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Splashy debut for Rotunda grocery; other stores on deck

Baltimore Messenger
Mom's gets a splashy Rotunda opening; other stores on way

Almost two weeks after the grand opening of the latest Mom's Organic Market at the Rotunda on West 40th Street in Hampden, the impact was still resonating.

"It was the biggest opening we've ever had," said Scott Nash, founder of the Rockville-based chain of organic supermarkets. "We had quite a few customers come in before the doors opened."

Despite the chilly weather, Nash estimates that close to 8,000 health-conscious and curious shoppers passed through the doors of the 17,000-square-foot store during the April 1-3 grand opening celebration.

Shoppers were greeted by a "Naked Lunch" organic kitchen, a small-batch coffee-roasting facility, an espresso bar, and a recycling drop-off counter for wine corks, eyeglasses, household batteries, shoes and other items.

"We've opened five stores since September," said Nash. "This one shattered the sales record. We were shocked."

The store marks Mom's first foray into Baltimore City and the 15th store in the budding chain.

Mom's, which is the first anchor tenant in the redeveloped Rotunda, has been greatly anticipated by shoppers since the Rotunda's Giant supermarket closed in 2012 and a new Giant opened a block away on West 41st Street. The $100 million, mixed-use redevelopment of the Rotunda began in September 2013.

"We've been waiting for it to open," said Hampden resident Marion Julius, who walked from her West 41st Street house to buy groceries. "We usually shop at Whole Foods and Giant. The produce was great, although the dairy was more expensive than Whole Foods."

Shoppers Tracy Crosby and Derwin Giles, both of Pikesville, stopped into Mom's on their way back from jogging in Columbia.

"I like the fact that it's organic," said Giles, who usually shops at Trader Joe's in Pikesville.

Giles said he appreciated that Mom's had more floor space than Trader Joe's. Crosby, who bought a kale couscous salad to go and munched an energy bar, said she has been looking forward to the opening of another of the Rotunda's scheduled new tenants — CineBistro, a luxury, seven-screen movie theater with upscale dining that is slated to open in October.

According to Chris Bell, senior vice president for Hekemian & Co., developer of the Rotunda, the next round of stores to open by June in the 150,000 square feet of retail space will be Pet Valu; Starbucks; Bella, a salon and day spa, and Floyd's 99, a barbershop that bills itself as "the original rock 'n roll barbershop for men and women."

Also scheduled to open by late summer are Massage Envy, Moby Dick's House of Kebob restaurant, Fitness Evolution, and CorePower Yoga, part of a national yoga studio chain.

The grand opening of Mom's took place at the same time new tenants began moving into the 379-unit Icon apartments, located in two 11-story buildings behind the Rotunda's main structure.

"Leasing activity has been great," said Bell. The Icon is composed of studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments. Rents range from $1,365 to $2,860 per month and include amenities such as a fitness center and yoga studio along with a pet-washing station and outdoor lounge. According to its website, "ICON is the place to be to keep your finger on the pulse of everything that's happening in Charm City."

Old versus new

While many shoppers were delighted to find carrot juice and organic meats at Mom's, some were slower to warm up to the changes in the Rotunda.

Danielle Shields, of Baltimore, who has worked at the Rotunda for three years, often buys items at the Rite Aid pharmacy, the only remaining retail tenant from before the redevelopment. Shields said she didn't have time during her lunch hour to shop and had yet to stop in Mom's. "It's nice," she said, "but it's not what I'm used to eating." Shields also worried that she wouldn't be able to afford to shop at Mom's. "I heard the prices were high. I am a couponer."

Other visitors to the Rotunda voiced concerns about signage. "I'm just a little confused about where to go," said Sara Allentoff of Reisterstown. Walking out of the newly constructed, multilevel, 1,100-space parking garage, Allentoff wasn't sure of the location of her job interview in the Rotunda.

"When people come in here they are so confused. They wonder if the doctor's offices are still in the same place," said Cinita Mines, a security supervisor in the lobby of the Rotunda building, which houses 140,000 square feet of office space.

Bell said the ongoing construction would continue through the autumn but that there is sufficient signage so that both shoppers and other Rotunda visitors shouldn't be disoriented.

The redevelopment of the Rotunda is one of several development projects in the greater Hampden area.

In nearby Remington, Seawall Development Corp. is planning to open R. House, a $12 million, 50,000-square-foot food hall restaurant for local chefs that is scheduled to open in the fall on the site of the former Anderson Auto showroom at 29th Street and Remington Avenue.

Seawall is also building Remington Row, a 250,000-square-foot, mixed-use project that includes 108 apartments along with Johns Hopkins Community Physicians and space for neighborhood-based shops.

"It's a total synergy," said Thibault Manekin of Seawall. "We're really excited about what's going on in this part of north-central Baltimore and Hampden. I think the Rotunda is building off Remington's energy."

Longtime Hampden resident Dan Brown, whose Elm Avenue house sits directly across from the Rotunda, said he wasn't thrilled with the neighborhood changes. "I do not like it," he said. "We got a whole lot more traffic now."

Brown said his wife won't shop at the Giant on 41st Street. "She says it's changed," said Brown. "It used to be that you knew the old employees by name, now it's just a job for them."

But other Hampden residents welcome changes to their neighborhood.

"I rented here because it's Hampden," said Sara Bayles, whose row house on 38th Street is across the street from the Rotunda. "A lot of people don't handle change very well," she said. "They are seeing the neighborhood gentrify. It's just what happens. Maybe they don't see the benefits that this is bringing them."

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