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Long Reach -- Plagued With Crime, Business Closings -- Poised for Makeover

A new grocery store is scheduled to open this month.

Hard hit by Safeway’s closing last month and several high-profile crime events nearby, Long Reach Village Center unveils a makeover in the next few weeks that includes:

  • An international market to replace Safeway
  • New restaurants from Subway to exotic Caribbean
  • New offices for dental work and after-school programs

A new eatery called Pizza, Indian and More is already open, and no later than Dec. 23, the international Family Market, owned by E. Paul Choe, will cater to Columbia’s Hispanic and Asian population and other shoppers interested in exotic produce and plenty of fresh fish.

Choe, who worked alongside his father in a Baltimore grocery store and also has experience managing large markets like the 54,000-square foot new Family Market, said he’s filling the store with a food court, Korean and Spanish bakery and lounge area, complete with sofas and Wi-Fi connection. “So people can sit and relax,” he said.

Alex Jeon, with 25 years’ experience, will manage the new supermarket, said Choe, who himself intends to keep a watchful eye over his new business from his home in Silver Spring. He is leasing space from America’s Realty and called owners Carl and Steven Verstandig  “fantastic owners of the center, who are doing everything to keep it vital.”

New grocery planned from start

Before the Pikesville-based America’s Realty acquired the ailing shopping center last year for $5.4 million, father and son owners Carl and Steven Verstandig envisioned how they would redevelop the place. “We had a grocery store in mind before we bought the center,” said company vice president Steven Verstandig.

The company, which owns some 164 commercial properties in 13 states, specializes in “distressed” properties and realized Safeway’s days were numbered, according to Verstandig.

“It’ll look like a new center when everything is fully opened within 60 days,” he said this month. “When we came in, there were 14 vacant offices and stores and it’s all leased now.”

In the wake of a fatal in July, in September (and a his ex-wife, Long Reach Village’s overall reputation – including its shopping scene – has been in dire need of an upgrade,

Last summer, residents vented their frustrations with crime and perceived crime in a village-wide forum organized by Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball. Compared to other regions in Maryland, police told residents that the crime rate in Long Reach was actually “very low.” 

However, many linked the village’s negative public image to crime. One woman bluntly called it “a thorn in our community.”

Residents welcome turnaround

So the business turnaround and what Verstandig called “a hands-on approach” to working with patrons and tenants of the redeveloped center are welcome steps for the village of 17,000 residents.

Village administrator Sarah Uphouse said the new market could help make Long Reach a retail destination because it will serve Columbia’s growing Hispanic, Asian and overall foreign-born population.

“There won’t be any massive renovations at first,“ she said. “The main thrust is to get open and promote healthy eating and fresh foods.”

Residents are “optimistic” about the center’s future, said village board chairperson Karen Hitcho, a longtime resident of Long Reach. She said an internationally themed market is a “nice alternative” to the mega Wegmans opening in east Columbia next summer and the city’s batch of chain groceries.                 

Already, Family Market is supporting the Long Reach community, Choe said. “We had heard that three local churches were preparing food baskets for needy residents, so we donated 120 turkeys to the effort,” he said.

He also said the store also plans to work with local schools. “I’m for education,” said the University of Maryland-educated Choe.

Original village center model: passé?

Duane St. Clair is director of Howard County’s Association of Community Services and apart from his job, often blogs about Columbia’s village centers. He wonders what kind of impact Wegmans will have on village centers, all told.

“The model doesn’t work like it used to here with all the big new stores coming in,” he said.

In Columbia’s formative years up until the early 1970s, village centers were patterned after small European towns. They each had a small grocery of about 25,000 square feet, bank, service station, dry cleaner and about a half dozen distinct shops selling products such as cheese, flowers or meat, according to Rouse Company documents.

As new village centers and strip malls opened, the supermarkets grew larger, adding gourmet foods and in-store florists. Village centers such as River Hill and Dorsey Search do better than others because they have prime locations, plenty of retail traffic and a balanced mix of store and services, said Wayne Christmann, the former general manager for Columbia's village centers when he worked for the Rouse Co.

Other centers have struggled.

“Maybe village centers should be theme-centers,” suggested St. Clair, “because the (retail) scene has really changed.”

Village center merchants want whatever spark will ignite business and keep it steady over time.

