The parking lot at the Long Reach Village Center in Columbia was packed Friday morning. Inside the new grocery store, the cashiers had lines.
"They've been waiting," said E. Paul Choe, the CEO and president of Family Market.
The grocery store opened Feb. 10 in what had previously been a Safeway, which closed in November. Three months later, the space has been replaced by a supermarket combining internationally themed items and basic necessities.
Lillian Prophet came Friday morning from a nearby senior-citizen community in search of organic foods. The Safeway had not been her grocery store of choice before, and she was curious what Family Market had to offer. She left impressed.
"I think it's magnificent," the 65-year-old Long Reach resident said while toting around a small basket. "It's a variety of anything and everything you'd ever want."
With employees still working to stock shelves and wheeling in pallets of fresh produce, customers quickly filed in the store, through 17 aisles of fruits and vegetables; Asian, Hispanic and American foods; a deli, bakery and florist; and even a small clothing boutique and an area selling cell phones.
"This is exciting," said County Council member Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat whose district includes Long Reach. He looked around at what had previously been a beleaguered grocery store with empty shelves and few customers. Now he saw a new store that could serve both local residents and bring in customers from outside of the village, bolstering businesses in the village center.
Choe touted his experience as an international grocer; he was previously a partner in the Super Q-Mart chain, which has stores in Virginia and Maryland.
He noted he had advertised in Korean, Chinese and Hispanic newspapers.
"This is a location where we have a lot of Asians and Latinos — and everybody else," he said. "I wanted to be a little different than other international markets. Local residents would be my primary focus. That's why I have a bakery, deli and flower shop."
George Lim said his wife woke him up to remind him about the market's first day.
"She loves Oriental food," said Lim, a 57-year-old Long Reach resident. While Family Market was more convenient, he said, from what he'd seen, that he still preferred the selection and prices at Lotte Plaza in Ellicott City.
Some noted the trade off between price and proximity, that those who previously would head north to Ellicott City from Columbia must drive farther and spend more on gas.
"This is going to make it easier for people in our community," said Reg Avery, a member of the Oakland Mills Village Board. "We have an increasingly Asian community growing in Oakland Mills."
As the first customers came in, the flower shop's manager, Tracy Walker, stood next to bakery employee Patrice Brown. Both had worked at Safeway. Three former employees have been brought on to the 55-person staff, according to Choe.
"I think the store will do really well," Walker said.
Les Gross, a Long Reach resident who works nearby, had been anticipating what the new store would look like. As he perused the store, he marveled at its diverse selection.
"There's all cultures here," he said. "That's what Columbia is about."