The grocery industry has become smitten with Towson, but is so much love a good thing?
With the opening two weeks ago of a Weis Markets, the third new grocery store to open in Towson in the past two years, supermarket shoppers in the region can choose between about 10 chain grocery stores. That doesn't even include big box stores that also sell food, like Target.
Meanwhile, another chain, Harris Teeter is a suitor for the fire house property in the center of Towson where it wants to build a store.
This array of shopping choices may appear at first blush as a blessing. As supermarkets compete for grocery dollars, prices ought to go down and service go up. The stores in Towson cover the spectrum, from the low-overhead discounter to the high-polish upscale. Stock up on canned goods at one, then drive down the road for fresh-rolled sushi at another. Let the wooing of customers begin!
Yet this kind of market saturation brings with it a risk — failed stores. As the stores settle into their niches, some are bound to feel the squeeze of competition.
Jeff Metzger, publisher of the Columbia-based trade magazine Food World, said Towson's upper-middle-class demographic appeals to supermarket chains. But he sees the field now as crowded.
"Right now in Towson, there are too many stores, but you're seeing a real diversity in styles," he said.
It is likely the chains are well aware that Towson's downtown construction boom includes new residential units and that these will have kitchen cabinets ready to be stocked. Yet the grocery glut also raises the question of whether the addition of stores is less because the chains see an uptapped pool of customers and more because they see an opportunity to drive out competitors.
If the latter is the case, the grocery wars in Towson could have casualties. That means empty stores, and considering that supermarkets often anchor strip malls, the reverberations could spread to other nearby retailers.
We want to see these stores thrive, but can the household grocery budgets in the Towson area keep them all afloat? The chains may be engaging in risky business. If so, Towson residents share that risk.