Thursday, March 13, 2008

Produce Galore No More

It appears that once again the blame for the demise of yet another local retailer is being laid at the doorstep of “the developers.” Delegate Liz Bobo has even gone so far as to suggest that “with the support from the local government, we could prevent something like this.”

What kind of support does Liz envision that to be?

I remember when Produce Galore first opened in Wilde Lake Village Green. At the time I was working for The Rouse Company and my boss, Kemper Sullivan was approached by Kent Pendleton who at that time wanted to set up a roadside fruit and vegetable stand in Columbia. Of course there was no room in the Columbia “plan” for a roadside stand so Kemper convinced Kent that a better alternative would be to open a simple fruit and vegetable stand in the Lynx Lane annex of the Wilde Lake shopping center. Kent soon opened a bare bones operation in approximately 1,500 square feet in a space that is now part of David’s Natural Market. It was the smallest retail space available in the center at that time.

It wasn’t long before Columbians discovered how much fresher his produce was than the produce found in the Giant grocery store across the parking lot. Produce Galore soon expanded when the adjacent retail space became available. The business continued to grow and prosper. Before long, Kent made the big jump and took over the space that was originally occupied by Columbia Hardware which went under soon after Hechinger’s opened in Dobbin Center (in a building now occupied by a Havertys furniture store). Columbia Hardware was a local retailer.

About ten years ago, Kent decided he’d like to get out of the business. He enlisted Darrell Nevin, a local commercial real estate agent, to help him find a buyer. The word on the street was that the stores labor costs were too high to justify the price he was seeking. Though Darrell was unsuccessful in finding a buyer, it was widely understood that Kent remained interested in selling.

So now the end game is here. Unable to find a buyer he has opted instead to throw in the towel. I don’t blame him but he should not be blaming the loss of Giant and the arrival of other new retailers as the reasons for his stores declining sales. Much like Bun Penny, Produce Galore did not adjust well to the demographic changes in Columbia. New competition will either make a store better or it cause its demise.

The people in Columbia and Howard County have many choices as to where they spend their money. Every day shoppers make decisions as to where they will shop. Mama Wordbones and I discussed this last night. I had stopped by the grocery store on my way home to pick up a few items including fresh fruit. The most convenient grocery store to my office on Dobbin Road was the Safeway in the Long Reach Village Center. I drove right past it on my way to the Giant on Centre Park Drive.


Anonymous said...

Produce Galore had very little produce. I expected fresh, locally grown items and vast variety, but not happening. David's has a better selection.

Maybe if they'd changed their name to "Upscale Chocolate" or something more descript, they might have drawn people who would return religiously. But as it was, they attracted people interested in produce galore and were disappointed at produce no-procure.

Anonymous said...

...and let me add, the HC bloggers are a mess where developers are concerned.

There are no discussions, it's more like a cheer leading exercize. Quite nauseating at this point.

No wonder y'all are loosing readers like money at the gas pump.

Freemarket said...

Liz Bobo has absolutely zero business sense. She should seriously be embarassed by some of the things she says with respect to local businesses and the competitive marketplace. She cannot possibly be foolish enough to think that local government can, or even should, keep local businesses alive for "old times sake". If people actually shopped there, we would not be having this conversation.

Mary Kate Murray said...

Produce Galore was a wonderful and special place in Columbia for a very long time. About 15 years ago I used to live off of Harpers Farm Road and I enjoyed going to Produce, especially for the soups and warm food bar. I remember when their daughter was hurt and the fundraising that surrounded that.

I think for me it is not the produce that is lacking, or selection of wonderful things, but that it really didn't change in the last 20 years. For me there was no energy to the place. While folks that worked there were kind folks, it had no vibe. And more and more we have access to places that have that vibe. It feels like there was a lack of curiosity about what folks want today. Places like Trader Joes spring up and succeed because they are responding to the energy of the current market. When I go there it "feels" good, as well as has organic food, at good prices, etc. It’s very friendly, very fun, a social atmosphere. Therefore I am energized by going there. It's not an effort. I want to be there. Though I do have to note that I haven’t been a regular at Produce, or even gone there, in a long time, even before Trader Joes. And it’s not like I ever consciously decided to not go there. I just didn’t.

