COLUMBIA

Popular Shop Will Be Missed at Mall

Jeff Ditter, with an employee in a 1998 photo, has owned the Bun Penny shop at the Mall in Columbia for 17 years. The 37-year-old store is scheduled to close in mid-January.
Jeff Ditter, with an employee in a 1998 photo, has owned the Bun Penny shop at the Mall in Columbia for 17 years. The 37-year-old store is scheduled to close in mid-January. (By Tom Allen -- The Washington Post)
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By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2007

When she was a little girl, McKenzie Ditter would play in straw-filled barrels and collect coffee beans off the floor of her parents' gourmet eatery in the Mall in Columbia. As she grew older, she developed crushes on the deli boys and worked behind the cash register.

Now 18, Ditter is recalling those childhood memories as the shop prepares to close.

After 37 years of serving up specialty meats, Swiss chocolates and imported wines, the Bun Penny cafe and market announced that it will close its doors next month, prompting an outpouring of angst among loyal customers and provoking questions among residents about the direction of Columbia, one of the nation's first planned communities.

"It's been our second home for so long," said Ditter, whose parents have owned the store for 17 years.

The community has its own memories of Bun Penny.

Part deli, part coffee shop and part gourmet food store, Bun Penny has long been a fixture in the mall. Residents who flocked to Columbia during its earliest years reminisce about the days when some of its subdivisions were mere puddles. Even then, Bun Penny was the place to go for a cup of hot chocolate or a chicken salad sandwich.

Today, it is one of the few family-owned stores in the mall and one of the few remaining from the mall's inception in the early 1970s.

Ditter's father, Jeff Ditter, declined to comment, but she said a steady increase in the rent, now about $38,000 a month, and other financial pressures have made it difficult to make ends meet.

McKenzie Ditter said her father received a letter from mall owner General Growth Properties the day before Thanksgiving, saying the shop had to move out by Jan. 15.

"I don't blame General Growth for trying to make money," she said. "They have a business to run, too. But there's a tradition here. This is part of what makes up our community."

Employees and customers have been talking about exactly what the store's closing means.

For Columbia, the mall has always been an important place. The town's founder, James Rouse, planned the community around the mall, intending it to serve as the heart of the community, a place for people to meet and socialize.


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