Del. Impallaria says Wegmans gets 'free ride' on Bel Air taxpayers

Del. Rick Impallaria, who represents a portion of Harford County in the Maryland General Assembly, has suggested the Town of Bel Air consider penalizing Wegmans supermarket for billing itself as "Wegmans of Bel Air," when it is technically in Abingdon.

At a meeting between the Harford delegation to the General Assembly and local officials at the Abingdon Library Wednesday, Impallaria, a Republican who represents Harford and Baltimore counties, sarcastically congratulated Bel Air Town Administrator Chris Schlehr and Commissioner Eddie Hopkins on the new Wegmans of Bel Air.

Impallaria then suggested making Wegmans pay a tax for incorrectly identifying its location.

"To me it just seems totally unfair," he said. "I am not a big tax guy, but that is a tax I would support because they are getting a free ride on the citizens of Bel Air."

On Thursday, Impallaria said he was not proposing any specific bill or other action at the moment.

"If Bel Air proposes legislation, I would sit down and talk with them about it," he said, explaining he thought it would be similar to a site that uses baseball legend Cal Ripken's name and has to reimburse the Ripken family.

Schlehr and Hopkins did not respond to Impallaria at the time. The next day, Schlehr explained he was "dumbfounded" by the statement but said the suggestion was "interesting" and would be considered.

"I certainly appreciate Del. Impallaria making that comment," he said. "He patted us on the back and then complimented us. That was a real positive for us."

The possibility of such a tax or penalty "is going to get some discussion around here. We are going to talk about it," Schlehr said.

But he also said having Wegmans associate itself with Bel Air helps the town.

"It does bring other people to downtown. It goes both ways," he said. "When Wegmans says they are in Bel Air, people might come downtown and find out what else is here."

Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson said he did not see how such a tax would be realistic.

"I don't see any real practical way at this time that the town could get any kind of dollars from Wegmans for using it as a point of view," he said. "I thought it was very interesting but I didn't get into [it with Impallaria]."

Richardson said it does make sense for businesses outside of the actual town to use the Bel Air name.

"Bel Air has a marketable image and that's a great thing," he said. "Bel Air has just got a position in the market from being the oldest town and having the idea of a place, as does Havre de Grace, as does Aberdeen … The town of Bel Air is benefiting by people knowing Wegmans is here."

Jo Natale, media representative for Wegmans, which opened in September, said the store has engaged in similar naming practices all over the country.

"We have never been faced with this as a possibility," she said about the notion of a tax for being outside a town for which it is named.

Regarding using the name Bel Air instead of Abingdon, she said, "We know that we are in Abingdon. There was a method to our madness. Our stores generally draw regionally so people will generally drive to shop with us."

"We didn't find a site in Bel Air, we found a site in Abingdon," Natale continued. "For that reason, we look for the location with a destination that is easily recognizable to someone who doesn't easily live in the area."

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