BJ's Wholesale Club plans November opening in Pasadena


County consumers will get a third option in warehouse club shopping in November, when BJ's Wholesale Club comes to Pasadena.

Officials from the fast-growing Natick, Mass., chain had been negotiating with Festival at Pasadena owners since spring and have signed a lease, said Susan Grieb, BJ's spokeswoman.

BJ's will revitalize a shopping center that has suffered vacancies and slow business since losing its anchor, Channel Home Center, more than a year ago, a Festival manager said.

"This will do a lot because [BJ's] draws its customers from a large area," said Irv McGowan, of First Washington Management.

Though North County already has a proliferation of large, discount-oriented retailers, such as Leedmark, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, BJ's considers other shoppers' clubs its primary competition, Ms. Grieb said.

Anne Arundel has a Price Club in Glen Burnie and a Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., in Annapolis.

The new BJ's will be in a remodeled building in the Aetna-owned strip shopping center on Ritchie Highway.

The store most likely will attract customers who don't qualify for memberships at the Price Club, located about five miles north of the BJ's site. Price Club members must own a business, work for a government agency, railroad or airline, be a licensed professional or belong to a credit union.

"There is a whole market that would like to belong to a club," said Ms. Grieb, adding that BJ's, unlike other shopping clubs, places no restrictions on membership. "Everyone is looking to get more for their money, and that's what BJ's is about."

Construction crews are demolishing one wing of the strip center and knocking out the front of the 50,000-square-foot former Channel store to expand it toward the parking lot. BJ's will occupy the enlarged, 119,330-square-foot building.

Channel closed in March 1991 as part of the chain's bankruptcy reorganization plan, which called for closing all but one Maryland store. The chain is based in Whippany, N.J.

Most businesses in the demolished wing relocated to other parts of the center. Raimondi's Florist, Annapolis Lighting, Radio Shack and new tenant Party City, a party supply store, have moved to a freestanding building. Rainbow Jewelry has moved to another end of the strip center.

BJ's offers discount prices on brand-name food and general merchandise, stocking some 4,000 to 4,500 items such as jewelry, tires, automotive and office supplies, videocassette recorders, videos, computers and electronics, books, clothing, fresh meat, frozen food and groceries. The club will have its own food court.

The store offers $25 annual memberships to business owners and individual consumers. Business members are entitled to special hours.

The store marks up merchandise 8 percent to 10 percent over wholesale prices, while discount stores typically apply 25 percent to 30 percent markups and department stores impose 40 percent to 50 percent markups, Ms. Grieb said.

She said BJ's offers lower prices by maintaining a strictly no-frills environment -- cement floors, wide aisles, few signs and no sales workers. The Pasadena store will hire 200 to 250 employees.

The 32-store chain introduced the shopping club concept to the northeastern United States, opening its first club in 1984 in Medford, Mass.

Last year, BJ's tallied sales of $1.4 billion, a 25 percent increase over the previous year. This year the chain will open 10 more stores. BJ's has targeted Maryland for its next expansion, based on good road networks and demographics showing TC concentration of small businesses -- which make up half the membership but account for most of the sales volume.

"The fact that we are based [on the East Coast] means we have a good understanding of the consumers here and the products they look for," Ms. Grieb said. "If there's a local merchant whose product is popular, we do our best to bring that in."

"We're looking at a multi-club presence in Maryland, and Pasadena is part of that strategy," she said.

BJ's also has opened in White Marsh, Baltimore County. Another club is planned for Columbia and BJ's officials are considering a site in Owings Mills, Baltimore County.

BJ's is an operating division of publicly traded Waban Inc., which also operates HomeBase, a do-it-yourself home improvement chain, west of Chicago.

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