King’s Contrivance Stumbles, Rebounds
‘We're at 100 percent capacity.’ - Nick Kyritsopoulos, a tailor in King’s Contrivance.
It was a blow that almost hobbled morale in King’s Contrivance, Columbia’s southern-most village center.
Long-time pub and village anchor Michael’s Pub closed March 22, 2011 after 25 years in business, causing some to ask if the loss was a harbinger of the end of Columbia's village centers as gathering places with large grocery stores and chain restaurants moved into the area.
But recent interviews with business owners and village center leaders show that even amid the appearance of new retail competition—such as Wegmans—those who have a stake in King's Contrivance are optimistic about the center, where the retail spaces are full and leaders are always looking for ways to make the area better.
“Now, Wegmans will open—it might hurt us a bit, pull out some people from our grocery store, but overall, it will bounce back in the end,” said Nick Kyritsopoulos, who has been tailoring suits for Kings Contrivance Formal Wear for almost 20 years. “There is room for everybody.”
This is the sixth in a series of posts exploring how village centers operate in a modern economy, where big box stores and large grocery stores have joined the marketplace that includes the village center model originally envisioned by Columbia’s founders.
Do you think Wegmans will hurt business at King’s Contrivance? Weigh in below.
“King’s Contrivance Village Center is very important to us and it’s imperative we keep it a thriving, vibrant place,” King’s Contrivance village board and community plan member Brian Dunn told Patch.
Within the next two months, village leaders said they will launch a multi-pronged campaign via social media and print materials “to reach out to all our stakeholders, to determine what they like and what they want to see in our village center," he said.
King’s Contrivance business owners told Patch they are happy with the direction of the center, with its focus on small business.
“I have a lot of customers who will say, 'I would rather go here than go to the mall, because there is a person here who knows my name with whom I can have a relationship,'” said Cris Thompson, who owns the Boliwalou copnsignment shop. Thompson said she was committed to staying in the village center.
"People often ask me, 'When you grow, where are you going to move to?'" Thompson said. "I say, 'I'm not moving anywhere.'"
King’s Contrivance, like many of Columbia’s village centers, has experienced its ups and downs.
Village manager Anne Brinker said King’s Contrivance experienced a “mini-revitalization” when the 55,000-square foot Harris Teeter opened in 2008, because it was unique in being Howard County’s first and only store built and operated by the Charlotte, SC, chain.
In the years since, there has been some turnover among stores but as of June 2012, the center's retail space is 100 percent occupied, said Barbara Seely, the chairperson of the King’s Contrivance Village Board.
In 2011, the village anchor, Michael’s Pub, vacated its corner location, saying it had “a huge space and not enough people to fill it.” Corner Stable, a bar and restaurant that specializes in ribs, replaced Michael’s Pub in October 2011.
The center has also recently attracted a sushi restaurant, which replaced a Mexican eatery, Seely said.
With the storefronts filled, one key question remaining is how a 20-acre parcel of land between Hammond High School and the village center will be used. The Columbia Association is in the process of acquiring the land from Howard Hughes Corporation, according to Brinker and Dennis Ellis, the association's director of capital improvements and projects.
"Any type of the normal uses for (Columbia Association) open space are possible for this site—excluding a dog park—because a dog park is already planned for the county's Blandair Park," Ellis said.
Overall, village center advocates say the area is being used, which is what they want.
A recent “big finding” in King’s Contrivance Village, according to Brinker, is that residents “visit the village center a lot, multiple times a week.” She said village officials captured a glimpse of residents’ habits by conducting a mini-survey during April village elections.
“Our mini survey showed us that residents have made the village center part of their routine," Brinker said. “It has everything you need in the heart of the village, and it really is an example of the original Rouse concept of a village center, with restaurants to a barber shop.”
Editor's Note: An original version of this story included a sentence that made reference to a possible dog park west of Route 29 has been removed.