Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bun Penny Closing

A friend just forwarded me this email from the daughter of the owner on Bun Penny:

Hello, my name is McKenzie Ditter. My father owns Bun Penny in the Columbia Mall and I regret to tell you that we will be closing down at some point in the next three weeks. Bun Penny stopped being profitable quite a long time ago, but my father now cannot even break even thanks to the mall's skyrocketing rent. I'm not sure how often you update your blog, but I'd appreciate it if you could mention this as soon as possible. The sooner I can get the word out, the better.

The Bun Penny market and cafe has been a part of the Columbia Mall for nearly forty years, and my family has owned it for the past eighteen. We have always struggled to survive in the mall, but after General Growth Properties' acquisition of the Rouse Company, it has become impossible. The day before this Thanksgiving, my father was notified that Bun Penny must leave the mall by January 15th. Just as they decided that Columbia no longer needed the Poinsettia Tree, they have decided that Bun Penny no longer has a place in the Columbia Mall.

Until now, my family has kept news of our closure a secret from customers and employees for fear of jeopardizing the final shipments from our food distributors. Now, with Christmas passed, I think it is safe to spread the word. I'd like Columbia to recognize the plight of small businesses in the profit-before-people culture fostered by companies like GGP. I want people to see how far the new owners of Columbia are straying from James Rouse's initial vision. My family has been struggling to pay an ever-increasing rent of $38,000 a month to a company based in Chicago that shows little to no regard for the traditions and institutions of Columbia .

I don't know what the future holds for Bun Penny, but knowing that it will no longer be a part of the mall is sad. As much as I dislike the superficiality of what the mall has become, it's hard to forget that it has been a second home to my father, mother, brother and me for as long as I can remember. As a little girl, I played in the straw barrels that we used for gift baskets. I threw temper-tantrums in front of customers, had countless crushes on cute deli boys twice my age, and broke more bottles of wine than I can remember. I collected coffee beans from the ground, made sandwich signs and window murals, sewed tablecloths, and catered the beautiful weddings of some of Columbia 's most powerful residents. I can make a gift basket with my eyes closed and recite the prices of hundreds of cracker boxes and jellies and teas in my sleep. For better or worse, Bun Penny has been an extremely important part of my life, and I know I am not alone.

Bun Penny is a family business - not just my immediate family, but the extended family of employees, customers, and even old Harry the produce man. There are men and women working at this store who have known me since before I was born. The Bun Penny family has seen births, teenage romances, graduations, marriage s, divorces, and deaths. Through it all, there has always been love and support for anyone in need. This family deserves to know how much they are worth and how much they have meant to us. This is not the first time that a family business has been driven out of the Columbia Mall and it does not bode well for the few that remain. Considering the Poinsettia Tree debacle, tradition appears to be a tender topic during the holidays and GGP's continued efforts to undermine such traditions should not go unnoticed. If Columbia wants to preserve its other institutions, it must continue to make its voice heard.

As I spent time downtown for CA meeting, Bun Penny represented to me the potential of downtowns future: a park once, walkable downtown that was alive with people and things to do. Situated at the exit of the mall that the county wanted to make the connecting link between the Lakefront and the mall if traffic from work allowed I could park once and run up across the walking bridge to Bun Penny, get the best deli sandwich I have ever had (and if I was feeling particularly down about how things were going at CA a slice of chocolate cake), and then run down to the CA meeting. During the summer when I went to see a movie at the Lakefront I could walk across the walking bridge pick up a picnic meal from Bun Penny and then go eat at the grass amphitheater with friends or a date before the movie.

Now not only is GGP supportive of the county's idea of extending Wincopin Street over the top edge of the grass amphitheater they are also pushing the very businesses that they say downtown is lacking out of property they own downtown. If GGP has a good financial reason for significantly raising the rent of Bun Penny and then finally telling the owners of Bun Penny they need to get out of the mall, then I would like to hear it. As it stands now this becomes yet another example of GGP talking one game about wanting a vibrant downtown and pushing for a plan that thus far as been little more than window dressing to grant them the zoning to allow 5500 new residential that will allow them to sell off their land for significantly more than they currently can sell it for.

When I have looked at all the plans that have been presented so far, I keep saying to myself, "Well, that is interesting, but it really won't achieve what its advocates claim." I strongly desire to see downtown redeveloped and I do think downtown is a good place for the county to absorb population growth, but when we redevelop downtown we first need a plan that addresses how the grand statements from the county and GGP will we achieve, and we need a plan that stays true to the values Columbia was founded on: 1) mixed income housing, 2) preserve greenspace, 3) plan before you build so that you have infrastructure that meets the community's needs.

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