronts in the Village Center served as proof for this. Given the very diverse demographics of Long Reach, a Grocer was needed that catered to this.
When it was announced that the Family Market, a new independent International Grocer was replacing Safeway, Long Reach celebrated what they thought would be a proper anchor to their Village Center. The vacant storefronts that plagued the Center during the final months of Safeway's tenure had begun to be leased out. So what happened to the Family Market? Why did it close?
I can tell you in one word; Cash. The Owner simply didn't have enough of it. Although he had run Grocery Stores in the past they were smaller and the expenses were no near that of a 55,000 square foot space. The rent, the amount of stock needed, labor costs, utility costs, insurance, maintenance, these are all things that require a lot more cash on hand, something that any soul Proprietor would feel overwhelmed and burdened with when taking over this venture. 
The amount of cash it takes to start a business like this is staggering and the amount needed just to keep it chugging along is even more so especially given how long it takes to pay off loans and debts. It could take a good solid decade before such loans are paid off and the Business is profitable. All the while additional investments must be made and the cash to do so must be on hand.
When the Family Market opened, it appeared that the owner had "just enough" cash to put the operation together. The amount of stock in some of the more General Grocery Departments were not on par with that of a store that size. It did however have lots of Asian, Hispanic, and Indian foods that most Grocers (including Wegmans) did not have and their prices were in line with the demographics of Long Reach. Not only that, websites such as "Yelp" and "Foursquare" had given the Market rave reviews.
The space however was just too big. There were parts of the store that never opened. When Safeway occupied this part of the store it was mainly used for prepared foods. It had a creepy eerie feel to it. Eventually the owner had planned to turn this into a food court. Now that the Market has closed, this plan will never come to fruition. 
Another thing to keep in mind is the haste in which the Family Market opened. Safeway closed in November 2011 and in February 2012 the Family Market had opened. Given that the last renovation of the space was done in the mid 1990s, costly repairs would be in the near future.
As 2012 wore on, the high cost of running the Family Market and the lack of cash on hand began to show on the operation itself. More and more isles were void of stock and a general lack of upkeep began to keep would be customers from shopping there. Reviews began to acknowledge that something was going terribly wrong. 
In 2013, things continued to worsen. The store appeared very dimly lit and departments such as Seafood, Deli, Bakery, and Frozen Foods has been closed and sanctioned off. The only part of the store that was "open" was the non perishables and those shelves were quite bare. On the entrance doors there was a lone cardboard sign that read "We are Staying Open." I talked to the owner on the phone regarding the situation and he told me that they were making upgrades to the refrigeration system in the entire store and that it would be up and running in full capacity within the next couple of weeks.
Well here we are now and that has happened. Despite Safeway (who sublet the space to the Family Market) has evicted them due to unpaid rent stemming from day one and Health Department complaints stemming from the fact the store had been run on a generator instead. This would explain the poorly lit store and the fact that so much of the store was closed off. All of these problems stem from lack of cash. The owner however, has stuck to his guns and believes that the store will reopen soon and they're "renovating and restocking" however in order to reopen he must come up with $300,000 in unpaid rent and $55,000 in additional fines. That's a lot of cash and like I said, the failure of the store was due to lack of cash. How will he come up with that much money? I don't know either.
Moving forward, I do believe that an International Grocer is right for Long Reach. I had hoped that while still in business, the Family Market would sell itself to chain such as H-Mart. H-Mart has a business plan that's a proven success. The one in Catonsville is small however it's very crowded. H-Mart would have the adequate cash flow to fund proper renovations to the vacant Family Market Space and pay its rent on time even when the business is getting on its feet. Although H-Mart is mainly an Asian Grocer but given the large space in Long Reach, it could diversify its selection to include Latino, Indian, and African Foods. I hope an international chain similar to H-Mart can come to the rescue and soon.