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Rotunda redeveloper taking fresh look at MOM's Organic Market

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A chain of organic markets that Scott Nash started in his mother's basement in Beltsville in 1987 has grown to 10 stores in Maryland and Virginia.

An 11th store could be coming to the Rotunda mall.

MOM's Organic Market is a finalist to open a boutique grocer in the mall, succeeding Giant Food, which closed its supermarket there in February 2011 and opened a new store in the Green Spring Tower Shopping Center.

Rotunda owner Hekemian & Co., which is redeveloping the mall in Hampden, has announced plans for a 20,000-square-foot grocer there. But Nash said he would need only about 15,000 square feet for a MOM's store, similar to one in the Yorkridge Shopping Center in Timonium, which is the MOM's store closest to north Baltimore.

Nash said negotiations are ongoing between his broker and Giant for what would be the first MOM's store in the city.

"I think they had their eye on us," Nash said, but added, "We're just talking to them. We don't have a deal done. We're feeling each other out."

Graul's Market, another regional chain in the running for a Rotunda store, is lobbying the community and media for support. Dennis Graul, who owns Graul's Market stores in Mays Chapel and Ruxton, said they are full-service markets but that he is worried Hekemian is turning its attention away from Graul's and toward a smaller store of about 10,000 square feet, which would be too small for a Graul's.

Nash said he is high on the Rotunda site and if chosen would include a restaurant with the market, serving fresh juices, whole grain vegetable steam bowls, salads and daily specials. The store would have charging stations for electric cars in the Rotunda parking lot, as well as recycling centers inside the store, with separate bins for corks, light bulbs, batteries, clothes, plastic bags and electronics.

MOM's stores are not full service, but do have fresh, packaged organic meats and seafood.

"Our organic produce quality is unmatched," he said last week. "Our prices, according to an independent survey by Consumer Checkbook, are the lowest of any of the major (grocery) chains — 7 percent less than Whole Foods and 4 percent less than Wegmans."

On Friday, March 15, the Baltimore Messenger toured the MOM's store in Timonium with manager-in-training Jen Wiegel, whose family owns a farm in White Hall. The market is located near Kohl's department store. It is bright, clean and well laid out, but its shelves and cases are stocked with brands unfamiliar to many in north Baltimore, like Evo dog food, Arrowhead Mills Gluten-Free Maple Buckwheat Flakes and Envirokids Gorilla Munch, a snack food.

"This is our ever-growing meat case," said Wiegel, showing chickens, chicken hot dogs and bison meat from area farms in the region, as well as vacuum-packed seafood. She said the store tries to use local farms for its produce and meats, although it's more difficult to do in the winter months.

MOM's sells only chemical-free sparkling water.

"It throws people for a loop," Wiegel said.

But the nearly 2-year-old MOM's store has been doing good business, with an average of 750 customers a day, 1,000 on Saturdays, Wiegel said.

"We've been seeing a real boom, a ton of new business," she said. "We get new people who want to try it out and change their lifestyle. You're never too old to be healthy."

Wiegel, 23, said she thinks MOM's would be a good fit for Hampden, where two brothers and all her friends live.

"They're all trying to get me and my boyfriend to move to Hampden," she said, laughing.

"I do think the Rotunda would be great for MOM's," said Nash, 48. "The more I see of that site, the more I like it. It's a really nice area. It's a little quirky and we're a little quirky."

But what of hundreds of seniors in the area, who haven't had a grocery store they could walk to since Giant left the Rotunda? City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents the area, said earlier this month that she supports Graul's candidacy and is anxious to bring the area's seniors a full-service grocery store that they can walk to without "taking their life in their hands" when they walk down the 41st street hill to the new Giant and then back up the hill to their apartments.

"We have been promised for months and months a 20,000-square-foot grocer in that space," Clarke said.

But Nash said MOM's niche is not as a full-service grocery store.

"There's one every half mile," he said. "What we would bring is something unique."

Nash questioned Clarke's focus on seniors in the area.

"Are you going to fight for one group of people at the expense of everybody else?" he asked. "There is a greater community."

People of all ages were seen shopping in the Timonium store last Friday afternoon.

"It's good. It's a little expensive," said Bruce Harrison, managing partner in Shawe Rosenthal, a Baltimore law firm.

"It's great. I try not to shop anywhere else," said Donna West, 65, a retired doll and toy show promoter. "They'll order anything for you if they don't have it. They're nice to deal with all the way around."

"We love it," said interior designer Danielle Marsalek, shopping with her son, Luke, 5. "They have a variety of really hard to find foods that are organic and gluten free that you can't even find in Wegmans. Their produce section is one of the better ones in the area and the kids like the samples."

The family mainly shops at two stores, MOM's and Wegmans, which Luke also likes. "He calls it Dad's," Marsalek said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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