07 January 2008

We Are (Bun) Penny-less


Page One, Barry’s Pizza, Harmony Hut, Taco Bueno, Patowmak Toy Shop, Jade Palace, Paper Carousel. We will have to add Bun Penny to this list of other stores that we all loved at the Columbia Mall (and while we are at it, let’s remember Mrs. Z’s, Columbo’s Pizza, The Little Red Caboose, JK’s Pub, the Last Chance Saloon, and Leidig’s Bakery, all from the Columbia area). Locally owned family businesses have always had it tough and Bun Penny demonstrated success for more than three decades.

The Coverage

I received word of Bun Penny’s demise on Christmas Eve. McKenzie Ditter sent emails to many of the local bloggers revealing the pending demise of Bun Penny. Freemarket was the first to get on board, publishing the email and providing context (well done Freemarket). The day after Christmas, Columbia Talk weighed in with a brief mention. By late on the 26th, word had reached Evan Coren over at his blog. Evan also posted McKenzie’s email, and provided his view (co-opting Bun Penny’s situation to rail against proposed street extensions).

This morning, the major news organizations were on board, with the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun publishing articles on the story. Each quotes employees and shoppers at length all unanimous in fond memories and a sense of loss.

The Washington Post article, written by William Wan
 Washington, contains this passage:

Rouse died in 1996, and his company was sold to Chicago-based General Growth in 2004. In recent years, residents have accused the company of failing to adhere to Rouse's vision of mixed-use development and inclusion of people from all walks of life.

To my knowledge, there is only one mixed use development in all of Columbia, and both Howard County and GGP have been actively advocating for mixed use development in downtown.

Oddly, Baltimore Sun reporter June Arney chose to quote local spokesperson Alan Klein. Alan also weighed in on the subject over on Freemarket’s blog, equating rising rent at the mall with sprawl (?????). Hopefully, Alan is not trying to use the Bun Penny situation to further his agenda, much like he did with the Poinsettia Tree dust up (as quoted from the CoFoCoDo website):

We are pleased and proud that about 200 community members, many of them CCD supporters, took their values (and poinsettias) in hand, made a statement, and were successful!

Some Personal Memories:

I can still remember back in the early 1970’s; taking the Columbus to the mall and being dropped off right in front of Bun Penny. It was the first thing everyone saw when they walked into the mall and the last thing they saw as they left. As I recall, most did not only walk by, they often shopped, buying lunches and taking home wine, chocolates, and coffee. It was a magical time, walking down the corridor to the main part of the mall, Bun Penny to your right Barry’s (and later Beefsteak Charlie’s) to your left, and water fountains shooting water straight up to the second level in a deafening roar of white noise.

Over time, the mall evolved, but Bun Penny was still there. After graduating high school, it seemed that any and every business function I attended had sandwiches and platters from Bun Penny. I was dating a girl named Kristen who lived in Longfellow and worked in the Bun Penney liquor store. Apparently, Bun Penny had a contract with Merriweather Post Pavilion, and she would tell me what the bands playing would order. Coffee was also becoming a more of a gourmet item and Bun Penny had expanded their offerings.

After serving in the Navy, I came back to Columbia and the mall had made its current makeover, exchanging brown tile or gray carpet for the beige marble, the fichus trees for palm trees. After this makeover, Bun Penny was no longer directly in the traffic flow. The bus stop was moved out in the middle of nowhere next to Sears Automotive (how wrong is that). Lord and Taylor was added as an appendage. The result was that Bun Penny was not as accessable as before. Still, to have it there warmed my heart in the face of all the change. When my wife and I moved back to Columbia, her parents would often stop by Bun Penny and bring sandwiches when they visited.

Where do we go from here?

With so much uncertainty about the future of Bun Penny, It is hard to say what will come. Certainly there is a lot of support for the business. I have talked about this with about three dozen people, and many expressed a desire for Bun Penny to move to Oakland Mills or Wilde Lake Village Center. Although I would prefer Wilde Lake (its closer to me), I do not think a village center featuring Bun Penny, Produce Galore, and Davids would be good for all three businesses. One enterprising young friend even suggested Bun Penny wait until the downtown plan moves along, and get a good street level location. Wouldn’t that be a great rebirth?

Beyond the immediacy of Bun Penny, there is a lot of hand-wringing about the fate of local business. I am no economist, but it seems that many businesses, local, chain, or otherwise are encountering rough times. CompUSA, Scan furniture (another Columbia Mall original store, now located [at least for a week or two] near Dobbin Center), and 84 Lumber are all going out of business.

If the focus is to be on promoting local business, I wrote about some possibilities here and here. The first post deals with how Clarendon, Virginia maintained a local retail flavor in the midst of constructing a mixed use project near its metro station. Basically, Clarendon worked with developers to allow for more building height in exchange for local merchants in the retail areas of the project. The second post deals with the “slow food” zoning movement. In slow food, if a business has more than a certain number (typically less than 15) of establishments in which the architecture, uniforms, or menu are the same, the business must go through an additional level of county review.

Lastly, we can all collectively choose to frequent local businesses. The power of the purse is the most powerful. We don’t have to buy coffee, wine, or good sandwiches from chain stores.


Jessie Newburn said...

As usual, a thoughtful, data-rich and interesting post. Thanks, Bill. And, oh, the memories! Eating chalupas at Taco Bueno were the highlight of my middle school mall rat days! And Columbos? I worked there as a teen when the place was rockin' and a highlight in Columbia's neighborhood restaurant scene.

Traveling back to present: For those looking to support more locally owned restaurants, I put together a list over at HocoLoco-Girl.com. And I'm always open to adding more restaurants and expanding the categories, too. Check it out.

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wordbones said...

I didn't realize that Alan Klein had said that about the poinsettia tree. What a putz!

It is pretty cheesy to try and glom onto to an event that had nothing to do with CoFoDoCo!