There's trouble in Paradise -- a small community on the rim of Catonsville, just off Interstate 695.
Plans by Rite Aid Corp. to expand its store in the heart of the small neighborhood have been bitterly opposed by community leaders and Baltimore County politicians who say a larger, 24-hour store will clutter roads and alter the small-town ambience.
Some residents talk of picketing or even boycotting the current store, a 7,000-square-foot brick building in the 6400 block of Frederick Road, said Pamela Fetsch, president of the Paradise Community Association.
"We are opposed to this project -- the scope, the size and the hours of operation and its destruction of our well-liked and diverse small businesses," Fetsch said. "It would destroy our sense of a small marketplace community surrounded by a residential community."
Rite Aid spokeswoman Sarah Datz said yesterday the Camp Hill, Pa.-based chain is committed to meeting with community representatives "to get their input and work cooperatively to provide services they are interested in seeing."
The planned expansion comes as Rite Aid, with sales of $12 billion this year, has embarked on a $200 million advertising campaign and on an expansion of its 4,010 stores in 31 states.
Rite Aid has faced similar opposition in other areas, including rural Henniker, N.H. Last month, Rite Aid went to court to appeal the town planning board's rejection of its store design. Both sides have been awaiting a ruling.
In Maryland, Rite Aid employs 3,000 people at 176 stores and operates a computer technology center in Hunt Valley. The Baltimore area -- the company's fifth biggest market, with 139 stores -- soon will be home to a distribution center in Harford County, employing 850.
Datz said a June 1 meeting at a Catonsville church will draw corporate officials and community activists to discuss the proposed Paradise expansion to 10,000 square feet. Such an enlargement would eliminate a Pizza Hut carryout restaurant, the Thai Paradise carryout, an accountant's office and a seafood store.
The county's development review committee will hold a meeting June 8. County officials then will decide whether to allow community input in the permit application process.
One of those who would be affected is John Vid, owner of Thai Paradise. He has operated his restaurant for six years and said he fears losing his business to the drug store's proposed expansion.
"We can't stop them -- but my family depends on it," Vid said. "If we don't have this, we're going to be in trouble."
County Council Chairman Stephen G. "Sam" Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said yesterday he has requested a traffic study by the State Highway Administration to determine whether increased traffic from the super store would clog Frederick Road, he said.
"I'm not opposed to Rite Aid, I'm opposed to a bigger Rite Aid coming in and opening 24 hours a day," Moxley said. "That completely changes the character of the neighborhood and the intensity of the corner. I fear that when you open a store of that size in a residential community on an already busy and narrow street, it has a devastating impact on the community."
But Datz said the company conducted market research to see whether enlarging the Paradise store would pay off.
"I think the reason for the expansion is to add additional services and to enhance the service we are currently offering to our customers," Datz said. "The 24-hour service has been comforting to our customers -- particularly elderly customers and customers with small children."
Such figures don't impress some Paradise residents. Fetsch said there are three other Rite Aid stores within a three-mile radius.
"We fear the store will close and become a white elephant," she said.
Pub Date: 5/27/98