“Safeway’s closing hurt us,” said manager Ronna Dang of Angel Nails in Long Reach. “Everyone was affected.”

She said the opening of Family Market, especially so quickly after Safeway was shuttered, should be a business lifesaver.                 

As a Columbia Flier editorial recently touted, “The new tenant looks like a win-win for America’s Realty, the surrounding neighborhood and Columbia.”

hmj December 16, 2011 at 04:54 PM
Need to restore law and order in and around the centers. Sorry to say both the Columbia Association and Howard County Government need to do much more to remove the many deviants, derelicts, and delinquents in the apartments around some centers.
Cynthia Wick December 17, 2011 at 03:15 AM
I'm looking forward to the International Family Market opening - and I will be shopping at the Village Center again!
Peter Monaghan December 17, 2011 at 03:36 AM
I lived in Lazy Hollow from '97 to '02. I left because I saw the crime coming.It was not a hard call to make. That Village Center should just give in and the residents should just go to Columbia Crossing or Centre Park. Seriously, who is going to feel safe at this VC when the weather gets warmer?
willie du December 17, 2011 at 06:27 AM
What is the purpose of the police satellite station in Long Reach? It appears to have no effect on crime in the village. Simply too much loitering that deter anyone from making stops to shop. Very intimidating to feel safe and comfortable in the area. I have a wife and daugther that I have concerns when they visit the area.
Sugar December 17, 2011 at 10:10 AM
Community encompasses many. Do you want change ? Do your part ~ Don't know your part? Ask for a script there are many characters to choose from . Don't know who to ask? Ask Calvin Ball all around character ) in a good way for the most part. ~Want to know some Long Reach secrets? Talk to residence of Heatherstone across from village center on Tamar.
Andrew Kanicki December 17, 2011 at 03:37 PM
Painting with a "broad brush" again, I see. The reality is, the crime rate is low. Brook, you make it sound likes its the "wild,wild,west" or something. While I agree with you in regards to the section 8/low income housing, the facts remain that the village is a very safe place; no more dangerous than any other place in the area.
Sugar December 18, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Section 8 ..Public Housing...Okay. Remove the housing and relocate it where? What about all the families living with assistance who are not criminals but just trying to make ends meet with the hand that has been dealt. Perhaps some are better residence then a few homeowners depending on who is judging... If there has been crime committed by a resident living in section 8 or public housing they loose that assistance or the offender has to leave depending on the circumstances...So..if that is the case it is self regulating. So the crime..drugs..etc..may it be other then a low income residence who is responsible? Perhaps another entity..could it be affiliates of an organized group of gangster like people...or just mentally ill people who have not gotten treatment..some lost or adults who are in need of guidance. Whatever the case it needs to be diagnosed...then a remedy needs to be given...see if it cures the ailment and go from there. Band-aids are not working any more.
Peter Monaghan December 18, 2011 at 04:22 AM
While there is the crime there is also the appearance of an unsafe area that the Planners will have to contend with. No grocery store, no pharmacy, no bank, no broad appeal restaurant... this is Oakland Mills VC 10 years ago. There is absolutely nothing there that would compel me to chance going there.
Howard County Cat Club December 18, 2011 at 08:09 AM
Crime has been a problem at that village center since it opened a gazillion years ago. The thing that troubles me about the specialty supermarkets is that many of the people who live near the village centers don't have cars and need to walk to the grocery store. Will the International Family Market meet their needs?
James Ferguson December 19, 2011 at 01:22 AM
Why is it that with all the money paid to the Columbia Association these centers are in such bad shape. It seems like the centers are in the same physical shape as those board members. Seems most members of that board are stuck on .....
Lorielle Sisson December 20, 2011 at 11:14 AM
It's not Section 8 per se, it is the heavy concentration of Section 8. Howard County should enact legislation that caps the number of Section 8 units available within a complex. What has happened in Long Reach, with the elimination of many of the public housing projects in Baltimore City, is actually the equivalent of mini-public housing projects. I have no problem with Section 8 housing. It does serve a a very valid purpose. However, when it destroys existing communities, that is wrong. I have lived in Long Reach for over 20 years. It has only been in the last 10 or so that we have experienced serious problems - and the prevalence of Section 8 housing in close proximity to the Village Center is at the root of the problem. Putting a new face on the Village Center is not going to solve the problem. It's just going to provide a better looking place to loiter. I was going to stop by the gas station at the Village Center the other evening. I pulled in and pulled right out when I saw approximately 10 young men and women just loitering around the side of the building. As a woman, I did not feel safe stopping and getting out of my car. The fact is, there are no places for young people to gather in this area. The owners of the shopping center would be wise to create some sort of youth center in their long range plans.
