No worry over Wal-Mart Retail giant may be boon, merchants say


At least some area small-business owners aren't fretting over retail giant Wal-Mart Inc.'s plan to build a 93,000-square-foot store in the Route 40 corridor in Aberdeen.

"We will lose some business at first to Wal-Mart, what I call the curiosity factor," said Billie Germano, owner of Little Professor Book Center in the Beards Hill Plaza in Aberdeen.

The plaza is located off Route 22 on the other side of the city from the proposed Wal-Mart site.

But "true book-lovers want to shop somewhere where the sales people are very knowledgeable about books," she said. Hence she's not worried about the effect the proposed store could have.

And, says Germano, it's difficult for large stores, like Wal-Mart, to offer the "ambience" and customer services, such as special ordering, that smaller stores can offer.

Wal-Mart is the nation's largest retailer. It began expanding into Maryland last year and has opened four stores.

The proposed Aberdeen store, which may include 90,000 square feet of expansion space, would be located on Route 40 just north of Route 715, near the Frito-Lay plant under construction.

But bigger isn't necessarily better, argue local business owners.

The operators of a Rite Aid store in the Aberdeen Plaza on West Belair Avenue expects its small, convenient size to remain popular with customers.

"Consumers will continue to come to us for convenience. They want to get in and out quickly," said Suzanne Mead, vice president of advertising and corporate communications for Rite Aid, which is based in Harrisburg, Pa.

The company, which carries mostly health, beauty and pharmacy products, has maintained a relatively modest size, with stores averaging about 6,700 square feet.

Charles Packard Sr., who owns Carpet-by-the-Yard in Aberdeen Plaza, also believes Wal-Mart's appearance will have little effect on the shopping center. Packard said the plaza's stores mostly sell services, not goods -- with the exception of Rite Aid -- and wouldn't directly compete with Wal-Mart.

Jamesway, which had been the anchor store, closed its 65,000-square-foot space at the Aberdeen Plaza last year. The plaza's remaining tenants include a beauty parlor, a finance company, a restaurant and a liquor store.

"Wal-Mart may take some of our business but we are not expecting to close down," said Chuck Cross, store manager of Klein's Super Thrift grocery in Beards Hill Plaza.

And John Baublis, a salesman at Save on Sneaks in the Beards Hill Plaza, said Wal-Mart might actually be good for his and other businesses in the shopping center.

"It could draw people from northern Harford County, around Fallston and Bel Air, who might not ordinarily come down here," ** Baublis said.

Bob Gardner, manager at Save on Sneaks, agreed, adding that the Aberdeen area loses considerable business White Marsh Mall in Baltimore County and Harford Mall in Bel Air.

Surveys of Aberdeen residents' buying patterns collected for a new Aberdeen Comprehensive Plan to be released this fall, showed that most residents shop for clothing at White Marsh Mall or Harford Mall.

Nearly 40 percent of Aberdeen residents who responded to the survey, conducted by a consulting firm hired by Aberdeen, shop for clothing at White Marsh Mall, while about 27 percent shop at Harford Mall. The survey found that about 15 percent shop at Beards Hill Plaza. When shopping for department store goods, nearly 29 percent shop at Beards Hill; 27 percent at White Marsh; and 25 percent at Harford Mall, the survey showed.

Gardner said he's not worried about the Wal-Mart project because, despite its reputation as a giant retailer, he doesn't expect the store to carry the same merchandise he stocks.

Save on Sneaks, which sells name-brand athletic footwear and clothing, such as Nike, stocks first-run merchandise, he said.

Discounters like Wal-Mart might not stock the same merchandise until a season or so later.

He says many predicted "doom and gloom" for the store when the Nike Factory Store, a discount/outlet center, opened in the Chesapeake Village Outlet Center near Perryville in Cecil County. The center opened about two years ago.

Consumers looking for bargains may go to the outlet, but fashion-conscious consumers who want first-run merchandise still shop at his store.

Area stores also should retain an edge, Gardner said, because many have built strong ties and reputations in the community.

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