Grocer closing 2 stores Nov. 24; Valu Food bankruptcy move affects Columbia, Ellicott City sites


Valu Food will close its two Howard County locations this month, leaving the Village of Kings Contrivance with no grocery store and changing the face of a shopping center on Baltimore National Pike.

The Columbia and Ellicott City stores will close Nov. 24, said Louis Denrich, president of the Baltimore-based supermarket chain, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since November 1998. A 20-percent-off sale begins Sunday.

Other supermarkets likely will take over the locations, Denrich said, but no deals can be made final until a Nov. 22 bankruptcy court date. "Then you'll know who got it," he said. "It could very well turn into an auction."

The Ellicott City store, which opened in the early 1980s, is in St. Johns Plaza on Baltimore National Pike. Several other supermarkets are nearby.

But Kings Contrivance has no other supermarket and no convenience store, said Anne Dodd, the village manager. The supermarket opened along with the shopping center in 1987.

Columbia's village system puts shopping centers within walking distance of residential areas. So people who walk or use motorized wheelchairs to the shopping center could be left with no way to buy food, Dodd said.

"I think it's very serious because there's so little time to prepare, and we don't know who will be impacted and the extent to which they will be impacted," she said. "The big problem is not knowing how long it will be empty."

She said the village will consider using buses or volunteers to help residents get to supermarkets, and it might explore ways to establish a convenience store.

The village board will discuss the situation with a representative of Columbia Management Inc., which runs the property, at its Wednesday public meeting, she said.

But shoppers such as Rosalind Ho didn't seem overly concerned. "They have some good buys, but with Giant and Safeway, I can manage without Valu Food," she said.

Valu Food was founded in 1976. The locally owned grocer, the sixth-largest in the Baltimore area, grew to 14 stores before going into bankruptcy protection last year with an estimated $3.5 million owed to its 20 largest creditors. At that time, four stores closed.

With the two Howard County closings, the chain will be down to eight locations in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Cecil counties, Denrich said. Additional closings are not expected, he said.

"[The Howard sites] used to be some of our best performers, but so many new stores have opened up in Howard County," he said. "It's gotten extremely competitive."

Employees will be able to move to other stores, Denrich said. He said he believes closing the two stores will help the company emerge from bankruptcy by the end of the year.

Some businesses in the Kings Contrivance shopping center worry that the closing will decrease customer traffic.

"It's going to definitely have an effect and not a positive one," said Jim Wiley, general manager of the Kings Contrivance Liquor Shop. "To what extent, we don't know."

He said the holiday season is the worst time for the shopping center to have an empty anchor location. But shoppers and tenants at both locations seemed happy with the idea of a replacement supermarket.

"A change in grocery stores will be a healthy thing for the shopping center," said Jon Lardy, who owns Children's Orchard in St. Johns Plaza with his wife, Diane.

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