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’Always looking for a bargain’: Customers circle the block for Lidl discount grocer’s Catonsville grand opening

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. greets customers waiting in line outside of Lidl's new Catonsville location Wednesday morning at 6026 Baltimore National Pike.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. greets customers waiting in line outside of Lidl's new Catonsville location Wednesday morning at 6026 Baltimore National Pike. (Taylor DeVille / Baltimore Sun)

Over 100 customers lined up around the block early Wednesday morning for the grand opening of Catonsville’s Lidl supermarket, one of two new locations the German discount chain is opening in Baltimore County.

“Somebody told me their prices are gonna challenge Walmart and Aldi’s — so I came out to see,” said Julia Mitchner, as she waited in line, bundling her face against the cold. “I’m always looking for a bargain.”

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The grocer has set up shop in what was previously a hhgregg store at 6026 Baltimore National Pike. Along with the Perry Hall store, which also opened Wednesday in the former Mars supermarket at 8667 Belair Road, they are the first two Lidl stores in Baltimore County.

The discount supermarket brands itself as an easy-to-shop store, and sells mostly private-brand, locally sourced food items, but also brings in selections from its European markets, said Will Harwood, communications director for Lidl’s U.S. division.

Harwood pulled Italian market Prosciutto priced at $4.99 from the shelf, a 9.3 oz package of Dutch Gouda cheese selling for $3.99 from France, and spaghettini sourced for its Italian stores.

“You can’t find 20-inch spaghettini outside of, really, a specialty store,” he said. “We do it for 99 cents.”

The international brand, whose U.S. headquarters is based in Arlington, Virginia, operates over 85 U.S. stores along the east coast and began a rapid expansion into the U.S. market in 2017.

The grocer operates 11,000 stores in 32 countries, according to a news release, and plans to open its first Baltimore location in a 30,000-square-foot space at the redeveloped Northwood Plaza Shopping Center. Its regional headquarters and distribution center are located in Perryville in Cecil County.

Traditional supermarkets sell roughly 55,000 products, but Harwood said variety doesn’t necessarily “enhance people’s shopping or make it easier for them.”

Harwood called it “the paradox of choice." By overwhelming people with brand choices, they actually spend more time shopping, he said.

“Rather than have this overabundance of choices, we’re gonna pick the best choices; it makes it easier," Harwood said. “You’re able to come through and do your shopping faster."

Bhagwantie Goodson, who arrived at Lidl at 4 a.m. and won a $100 gift card for the trouble, didn’t have a grocery list prepared, but said she was looking for vegetarian options as she perused the aisles.

Lidl has “tons of them,” Harwood said, with a dedicated section of produce immediately upon entering the store, as well as organically grown products and plant-based meat alternatives like BeyondMeat.

The low prices make “healthy eating attainable,” if “you want those things and you want to do it on a budget,” he said.

Along with its standard assortment, Lidl offers weekly promotions, new every Wednesday. This week, that includes a dozen cage free eggs at $1.79 — down from Lidl’s $2.29, and lower still than 12 cage free eggs sold in a Harris Teeter for $2.99 — as well as an 8 oz. organic grass fed sirloin steak on sale for $4.99, usually priced at $6.99.

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Harwood said what sets Lidl apart is its commitment to guaranteed freshness. If a customer buys a bouquet of flowers, for example, and “you’re dissatisfied for any reason, you bring them back, you get a refund and a replacement,” he said.

The store also offers home and kitchen essentials including small appliances, power tools and home décor.

Erica Albert, who waited second-in-line for over two hours for the store’s opening, brought her 11- and 5-year-old children out for the free gift cards, and to “check out all the things,” she said. “We shop at Aldi a lot, so I wanted to check out their competition.”

Albert left with just a few items, including two pillows, having spent her $10 gift card. She said the prices were comparable to the fellow German discount grocer Aldi, just a mile away on Route 40 from where Lidl opened its doors.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., lauded Lidl for its “commitment to your team, and the fact that there is clear investment in the people that work for you,” he said before cutting the grand opening ribbon.

Lidl typically pays its employees above market wages, although Harwood couldn’t confirm exactly how much Wednesday, and has extended healthcare to its part-time workers.

“That’s the kind of commitment that we want to see,” Olszewksi said.

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