My husband and I spoke about the closing the night we found out and the concern of losing "mom and pop" stores and only having chains. I want to see a mix of those types of businesses. I love finding a good local store or restaurant and patronizing it when it meets my needs. But ultimately the only thing that is sustainable is a store that people are drawn to shop in. And if a mom and pop store isn't creating that they need to reinvent themselves so they can. There is a neutral reality to this kind of retail evolution, it's nothing personal to the owners of Produce Galore.

But regardless of that neutral reality, it is impossible to think that a closing of this kind isn’t deeply personally to the owners or long time residents and patrons. Produce has been a part of the fabric of Wilde Lake and Columbia for a very long time. And I do think it’s important to honor that.

I think reinventing ones business is really a personal choice. People have to be true to their own paths. And if a business owner isn’t drawn to make changes to accommodate the current set of consumers in Columbia, then they don't have to. It becomes a part of the journey of deciding to keep the business or let it go. And I want to hold space for Kent Pendleton and his wife that this must be a hard time as they let their business go. And I wish them the best as they move into the next phase of their lives. And hope that this shift frees them up for something that is good for them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if Liz Bobo and her friends in Harpers Choice and Wilde lake shopped there more, it would not be going out of business. The bottom line is, the same people complaining about it are the same people who are shopping elsewhere.

Anon 7:36- Are you serious? Are you confusing the two stores? David's Natural Market has a terrible selection of produce and it all looks really bad. In fact, David's in general I find to be a nightmare. You can't get around the isles, its messy, there are always boxes everywhere and it is way too expensive. Once Moms and Trader Joes opened, I stopped going to David's all together.I would much rather see a Whole Foods there.

I will miss Produce Galore. I will miss the produce, the coffee, and especially the Sun Dried Tomato Patte. I wonder if they would give me the recipe.

Anonymous said...

Good Riddance! In fact, the produce was second rate. And the service was horrendous. Any request by a customer was greeted as an annoyance. The cashiers were rude, but that owner was worse. Unless he know you, you were treated terribly.
They traffic may have lessened, but these people did nothing by way of selection or service to save their business.
Stay Away!

Dave W said...

Can't say I ever visited Produce Galore myself on my own. I was probably more upset when the Omaha Steaks store closed down in Wilde Lake than I am about Produce Galore closing down....

Polimar said...

To me the best part was the soups, those glorious soups! Not just one or two, they had at least a dozen soups that were the best I have had anywhere. I weep at the thought of having to face a Summer without Produce Galore's Gazpacho. Oh, and the Melon Gazpacho, Like the best fruit smoothie you ever had turned into a cold soup. They had a soup that I just thought sounded disgusting. West African Peanut Soup. Yechh! Peanut Soup, who would want peanut soup, and goodness only knows what kind of spices or other ingredients you might find from west Africa? I'll pass. Then one day when I was perusing the soups someone next to me tried a sample of the W.A. Peanut Soup. I caught the scent of it and I just couldn't place anything I smelled with a particular flavor, yet it smelled so rich. So, I thought, I'll try the little sample cup, how bad could it be. POW !! I have never tasted anything like it. It was spicy (hot), sweet, creamy, it was the best soup I had ever had. I bought two of the large containers to go and had them finished by the next afternoon. I was addicted. To me the saddest part was the last day Produce Galore was to be open the W.A. Peanut Soup was on the menu. I got there around 11:30 am determined to buy as much as I could and freeze it if necessary. When I arrived however, it was all gone and I was told they would not make anymore that day. Unnghh! I am hopeful and patiently waiting that the owners will put out a cookbook with those soup recipes in there. Already I could be talked into paying an exorbitant price just for the recipes of the Gazpacho and the W.A. Peanut. But to have them all!! Pure Joy. I miss you Produce Galore, write that book so that you may live on in our taste buds as well as in our hearts.