Salvation Army wants to build 25,000-square-foot retail center


The Salvation Army is seeking Howard County's approval to construct a 25,000-square-foot retail center in the Savage area -- an outlet that the charity says will be a "state-of-the-art" thrift store.

"People have a stereotype attached to thrift stores," said Maj. Bill Madison, the Salvation Army official overseeing the project. "They think of junk-type items. We're trying to . . . get away from that stereotype."

The county planning board July 6 recommended approval of the Salvation Army's plans for the center, which will include a thrift shop and a small warehouse for storage and sorting. The county Board of Appeals, which makes the final decision about such building projects, will consider the case after a public hearing Sept. 14.

The Salvation Army wants to construct the retail center on 5/8 5/8 TC 6.74-acre lot at the southeast corner of the intersection of Guilford Road and U.S. 1, an industrial area.

It would be the second major thrift shop in the North Laurel-Savage area. The other -- the Laurel Thrift Store, a privately owned store once run by AMVETS -- is off U.S. 1 about five miles south of the proposed Salvation Army store.

The North Laurel-Savage area is particularly favorable location for thrift stores because many of the county's low-income residents live in those communities and in nearby Elkridge and Jessup.

"It's a good area, and we have no installation in the area," Major Madison said. "That's why we're doing this."

County officials and representatives of citizen organizations say they're building their support for the proposal on the Salvation Army's reputation.

"I don't see anything that I would think would be a problem with it," said Bill Waff, president of the Savage Community Association. "It might actually be beneficial."

During the planning board meeting, board members told Major Madison it wasn't necessary for him to testify about the project because the Salvation Army is so well known.

"We know that you do good work," Theodore Mariani, a planning board member, told Salvation Army representatives at the July 6 hearing. "You're my favorite charity."

Also in support of the project, the county changed its zoning regulations last April to make it possible for the Salvation Army to construct the retail center. Before the zoning change, nonprofit organizations could not conduct sales on county sites that were zoned for industrial use.

Major Madison expressed concern that some people might oppose the project because of the negative reputation of thrift stores, which for some are conjure images of clothes strewn all over the shop and people "tripping over shoes."

Instead, "this is going to be a state-of-the-art retail center," he said. "People will be able to shop in a nice store much like they would in a department store."

If the Salvation Army wins final approval for the project, the store would likely open next July and would be one of 14 of the group's thrift stores in the Baltimore-Washington area, Major Madison said. The new shop would create six to 10 new jobs in the area.

"It's going to be a big thrift store," Major Madison said. "It really is going to be nice."

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