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baltimoresun.com

Rotunda Giant makes a quiet exit

But great fanfare accompanies soft opening of new Giant in nearby Green Spring Tower shopping center

By Larry Perl, lperl@patuxent.com

9:37 PM EDT, March 29, 2012

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Edith Bershadsky, of Tuscany-Canterbury, came to the Rotunda Giant shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday to buy a ticket for the record-breaking, $540 million Mega-Millions jackpot.

But by the time she got there, Giant Food officials had already removed the lottery machine in anticipation of the closing of the 41-year-old store.

Bershadsky, 57, left with only a loaf of cheese bread. But she also left with a locally historic distinction. She was the last shopper ever to check out of the store when its doors were shut shortly after 6 p.m.

"I've been coming here on and off since I came to (Johns Hopkins University) as a grad student in 1984," said Bershadsky, who now works at the Baltimore Museum of Industry downtown.

As she left the supermarket for the last time and headed out of the Rotunda, she stopped and looked through the window.

But a few minutes later, Bershadsky was back at the Giant — the new Giant, a former SuperFresh and Fresh & Green's store that opened the same day a quarter mile away in the Green Spring Tower Shopping Center in Hampden.

"I had been to the SuperFresh," she said, strolling the store with a shopping cart. "So far, it's pretty similar."

As the Giant in the Rotunda closed unceremoniously, corporate officials and Baltimore City leaders cut a ceremonial ribbon to officially open the converted Giant store at 1030 W. 41st St.

The 47,000-square-foot space was most recently a short-lived Fresh & Green's store.

City officials on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony included City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Youngand 14th District City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake was not scheduled to attend, her scheduling office said. Rawlings-Blake had a prior engagement, said Jamie Miller, spokesman for Landover-based Giant Food.

"This is a wonderful, wonderful store," Young said. "And they added 100-plus jobs," because the new Giant is larger than the undersized, 33,000-square foot Rotunda Giant.

The Hampden store was one of two new Giant stores that opened Thursday. The other, also a former Fresh & Green's and SuperFresh, is a 42,000-square-foot supermarket in Parkville, at 7709 Harford Road.

Both stores had "soft" openings with open houses and cashiers. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins were scheduled to attend the Parkville store's soft opening, Miller said.

However, there was nothing soft about the opening in Hampden. So many people were waiting at the store earlier in the day that officials opened at 12:45 p.m, instead of 5 p.m, as originally planned.

Customers literally got the red carpet treatment as they entered the store. Some employees wore red jackets, red hats and white gloves as if serving as ushers at a movie premiere. A red carpet was laid down inside the entrance. There was even popcorn served at the entrance. And shoppers got gold stars that entitled them to a free bag of groceries as they left.

And like a movie premiere, there were reviews for the new store, most of them rave reviews.

"So far, so good. I think I'm going to like this," said Magnolia Morris, 49, of Randallstown, as she shopped at the new Giant location.

Morris, who works at the People's Community Health Center in Charles Village, said the parking at the new location was better than the limited parking at the Rotunda store.

"I love it," said Stephanie Stockton, 34, of Medfield, a meeting planner, as she shopped with her 1-year-old daughter, Charlotte. "It's clean. It's fresh. I wanted a good store in the neighborhood."

Stephen Nichols, 75, of Guilford, had no complaints, even when told that the store's ATM bank machine wasn't up and running yet. He said he won't miss the Rotund Giant — "not at all."

Ellie Reynolds, 25, of Hampden, a Community College of Baltimore County student, and her husband, Jason, 31, who works for an engineering firm, breezed through the store with one of its many free hand-held scanners. Their only hangup was getting through a self-checkout counter, but employees were quick to help them.

"Oh my gosh, I love it," Ellie Reynolds said. She said she especially liked the new store's natural and organic food section.

Nick Hyson, manager of the old and new stores, couldn't hide his excitement at the privilege of running a brand new supermarket.

"It's a good feeling," he said.

But Hyson said leaving the old store was "a little bit sad."

Meanwhile, at the Rotunda location, shelves were looking a little bare as employees got ready to close the location. The nonperishables will spread around other Giant stores in the region, employees said.

The public bench in the hallway of the Rotunda just outside the Giant had already been removed by late afternoon.

Longtime employee Troy Glenn, who was off work, filmed shoppers with his video camera for posterity. He is transferring to the new Giant in Hamden.

"Can I come in and take a picture?" another longtime employee, Julie Moscynski, who was also off work, asked a security guard stationed at the front door of the Rotunda Giant. She, too, is transferring to the new Giant.

One of the last shoppers out the door was "50-something" Sandy Boucher, of Guilford, a founder and board member of Hope Springs, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating AIDS.

"After 26 years of shopping here, I thought I had to be here the last day," Boucher said.

Gail Long, of Oakenshawe, vice president and chief education officer for Maryland Public Television, also was one of the last shoppers.

When asked why she was shopping at the soon-to-be-closed location, Long grinned.

"Habit, I guess," she said.

Long added that she planned to check out the new location soon.

"Absolutely," she said. "I didn't know it was open yet."

Both the Hampden and Parkville stores were scheduled to open officially Friday at 6 a.m., Miller said.

The Hampden store will be open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday, and 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

The Parkville store will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Miller said.

Giant is donating $5,000 to Action in Maturity, a Hampden-based nonprofit, to shuttle area seniors to the new Giant.

AIM officials say many seniors were able to walk to the Rotunda Giant, 711 W. 40th St., from their nearby apartments, but would have trouble walking down the hill to the new Giant and then back up the hill with their groceries.

The new Giant will include a full-service deli, bakery, produce section, butcher and seafood department, as well as a cafe area with self-serve coffee, and separate floral and natural foods sections and a Carvel ice cream case.

There's no pharmacy, but a Rite Aid is next door in the shopping center, which also includes a T-Mobile cell phone store, aDunkin' Donuts and the restaurant Mamma's Cucina.

The floor and all shelving in the new Giant is new, according to Miller.

The new Giant also has a "cartronics" system to prevent the theft of shopping carts from the store, Miller said.

In an agreement inked earlier this year, New Jersey-based Rotunda owner Hekemian & Co, which plans to redevelop the Rotunda, agreed to let Giant out of its long-term lease in the Rotunda, so Giant could relocate.

In exchange, Giant agreed to let Hekemian replace the Giant store with a smaller "boutique" grocer of no more than 20,000 square feet in the Rotunda, so as not to compete with Giant in its new location, said Chris Bell, senior vice president for acquisitions and development at Hekemian.

Bell cited Trader Joe's as an example of the kind of boutique grocer that he said would be "a nice fit" in the mall. But he and land use consultant Al Barry say it could be several years before a tenant is found to take over the Rotunda Giant space, because it would be unfair to have another grocer move in, only to have to shut down for several years once redevelopment begins.

Bell has reconvened a long-dormant task force of community leaders and presented scaled-back plans for a roughly $100 million redevelopment of the Rotunda as a mixed-use complex of 300 market-rate apartments, retail, offices, several restaurants and an above-ground parking deck.

Earlier plans for a 22-story apartment tower, a hotel and underground parking have been dropped, Bell told the task force Feb. 28.