The Odenton Shopping Center, which underwent a major renovation just two years ago, is struggling to fill empty storefronts as shop owners complain that the newly completed section of Route 32 is diverting potential customers.
Earlier this month, the Ames department store, the strip center's anchor, closed, leaving an empty 55,000-square-foot shell. Two months ago, a beauty salon shut down, and now the manager of a pet store says she is planning to scale back her operation.
"The new road puts the Odenton Shopping Center in a big hole," said Judy Singleton, the manager of Richard's Pet Grooming. "All of our customers now go straight to the Annapolis Mall."
The Route 32 extension opened in November and provides a highway from Columbia through West County to Interstate 97, a major link between Baltimore and Annapolis.
Before the opening, drivers heading east into Anne Arundel Countyon Route 32 were forced to get off at Route 175 and take that to I-97. The local road went through the heart of Odenton's business district.
But one of the shopping center owners, Mark Levitt of the Nellis Corp., said Route 32 will eventually be an asset.
"My impression is that the new road is hurting, but I think it takes a while for people to adjust their driving habits," Mr. Levitt said. "In the long run, Route 32 is going to be a huge benefit. It makes Odenton accessible to the big cities."
He said other stores are doing fine, including Super Fresh, a grocery store that just renovated. "They wouldn't have done that if it wasn't a good site," he said.
Mr. Levitt said he is searching for retail outlets to fill up the empty spaces. Lady L's, a beauty salon, couldn't make enough money to stayin business. But the Linen Locker, which had advertised a going-out-of-business sale, has apparently reconsidered. "They did so well that they have asked us if they could stay," Mr. Levitt said.
But replacing Ames is a bigger problem. Mr. Levitt said he may split the store in two and maybe bring in an up-scale clothing store, something recommended in a report that was commissioned by the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. .
That report, which got the chamber an $8,000 grant from the state's Main Street Improvement Program to help recruit new businesses to Odenton, also recommended a major movie theater. Mr. Levitt said he has talked to several movie chains and that a future deal is not out of the question.
Mr. Levitt said, "For a center of this size, it is not uncommon for businesses to open and close."