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Monday, February 25, 2013

Anchors aweigh!

The Odenton Shopping Center has been a firm fixture in western Anne Arundel County, MD for the last fifty years. Some have recently called the shopping center an eyesore. Those of us that have lived in the area for most, if not all, of our lives remember the Odenton Shopping Center as the town center; the center of commerce for the surrounding area. You could shop at WT Grants or have a casual lunch at the store’s diner. Kids could grab a soda from Beacon’s Pharmacy and then head over to Western Auto for bicycle tire patches. A man could pick up his tailored suit from Gordon’s while his wife shopped at the Princess Shop. Get your haircut at Odenton Barbershop; pick up dinner at the A&P, and a bottle of wine from Odenton Liquors.

Over the years, stores have come and gone. Odenton Barbershop has survived almost fifty years and Odenton Liquors almost forty. There always seemed to be a pharmacy, auto parts, and clothier. The other staple was a department store and/or grocery store.

What happens to a shopping center when the anchor stores leave?  When the larger national chain stores leave there is less traffic to the shopping area for the independent stores. Can the smaller independently owned businesses survive without the traffic driven by the anchors? Superfresh closed in 2011 and has yet to be filled. CVS has closed and moved across the street.

An anchor store is defined as a larger store, usually a department store of a national retail chain. But you could also argue that an anchor is a stable merchant that has been in the same location and supported the community for decades. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the presence of anchor stores defines the shopping center type, in this case a neighborhood center or community center.  A neighborhood center is designed to provide convenience shopping for day to day needs of consumers in the immediate neighborhood. A community center offers a wider variety of apparel and other goods, usually having a supermarket, super drugstore, or department store. Walkable, mixed-use areas are becoming the popular design. While the Odenton Shopping Center is on a major thoroughfare and is accessible to pedestrians from the hiker-biker trail and older communities behind it, it does not fit into the current design philosophy of developers.

I spoke to several of the existing business owners or managers. There were differing reactions to the amount of business that has been loss or gained. Depending on the type of business some have seen steady customers or a slight increase. Others have had to restructure their inventory to attract a different customer base. All agreed that the presence of grocery chain would increase their clientele and, of course, benefit the strength of the shopping center.

There are currently four vacant spaces. From what is publically known the departure of the Superfresh, CVS, and Fashion Bug stores were not due to the lack of the customer base or the shopping center, but rather corporate decisions that affected the chains nationwide.

We are watching the Odenton Shopping Center devolve from one defined type of shopping center to another. The question is which way is the shopping center heading? Will it continue to loose tenants and become a strip with empty space? Attract a national, large capacity retailer?  Or fill the space with more locally owned retailers to service the needs of the community. 

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