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The owner of the Walkers Village Center on Md. 194 blames a bad economy, the government and the nearby Wegmans grocery for his inability to fill vacant space in his shopping plaza.
Although he would not offer specifics, Frederic Tomarchio of the Carroll County-based Tomarchio Enterprises said the town’s building regulations, the Great Recession and the opening of Wegmans have been bad for business.
Tomarchio also blames the Maryland State Highway Administration for denying his request to build a new entrance to the shopping center directly from Md. 194.
“Government shouldn’t be running somebody else’s business,” he said. “Typical government, they think they can do everything. If they would have stayed out of it, the spaces would have been filled. Government has been more of a hindrance.”
Built in 1986, the 86,231-square-foot Walkers Village Center never has been completely filled with tenants.
Of the 24 spaces available, 12 are vacant. The same 12 spaces were vacant before Wegmans and before the Great Recession.
Walkersville Burgess Ralph Whitmore said Walkers Village is the main shopping center for the town.
“It’s very important to the town,” he said.
Whitmore said the town supported Tomarchio’s request for an entrance from the highway into the shopping center, in hopes it would help spur new business. Without that, he said there is little the town can do to help.
“I think the economy just got it tied up and there is nothing we can do about that,” he said. “And, there is nothing we can do about the rent.”
Some current tenants say they are considering leaving the location as well.
Alberto Columba, owner of the shopping center’s Dollar Kingdom, said he might have to close because his sales have decreased by 50 to 60 percent since he opened 12 years ago.
“The rent is high and we have no customers,” Columba said. “If the landlord tries to increase the rent I will walk away.”
Columba declined to say how much he pays in rent.
Tomarchio, whose company bought the shopping center in 2002 for $7.9 million, declined to say how much he charges in rent.
However, according to www.showcase.com, a website for commercial properties, the annual rental fees for five of the vacant spaces range from $21,480 to $36,900.
Tomarchio also blames Wegmans, which opened in 2011 at the Clemson Corner Shopping Center off of Md. 26, for hurting not only him, but other nearby businesses.
The Walkers Village Center is about five miles from Wegmans.
“Government officials approved that,” he said. “People making these decisions are not helping the businesses that are already here.”
Phil Quattrini, store manager of Wegmans, said their intention is not to put other stores out of business. Quattrini points to the nearby Giant Eagle on West Seventh Street in Frederick and the Giant Food on Kingfisher Drive off of Md. 26, as examples of stores that have not shut down since they opened. Both groceries instead remodeled shortly before Wegmans opened.
“I have opened a few stores and I don’t think we necessarly hurt people,” he said. “Giant Eagle is remodeling their whole store. It’s better for the whole community. We definitely don’t want to hurt people. Both stores have remodeled and they are beautiful. The whole community gets a fresh look.”
Tomarchio said his company spent close to $1 million in 2009 to remodel the exterior of the shopping center. He had hoped the facelift would make it more attractive to new businesses. A Subway and driving school have opened since then.
“I think it’s [remodel] made a difference,” he said. “We’re going in the right direction.”
Tomarchio said he now is in talks with a bakery and a restaurant interested in leasing space. He declined to name the businesses.
“Everything is speculative,” he said. “Until the deal is signed and delivered anything could happen.”
He said he also is in talks with Safeway — which anchors the shopping center— to put in a gas station. Safeway shoppers would receive a discount on gas.
“We tried to do this six years ago and it didn’t work, he said. “Now the discussions have come around again. When gas was $1.95-a-gallon, they weren’t interested. But [with high gas prices] that’s back on the table.”
The shopping center houses a CVS, Chinese restaurant, the 25-year-old Village Tavern, a dollar store, a dry cleaner, a liquor store, a flooring business, a hair salon, a nail salon, driving school, animal clinic and Subway.