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Valu Food departure predicted, despite talks Rouse Co. reportedly won't renew lease in Harper's Choice center


Officials of Rouse Co. and Valu Food say no final decision has been made, but several sources familiar with the companies' last-minute negotiations say the grocery store shortly will be leaving the foundering Harper's Choice Village Center.

Several merchants who attended a meeting last week of the center's merchants' association and a Rouse leasing subsidiary said a Rouse vice president told them that Valu Food's lease wouldn't be renewed when it expires at the end of January.

"It's just about a sure thing they're out," said one merchant, who like the other sources requested anonymity.

At the meeting, the sources say, the Rouse official also said its leasing subsidiary is pursuing another grocer, Fresh Fields, an upscale chain based in Montgomery County.

A Rouse spokeswoman said yesterday that no decision had been made about Valu Food's lease.

And Valu Food President Louis Denrich said yesterday that his company -- which was not represented at last week's merchants' meeting with Rouse -- hadn't received any official word from Rouse.

Told that Rouse officials had talked about Valu Food's pending departure, Mr. Denrich said: "They've said that before and then they came back. Nothing's decided as far as I'm concerned."

Mr. Denrich had said last week that the company's deadline for striking a deal was Friday, which would have allowed the firm time to close its store if necessary. But he said yesterday that he had extended that deadline and was "going to play it by ear."

Securing a grocery store anchor is considered a key component of plans to revitalize the Harper's Choice center, which has been criticized by residents as unsafe, outdated, poorly lighted and unattractive. The center also has had a high turnover rate and several long-term vacancies.

After Valu Foods rejected a proposed rent increase last spring, Rouse officials announced that the grocer would be replaced by another supermarket that likely would renovate and expand the space. This fall, however, negotiations resumed between the two companies.

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