Terrasa: ‘There’s Not a Safe Way to Walk To Wegmans’
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Advocates for Owen Brown, the village center that is less than two miles away from the new grocery superstore in Columbia—Wegmans—say they are concerned about finding a way for residents to be able to walk to the store.
And village leaders and residents said they don’t think Wegmans will threaten the Giant store located at the village center, one of three established in Columbia since the first opened at Wilde Lake Village Center in 1967.
The concern about Wegmans and its impact and interaction with Columbia village centers is not new. One Howard County liquor board member tearfully said at a hearing in July that he could not vote to allow Wegmans to have a second-floor liquor store because he would not “put the failure of the village centers on his shoulders.”
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But, at least in Owen Brown–a village center that has two pizza places, a bar, a McDonald's, and three places to get a haircut–some are talking about how to embrace the new super-retailer, and find a way for residents to walk there.
"There's not a safe way to walk to Wegmans," said Howard County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, who represents Owen Brown, along with King's Contrivance, North Laurel and Savage. "I heard from a lot of residents who are walking distance from Wegmans who would like to walk over there."
Terrasa said she was riding bikes with her family on Labor Day, and had serious problems reaching the stores with the current pedestrian and bike routes.
Wendy Webster, manager of the Wegmans in Columbia, said she has not heard any concerns from residents about a lack of access, but said they have modified the curb to be more handicapped-friendly and added bicycle racks.
"We're working hard to make sure that we're accessible," Webster said. "If there's someone from the community who wants to partner with us, if we need to do more, I'd be open to listen."
But Webster said there are currently no specific plans to change pedestrian access to the store.
Andrew Stack, the Columbia Association representative for the Owen Brown Village Board, says the village is working with the county to widen Snowden River Parkway to three lanes, in an effort to ease congestion.
Although reducing congestion won't necessarily make for a faster pedestrian commute, Stack says if cars are moving through more safely, everyone in the neigborhood is safer.
"We're following that very closely, hoping that could provide some relief," Stack said.
Stack, who has lived in Owen Brown for nearly 30 years, says, despite the addition of Wegmans, his family still uses the local Giant Food in the village center.
"I've been to Wegmans, and it has a lot of nice products," Stack said. "We still shop at Giant," Stack said.
He thinks the longterm affect of Wegmans will only be visible once the dust settles from the grand opening.
"Wegmans just opened, so give it some time to see how it affects the village center," Stack said.
Terrasa said she thinks the Owen Brown Village Center will fill a different role for locals, as other people travel out of their way to enjoy the novelty of the super-grocer Wegmans.
"I think Wegmans is certainly a concern for the villages. I don't think it has to be necessarily a problem for them," Terrasa said. "It's a different shopping experience."
Webster said the store is participating in community events and contributing to local causes as a part of building the local neighborhoods.
"It's about being a part of the community and not just being a grocery store," Webster told Patch. "It's about being intimately involved in the community we live in and serve, and we are excited to be here."
Webster pointed to the store recently buying a steer from the Howard County Fair, benefiting the local 4H club, and donating the meat to the Howard County Food Bank as an example of the store's involvement. They will also partner with Apple Ford, directly across the street, to host a blood drive later in September and give away ice cream and oil changes in exchange for blood donations.
Marilyn Newhouse, an Owen Brown resident for three decades who shopped at the Giant for her family for years, said she doesn't think the grocery store is going anywhere. She goes to her local Giant, the Trader Joe's in Elkridge or Wegmans depending on what she needs.
"The three places seem to draw different groups...Wegmans and Trader Joe's seem to draw a little higher income [customers]" says Newhouse. "But we need that Giant here, for better or worse."
And Giant isn't planning to leave anytime soon, according to store representatives.
"We’re committed to providing our customers the highest levels of quality," said Giant spokesperson Jamie Miller.
The Howard County Chamber of Commerce named Giant Food this year's Large Business of the Year, and Miller said this is evidence of the store's "commitment to the Chamber, and support of the community."