Sutton Place Gourmet grocery is leaving Baltimore area

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The meat counter is empty and the bakery shelves bare. The sushi station is oddly quiet, too.

After 14 years of offering Pikesville shoppers fancy foods they couldn't find in regular groceries, Sutton Place Gourmet is closing its Woodholme Shopping Center location.

The store, Sutton's only location in the Baltimore area, began selling nonperishables at a 30 percent discount Wednesday and expects to stop operations for good by Jan. 18.

The gourmet grocer follows the fate of some other upscale retailers, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, that have left the area over the years.

But Balducci's Food Lovers Market, the company that owns Sutton Place, said that it wasn't leaving because Baltimore didn't have sufficiently expensive taste. The 10,000-square- foot building that houses the market needed repairs that the company thought would be too costly to make, it said.

"It really is a matter of investment," said Joe Dobrow, Balducci's vice president of marketing.

The owners of Sutton Place said they are working with the owners of the property to find a replacement, perhaps a smaller grocery. Employees have been offered severance packages or jobs at other locations. Bethesda is the only other Maryland store, according to the company's Web site.

The Pikesville store is the only Sutton Place location being closed. The company plans to open a store in the historic New York Savings Bank building in Manhattan this summer.

Balducci's is headed by Mark Ordan, who sold the Fresh Fields grocery stores to Whole Foods Market for $135 million in 1996. Balducci's management -- many of them formerly at Fresh Fields -- spent a year deciding what to do with the Pikesville location. The store is about half the size of most of its stores and wouldn't produce the revenue to pay for repairs, they said.

"We looked at this and agonized over it for more than a year," Dobrow said. "It would have taken millions of dollars of investment to get it in the right shape. Given the sales volume, there's no way we would have been able to get a good return on the investment."

Dobrow said the company looked for another location but couldn't find one it deemed suitable. The company hasn't ruled out returning to the Baltimore market, he said.

Loyal patrons crowded the store yesterday. Many of the departments, including the meat, seafood, fruits and the bakery, had already been shut down, the shelves empty and wiped down. Some shoppers wandered around disappointed. Some said they had gotten e-mail notices from the company this week announcing the closing.

Annette Ingerman, a personal fitness trainer who lives in Pikesville, comes into the store a couple of times a week for fruits, vegetables and fish. She was surprised and upset when a friend told her about the closing.

"We need a good place in this area," Ingerman said.

Karen Noah, a hairdresser, said she was also a little sad, although she wasn't always happy with the service.

"It's a great place to come in and pick up dinner or specialty foods that you wouldn't find in a normal grocery store," Noah said.

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