At least 10 new supermarkets are under construction or awaiting permit approval in Anne Arundel, a sign of continuing growth and a healthy retail food market in the county, industry officials said.
Although some of the newly proposed stores are causing consternation, especially in the southern part of the county, business leaders and industry experts said the new stores seem to be right in line with population growth.
"Part of it is probably a little coincidental," David Callahan, editor of the Columbia-based Food World magazine said of the new stores. But, he added, "Some of it is definitely that the demographics in Anne Arundel are looking better and people are trying to take advantage of it."
Over the past few months, Weis Market opened two stores along Ritchie Highway, and the chain is building another store for the Seven Oaks development in Odenton. Chain representatives said that the county is going to be a "prime focus" in the future and that they are eyeing the region for five new stores annually.
In addition, Metro food market is opening a store next week on Quarterfield Road in Glen Burnie as well as replacing an older store in Brooklyn Park. County zoning officials also are reviewing a permit application for a new Safeway at Route 3 and Waugh Chapel Road, while another proposed Safeway in Deale is wending its way through county environmental regulations. Food Lion and Aldi also have submitted proposals for new stores, while Giant Food Inc. is doing a major store remodeling at the Severna Park Mall.
"It is interesting that they seemed to pop up all at the same time. But some have been in the pipeline for quite a while," said Rosemary Duggins, publications coordinator for the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Commission.
"It's not like it all of a sudden happened. It took a long time," she said, adding that most of the new supermarkets are in areas such as Odenton and Crofton, where major development has occurred. "It shows that if we have that many people willing to invest in that kind of store, they must have confidence that people are going to use their service," Duggins said.
Industry officials said there is no magic number that dictates how many shoppers a supermarket needs in order to survive--or when competition becomes a market glut. County officials maintain that although grocery growth in the region may seem extraordinary, it really isn't.
According to U.S. Census statistics, groceries in Anne Arundel County have been popping up at a rate of 30 stores every five years. At last count, in 1995, the county was home to 200 grocery stores.
Many of the newcomers are chain supermarkets, which are overtaking smaller neighborhood grocers, according to county demographer Sandy Spear. And that makes some shop owners and activists nervous--especially in smaller communities, such as Deale.
Both a Safeway and a Food Lion are proposed for the area, and many residents are concerned that even one superstore grocery will destroy the area's character. Others worry the stores won't be able to sustain themselves and eventually will fold, leaving unsightly abandoned properties.
"And here we sit," said Dick Christopher, manager of the tiny Deale Food Rite. Christopher, who hired a lawyer to fight the proposed Safeway on a number of environmental and zoning issues, said his main concern is maintaining a quality of life in the region.
"Down here, the growth has been much slower, and people generally prefer to keep this a rural area," he said. "I'd hate to see it become another Annapolis or Glen Burnie down here."
In the meantime, northern Anne Arundel residents are waiting to see if the supermarket explosion will translate into pocketbook savings.
"I think all the new stores are wonderful," said JoAnne Kelly, shopping at a Giant store in Crofton. "I hope the grocery wars will turn into price-cutting wars."
CAPTION: Over the last few months, Weis Market has opened two stores along Ritchie Highway in Anne Arundel County, one of which, above, is in Pasadena. At left, the delicatessen at Weis. Company officials say the county is a prime focus for the chain.
CAPTION: A Weis Market corporate chef prepares catfish during a demonstration at the Pasadena store.