Hechinger to open bigger store at Snowden Square


Hechinger Co., a long-time anchor store at Dobbin Center, will move next year to a new Columbia shopping strip that will boast the county's first membership warehouse.

The move to Snowden Square -- former site of General Electric Co.'s Appliance Park-East on Snowden River Parkway -- will enable the Landover-based hardware company to offer a bigger line of merchandise.

The new 85,000 square-feet store is expected to carry more kitchen and bath cabinets as well as electric equipment such as ceiling fans and lamps.

"We're excited by the opportunity to have a new store," said Clarke McClelland, Hechinger senior vice president for finance. "It's an opportunity for a bigger store close to our location."

Mr. McClelland said Hechinger will move the 100 employees to the new site and will hire about 40 to 50 others.

Other plans for Snowden Square include B.J.'s Warehouse, two sit-down restaurants, a gas station and a bank as well as 120,000 square-feet of space for "category killers," stores such as Circuit City or Sports Authority.

The Rouse Co., which is developing Snowden Square and operates Dobbin Center, says it is close to signing a gas station and is stillnegotiating with stores and restaurants for the remaining spaces.

"We think that it's an excellent retail location, as the road linkages of Route 100 and Snowden River Parkway finish," said Ed Ely, Rouse Co.'s land sales and marketing director. "A lot of people in Howard County are leaving the county not to go to a member warehouse club, but they're leaving for a whole lot of other merchandise as well."

Mr. Ely said Snowden Square can accommodate as many as four smaller stores in addition to Hechinger and B.J.'s Warehouse.

"We needed this kind of retailing in Columbia, and we think it's the right place for it."

Hechinger, which has been at its present location since 1982, says lack of land restricted it from expanding. The company has no plans for the 60,000 square-feet Dobbin Center location and says it will try to sublease the building. "It's a good location and we don't think we'll have a problem," said Mr. McClelland.

"Hechinger is talking to many of the same people we are," said Mr. Ely. "I would look at this as an opportunity for Dobbin Center as well."

Stores at Dobbin Center are concerned Hechinger's departure will draw customers away, but some say their business won't be affected much because their clientele is different.

"They don't sell the same things that we sell in this store," said Michelle Johnstone, assistant manager at Party! Party! Party!. "I know a lot of people do go to Hechinger, but there's still a lot of little stores around."

A competitor of Hechinger -- Atlanta-based Home Depot -- is expected to open a store in Catonsville next spring. It has stores in Glen Burnie and White Marsh.

"This is something we would do to serve the market, not in response to the competitor," Mr. McClelland said.

B.J.'s Warehouse, a wholesale store much like Price Club and Pace, is also expected to open next spring with a 115,000 square-feet building. The store plans to stock 4,000 to 4,500 items of clothes, videos, jewelry and tires, as well as meat products and baked goods.

B.J.'s wanted to open a store in Howard because of the county's good demographics, according to spokeswoman Susan Grieb. "We are targeting small businesses, first and foremost."

Membership fees for the warehouse are $25 for individuals and businesses. The warehouse plans to distribute free one-day passes to acquaint shoppers with the store.

The warehouse hopes to hire 200 employees, Ms. Grieb said.

Natick, Mass.-based Waban, Inc. owns the warehouse chain, which operates primarily on the East Coast with stores from New York to Florida. The company is looking to open new warehouse stores in Owings Mills as well as in Fairfax and Alexandria, both in Virginia.

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