Nineteen months after celebrating the opening of the Family Market in the Long Reach Village Center, the community again finds itself without a grocery store.
The Family Market, which combined internationally themed items and basic necessities, has been evicted from the village center by its landlord, Safeway, according to Safeway spokesman Craig Muckle.
According to Muckle, Safeway, which vacated the space in 2011, had been subletting to the Family Market since December 2012. Muckle said the market paid the first month's rent and security deposit in 2011, before moving into the space, but has not paid rent since January of 2012. According to an eviction notice posted in the front window, the market, which is operated by Blue Ocean Enterprises, LLC, owes Safeway $302,038.21 in rent and $55,206.85 in other fees.
The market, which opened in February 2012, has been closed since May when the Howard County Health Department shut it down for powering the grocery store on a generator, which is a safety hazard, according to department spokesperson Lisa DeHernandez.
DeHernandez said the department received a complaint in late April about the store, and followed up in with an investigation resulting in a temporary closure. DeHernandez said the department closed the market while it applied for a permit to run the generator, which would allow temporary use until a permanent solution was reached.
After the store reopened, the department told the owner the store had to be connected to power lines in May, DeHernandez said. DeHernandez said the department did not receive a response, and the store was closed late in the month.
The market's owner has other woes, including a civil complaint filed in Howard County Circuit Court by Cintas-Baltimore that claims the market owes $5,735.12 in payment for uniforms.
The State Comptroller's Office also has filed two liens of unpaid taxes against the market in Howard County Circuit Court, totaling $47,153.42.
While a Safeway spokesman said the store will not reopen, E. Paul Choe, the CEO and president, said the store is hoping to reopen in three to four weeks.
"We had some financial difficulties," Choe said. "Sales dropped. We are trying to get back on our feet."
Choe said the store is "in the process" of taking care of the rent issue with Safeway. However, Safeway officials said the grocery store will remained closed.
"We are evicting them in order for us to re-tenant the property," Muckle said.
Muckle said the group is looking for another grocery tenant for the space.
Calls made to America's Realty, which operates the village center, were not returned.
'It's a problem'
The void left by the Family Market is an all too familiar feeling for community members and business owners.
"Not having an anchor there means no foot traffic," said George Martiyan, owner of Parcel Plus, which is located across from the grocery store in the village center.
"It hurts every business in the village center. I don't know long people will survive without it."
Karen Hitcho, chair of the board of directors for the Long Reach Village Association, said she doubted the store would return after it closed for the second time in May.
"There are obviously some serious problems with the store," said Hitcho. "Residents are concerned that space will be empty again. It's a problem."
Russ Swatek, the Long Reach representative serving on the Columbia Association Board, said he saw the decline coming.
"I had hope," Swatek said about when the store first opened. "Very quickly it seemed like the shelves were a little more bare."
Swatek still thinks a grocery store is needed in the village center.
"I see a lot of people across the street the village center walking across to get groceries," he said. "There ought to be some sort of food distribution place, but exactly what it is, I don't know."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun