Retail village center regroups Negotiations aim to offset departure of three tenants


Despite the loss of three tenants this summer, officials overseeing the Kings Contrivance Village Center are confident the 10-year-old retail center in east Columbia can evolve in a way that will keep it competitive.

Columbia Management Inc. (CMI), which oversees seven of Columbia's eight village centers, is negotiating to replace a High's convenience store, The Dark Room photo finishing center and Lord Baltimore Cleaners, all of which closed or relocated after their 10-year leases expired in June.

And Michael's Pub, the center's popular restaurant, plans to take over the 1,700 square feet occupied by the Best Hunan restaurant. The expansion would make room for a separate bar at Michael's Pub as it converts its dining area into a "no smoking" area, as required by the county's new anti-smoking law.

Best Hunan, meanwhile, is expected to relocate three or four stores away into a vacant shop within the village center, which is located on Guilford Road. Although plans are not final, officials hope the expansion and move can take place by the end of the year.

"It's a very popular center," Elizabeth Buckley, CMI's marketing manager, said of the Kings Contrivance Village Center. "The sales are very strong there. They have a lot of daytime foot traffic because of the surrounding community and [the adjacent] business park."

The changes at the 78,000-square foot Kings Contrivance Village Center, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in June, come at a time when a number of Columbia's aging village centers push ahead with revitalization projects.

Once the focal points for Columbia residents to shop within walking distances of their homes, the village centers increasingly face pressure from such retail "power centers" as Snowden Square in east Columbia.

To remain competitive, two of the oldest village centers are undergoing renovations.

A 55,000-square-foot Safeway grocery store is being built at the 25-year-old Harper's Choice Village Center in west Columbia, for example. Another Safeway is being expanded at east Columbia's Long Reach Village Center, which opened in 1974. Both projects should be completed by next year.

CMI officials stress that the merchant turnover at Kings Contrivance came because of individual business decisions, not because of any loss of confidence in the village center itself.

Wayne A. Christmann, CMI's general manager of Columbia village centers, said High's management decided to close to avoid competition from supermarkets that stay open late.

Robin White, manager of The Dark Room, said the photo shop left Kings Contrivance to consolidate at the Dorsey's Search Village Center across town in west Columbia because the photo shop in that center has a lab.

Lord Baltimore Cleaners decided not to renew its contract because of the impact the location had on customers, the owner said. No signs were posted, which made it difficult for patrons to find.

"Convenience was an issue and signage was in issue," said Ken Gore, owner of the Baltimore-based cleaners. A home-delivery and pick-up service is now operated in the Kings Contrivance area. The Lord Baltimore Cleaners in Wilde Lake remains open.

Some of the 18 tenants in the Kings Contrivance Village Center said they would like CMI to attract tenants that can compete effectively with the giant retail centers popping up throughout the area.

"Anything to keep people away from the power centers," said Shane Curtis, owner of the 3,500 square feet Michael's Pub, which is an original tenant in the village center.

And merchants and retail officials view the planned expansion of Michael's Pub as a sign of vitality for the village center.

The Irish-American pub's manager, Sharon Prins Snowberger, said the expansion is necessary to accommodate the pub's lunchtime crowds and to create a "nice dining atmosphere" to silence the noise from the bar.

"We seem to be a gathering place for a lot of people in the neighborhood," she said.

The pub has seating for more than 125, Prins Snowberger said. She was unable to give cost estimates for the expansion.

Meanwhile, other merchants voice confidence in the village center.

"Business has been real good," said William "Bill" Harrison, owner of Kings Contrivance Liquor Shop, crediting much of his success to traffic from the center's anchor, a Valu Food supermarket.

Terry Keighley, owner of Keighley Jewelers and president of the Kings Contrivance Merchants Association, said he is happy with the center itself, although he doesn't like the vacancies.

"It's a matter of time," Keighley said. "It takes time to fill a spot."

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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