hmj December 20, 2011 at 01:02 PM
Take back your village center and put the criminal element behind bars. Timefor new leadership. Push out the thugs and village idiots.
Daniel Gross December 21, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Great article. It was nice finding out with the Family Market was opening up. I am slightly concerned however about the description of the place and wondering how a "free wifi with sofas" element will stand. I'm wondering if this is just another place to go downhill and futher detract businesses from filling the village center vacancies. I'll remain hopeful for now though, as the owners, based on the article, appear to be level-headed business owners.
valerieb January 04, 2012 at 12:49 PM
My concern is what about the non hispanics and asians that live in the area who don't have vehicles to get to another grocery store. The speciality stores are nice but they are just that speciality and geared towards a certain race - how will this help those folk - I'm african amercian and personally I don't eat that type of food - that means I have to leave where I live and go shop somewhere else - Not sure if a speciality store was a good idea.
Brook Hubbard January 04, 2012 at 01:35 PM
How does anyone live in Columbia and not own a vehicle? I'm sorry, but when you're living in one of the highest-income places in America (#62 of American populations of 50,000+), then getting to or from nearby grocers should not be a problem. I understand that we should promote our local stores, not only to encourage community but to promote walking and biking, but owning a car should never be a problem in this area. If someone is too poor to own and fuel a working vehicle, then their priorities are really messed up if they're trying to live in Columbia.
Melissa January 04, 2012 at 11:47 PM
There are many reasons for a person to not own a car. In addition to an inability to buy and maintain a car due to financial limitations (which I consider a completely legitimate reason), we have a significant population of older adults who are unable to continue driving. Plus, there are many other adults who can't physically operate a car. And, many people choose not to drive because of the wasted money, traffic, environmental concerns, etc. Columbia is one of the few suburbs in America where it's reasonably walkable, and I think we need to keep heading in that direction.
MG42 January 05, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Melissa, this is 100% nonsense. If you can't physically operate a car, how exactly are you physically able to walk whilst carrying groceries? And if you're too old, you should be living in a nursing home. Brook makes a solid point. Columbia is not reasonably walkable. If you can't afford a car, you can't afford to live in a rich suburb. Priorities. Get some.
MLS012 January 05, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Brook & Ohai- I was raised here in Columbia.. my mother does NOT drive and has never due to epilepsy- not financial reasons. Other than not driving a car... she is 100% physically. Worked everyday of her life and commuted via foot or bus. My family was dependent on the village centers, which we always lived within walking distance for that sole reason.We walked for our grocerys, we walked to school, and she walked to work. Your closed minded comments are offensive, as we are not a section 8 household..never was nor ever close... the entire community is not walkable and the public transportation here is a joke. I live in Phelps Luck now, and am glad my mother no longer lives here in Columbia- as I would not be comfortable with her utilizing Long Reach Village Center. So please try to be alittle more open minded... as there are people living here in this "rich suburb" that do have there priorities in line but the Community doesn't support them.
Brook Hubbard January 05, 2012 at 08:52 PM
My response was to valerieb, who insinuated that poor ethnic groups had no vehicles and would have to drive elsewhere because these shops didn't cater to them. I admit I misspoke when I queried living in Columbia without a car, as there are some reasons to not own them. However, my stance in Valerie's situation remains the same: Being a member of an ethnic or economic group is not a valid excuse for a lack of vehicle in Columbia. As for getting around without a car, I DID grow up in a less-wealthy environment in PG County. Somehow I managed to get around perfectly fine, including grocery shopping, laundry, etc., and didn't own my first vehicle until I was 26. And while Howard buses may not compare to WMATA, they are still useful to get where you need to go. If you live on Phelps Luck and fear Long Reach Village (or don't like the shops) then use Columbia Palace... which is what most of us do.
