Magruder's to open another store
June 25, 2003
Noelle Barton
Staff Writer

Dan Gross/The Gazette

A patron discovers on Tuesday that the Shoppers Food Warehouse on Frederick Road near Montgomery College is closed. Signs in the window announce that a Magruder's grocery store, to be called Magruder's Farmers Market, will open at the site in the coming weeks.

Grocery store to move into former

site of Shoppers

Food Warehouse

Magruder's grocery store will be opening a new location within weeks at the recently closed Shoppers Food Warehouse store on the corner of Frederick Road (Route 355) and College Parkway, the head of the company told The Gazette this week.

That store, near the city's College Gardens Community and Montgomery College, is 1.7 miles from Magruder's flagship location on North Washington Street in downtown Rockville, which has been slated for demolition as part of the city's Town Center redevelopment plans.

Chief Operating Officer Gary Bortnick said Magruder's is finalizing a deal to buy out the remaining 10 years on Shoppers' lease in the space, but declined to say how much the deal would cost.

"We're paying a hell of a lot to keep our presence in Rockville," he said.

The closure of Shoppers stunned regular customers, who drove up to the store and even parked and walked up to the doors thinking they could get groceries in the past few days, only to be greeted by huge signs saying the store closed on Saturday. Smaller handwritten signs filled in the gap most were wondering: the closure was permanent.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Avi Koldaro, owner of the West X Deli in King Farm, parked his Lexus SUV and walked toward the store. He stood in the driveway in front of it for a few moments taking in the news.

"I'm just shocked they're gone," he said.

Worried about where he might get his daily dose of fresh fruits and vegetables for his deli, Koldaro had to be alerted to the sign -- equally large -- next to the one announcing the store closure.

"Coming soon: Magruder's Farmer's Market," the sign reads.

When it sank in, he smiled.

"I love it, yes, definitely for the parking for one thing," said Koldaro, who often battles the packed parking lot at Magruder's on North Washington Street. "That's great they're going to be here."

Bortnick, of Magruder's, said that since Shoppers opened the College Gardens location in 1986, that company has expanded the size of most of its stores. The now-closed store is about 25,000 square feet, he said, less than half of Shoppers' ideal size of 55,000 to 60,000 square feet.

Bortnick said Shoppers didn't have the room at that site to expand.

A call to property owner Combined Properties was not answered Tuesday.

Magruder's on North Washington Street is 32,000 square feet, and the smaller College Gardens store will include the chain's signature large produce department and meat department, but not necessarily all the prepared foods as its other stores.

Bortnick said Magruder's is still interested in being "a part of Town Center," alluding to the possibility of opening a second store within Rockville's downtown redevelopment project.

Negotiations continue between the city and Magruder's on an assistance package the city will pay the grocer for going dark in Town Center for two years while the new downtown is built. That assistance would also include subsidizing Magruder's rent for a finite time if it returns to Town Center.

"We view the two stores as separate markets, even though they're close," Bortnick said.

Bortnick said he would not comment "yet" on whether anticipated assistance from the city put the company in a position to make the deal with Shoppers. He also declined to comment on whether the plans to open a new store would affect Magruder's challenge to the city's condemnation lawsuit filed in March to acquire the North Washington Street shopping center.

"We're working diligently with the city and [shopping center owner] Federal Realty to make Town Center happen," he said.

Of the new store, Bortnick said the company is "hoping to turn it around in a couple of weeks."

City spokesman Neil H. Greenberger called it "conceivable" that Magruder's could acquire the proper permits and be inspected within a couple of weeks. But he said the city has not yet heard from the grocer regarding permits.

Bortnick said the new location would hopefully be a place to relocate some of the company's workers who would be displaced if the North Washington Street store closes. Another sign in the Shoppers' window Tuesday said Magruder's is taking applications for jobs at that location.

Bortnick said Magruder's is settling paperwork on the relocation with property owner Combined Properties and hoping to finalize the deal next week.

Greenberger said the news that Magruder's will be opening nearby would be "just another boost for Town Center."

For months the company's opposition to redevelopment plans drummed up often-vitriolic complaints from nearby residents, who threatened to undermine the entire project.

"We've been so concerned about the loyal Magruder's customers, and even though we thought we had a solution for the short term, this makes it all that much easier," Greenberger said. "It also shows from Magruder's part that they do want to be part of Rockville."

Mayor Larry Giammo said people in Rockville and elsewhere who shop at Magruder's will "appreciate the opportunity" to shop without a break in their service.

He said he is "curious" to know if Magruder's is planning on having two stores open in Rockville with the completion of Town Center, but stopped short of saying he'd like to see Magruder's in Town Center.

"Magruder's has the right of first refusal to be the grocery store in Town Center," Giammo said. "That commitment on the part of the city and Federal Realty hasn't changed."

Giammo said the grocer's opening of a nearby location is "potentially one less thing to worry about" with the overall picture of Town Center redevelopment.