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International grocer to replace Safeway in Long Reach

More shops also opening soon, center owner says

By David Greisman, dgreisman@tribune.com

4:42 PM EDT, October 17, 2011

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A new grocery store could open in the Long Reach Village Center just weeks after the Safeway supermarket there closes, and the village center's owner says four more businesses are expected to open in the center before the end of the year.

International Food Market will take the place of the nearly 55,000-square-foot grocery store as early as mid-November or early December, according to Steve Verstandig, vice president of Pikesville-based America's Realty. Along with international foods, the shop also will have a café.

Safeway will shut down Nov. 5, according to company spokesman Craig Muckle.

"The store has not performed to the degree that we hoped it would," Muckle said. "We make these determinations as the terms of our lease reach an end."

He did not know when the store's lease was due to expire.

Rumors about the Safeway's impending closure surfaced in April after its pharmacy closed. At the time, Muckle said the store would remain open.

Carl Verstandig, president of America's Realty, said he was already looking at a replacement for Safeway as his company was in the process of buying the Long Reach Village Center last year.

"We knew that Safeway was not going to be there long-term," Carl Verstandig said. "You see the shelves there are empty, and the volume is low, and they shut the pharmacy."

International Food Market has set up office space in the center to help prepare for renovating the Safeway, hiring employees and opening the store, Carl Verstandig said.

"We're trying to do this as quick as we can," Steve Verstandig said. "We want to make sure that the population knows another grocery store is going there right away … and that they don't go elsewhere to shop."

A pizzeria is due to open in the village center within the next 30 days, he said, and a Caribbean restaurant will open by Nov. 1. A Subway restaurant and a salon are slated to open by Dec. 1, he said.

Carl Verstandig said the plan is to renovate the village center, upgrade its landscaping and parking lots, add more lighting and make other cosmetic changes.

Karen Hitcho, chairwoman of the Long Reach village board, welcomed the transition from Safeway to a new grocer.

"Sadly, our Safeway has gone really downhill in the last five to eight years," she said. "I think it's for the best that they're going. If they don't want to run a decent grocery store, let's part ways."

Several business owners in the village center stressed the importance of having a supermarket.

"Grocery stores are a major anchor," said Rhodney Lloyd, owner of Chick N' Friends, said. "We have customers who stop here and go to the grocery store."

International Food Market will enter an area with several other grocery shopping options within miles of the Long Reach Village Center, including a Giant off Centre Park Drive, a Trader Joe's and a Costco in the Gateway Overlook shopping center, and a BJ's Wholesale Club in the Snowden Square shopping center.

A Wegmans is scheduled to open off McGaw Road by summer 2012.

Nevertheless, Steve Verstandig was optimistic that a new grocery store in Long Reach would be able to thrive in a crowded market.

"This is going to be extremely unique," he said, "and much more diverse."