MLS012 January 05, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Thanks Brook... but as I mentioned I grew up here... I'm familiar with my other options and do shop at Giant and other places instead. I was excited for safeway to close and be replaced with and International market. I am looking forward to checking it out . Long Reach needs help, and I agree with others on this post...the surrounding areas need improvement or it's all for nothing. I don't fear Long Reach or any village center here in the county.. but having a child sure makes me reconsider where my time is spent. Do I really want to bring my 5 year old into the gas station in Long Reach while I quickly grab a bottle of water? Groups of people in front...more around the side of the gas station.. a line of people buying flavored cigars aka blunts? Oh.... and the " colorful tabacco pipes" they have on the counter for sale.. hello Howard County?... Nope... I choose to continue past Long Reach to practically anywhere else just for that bottle of water. I wish Long Reach the best of luck.. as I live here too and would love to see the area improve..but I'm not holding my breath.
Daniel Gross January 14, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Just wanted to point out that I live in the Long Reach Village with my fiancee and found that the international grocer "family market" is still not open, despite predictions that it would open before Christmas and despite their updated status of opening today (Jan. 14). I'm all for the place but I'm getting tired of waiting! It's nice having a place to get groceries so close.. piggy backing off of previous comments of benefits of not having to drive or rely on vehicles. It's a greener choice to walk rather than drive.
Dave Wind January 19, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I just got off the phone with the IFM's Project Manager and understand they are waiting for the Howard County Heralth Department's Final Approval to get their Certificate of Occupancy. They're now hoping to open either Monday January 30th or Friday February 3rd. Keep your fingers crossed the HCHD comes through.
Daniel Gross February 03, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Thanks for the timely, informative update, Dave. Looks like they didn't make either of those dates though. I just walked over to the Family Market today to find the doors still closed and covered. On the bright side.. they have posted a new sign on their doors, which states that they will have their official grand opening Feb. 10! Looks like one week to go!!
paul March 14, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Many of the section 8 tenants are decent people, who moved to columbia for a better life and better opportunities. The problem is not them per se, but their families and cousins and friends who come to visit. In other words, it is their "acquaintances" who often turn out to be problem when they come and visit. Many of these visitor see Columbia as a criminal shopping spree. I have seen this firsthand at my apartment building. It is destroying the area and property values. They need to cut back on the section 8 in Long Reach or more evenly divide it into other columbia villages. Some people are making this about race, but it's not, the only color that matters is green.
See what they Want! March 14, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Funny How times have changed! 10 years ago it was the brothers that sat in the LR exxon and hung out, the hcpd tried to put a ban on selling tobacco products to try to deter them away, now it looks like little mexico and thats ok..? i do not see the cops harrasing nearly as much as i did with the brothers. Whats worse smoking a little marijuana or selling cocaine? hcpd is oblivious to the facts As soon as there is more than 2 colored boys out there people are scared lol
SKVAM March 25, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Long Reach is a dangerous place. I try never to go there when it is dark. Safeway was an expensive dump. But I hope the local criminals are not going to be their usual predatory selves and ruin this new enterprise. Don't defecate where you eat.
SKVAM March 25, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Little Mexico? Colored boys? Listen proud racist: I don't like crime no matter who does it. Plenty of rednecks are worth crossing the street for. I certainly want to avoid Little Ireland or Little Germany.
Daniel Gross April 05, 2012 at 02:58 AM
Subway coming soon to LR Village Center!!
Jennifer Walters Soler September 04, 2012 at 11:05 AM
Patch, will you check out New Family Market for an update? When the store first opened, my husband and I were very impressed and had pretty much designated it our place to shop for all of groceries from basic stock items to produce, meat and fish. In the last several months, however, the shelves have become bare, the freezers empty. We had to return avocados once for being rotten, but figured it was just a fluke. When I've asked the cashiers what's going on, they do not seem to know. We want Family Market to be successful but, with its current appearance, I can't risk buying fresh food there. Please investigate! Thanks!
wayne June 10, 2013 at 07:07 AM
I think the Family Market was a dumb idea. Wal-Mart 5 mintues away, Giant 10 mintues, and Safeway 10 minutes and I was supposed to shop at some rinky dink grocery store. I must have missed the memo before moving here. And the nerve of the HCPD to harass genuinely good people who just past through long reach or need gas.

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