Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Shopping center adrift without anchor store

Sales dwindled after a fire closed GrandMart, but businesses look forward to the store’s reopening

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
The GrandMart grocery store on Mateny Road in Germantown has been empty since a fire in August 2006.
On a sunny Friday afternoon earlier this month, the shopping center that houses the shuttered GrandMart grocery store in Germantown was nearly empty.

The center has been quiet for more than a year, since a fire destroyed most of the international grocer’s roof and forced the store to close during repairs. Neighbors and the remaining two businesses in the center, which is near the corner of Mateny and Clopper roads, say they’re eager for the anchor store to reopen. A GrandMart manager says that could happen by Sept. 9.

‘‘We lost about 30 percent of our business,” said Andy Jang, who has owned Clopper Mill Cleaners for four years. ‘‘...People thought everybody closed together, but it’s not true.”

Jang said he spent more money on advertising and high-tech dry-cleaning machinery to boost business.

‘‘It affected us in a big way,” said Ashok Singla, owner of Clopper Beer & Wine. ‘‘Most of the time the parking lot is empty.”

GrandMart, a Lanham-based chain, hopes the lots fill up again when the store reopens as early as next month, said store manager Junseok Cha. The store moved into the Clopper Road plaza in 2002. Weis Markets had occupied the storefront for nearly 20 years.

The shopping center is somewhat secluded, set back from Clopper Road behind a 7-Eleven convenience store and gas station.

Last week, a man was repainting the lot’s handicapped parking spaces and other work was going on inside the grocer. Though the windows were still covered with large sheets of brown paper, they also displayed a series of large advertisements featuring fresh fish, tomatoes and spices in wooden bowls.

The store lost $1 million to $3 million after the Aug. 4, 2006, fire, the cause of which is still undetermined, Cha said. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services confirmed that the cause of the fire is unknown.

Chuck Sabir of Germantown said he didn’t know that the grocer had closed. ‘‘I was thinking about going there just now,” he said earlier this month as he filled up his car at 7-Eleven. Sabir said he usually shops at GrandMart’s Gaithersburg location on his way home from work.

Bernard Marinovitch, who lives about two blocks away from the store, said he shops at Lotte Plaza, an Asian grocer that opened last month in Germantown Plaza on Wisteria Drive.

‘‘[Lotte’s] good too, but they don’t have the same prices,” Marinovitch said this month while smoking a cigarette outside 7-Eleven. He plans to return to GrandMart when it reopens, but he wondered if Lotte Plaza would take away some of its business. ‘‘It will be hard for them,” he said.

Cha said he wasn’t too concerned about competing with Lotte Plaza, since GrandMart is more established in the community.

A sense of community has also served the two other businesses.

‘‘The beer store’s a good business. They got good, cold beer and you can quote me on that,” Germantown resident Rusty Isenberg said with a grin as he exited the store.

Isenberg said he didn’t shop at GrandMart very often because of its limited selection of American foods.

‘‘I miss the GrandMart. They need to reopen,” said his friend, Starsha Kimsey of Germantown.

However, Isenberg said there was one upside to frequenting the shopping center since the GrandMart closed.

‘‘It’s better, less crowded,” he said.