Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bun Penny Brouhaha

Darrell Nevin emailed me a copy of the Mackenzie Ditter email about the impending closing of the Bun Penny store in the Mall in Columbia.

“Not sure if you knew this or saw it, but certain it is fodder for one of your columns.”

How could I have not seen it? Freemarket blogged about it here and Evan Coren blogged about it here. The Sun papers had a story about the closing and last night, on the eleven o’clock news on Channel 13, there was yet another story about it.

From my perspective, I just don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, it is sad that a family business is closing. That is always sad. It is sad for the owners, the employees and the longtime customers but I hardly think it is big news. Over the years many family run businesses have quietly closed their doors in Ellicott City and nobody ever made a big deal out of it.

I have known Bun Penny since it was opened by the Sachs family many years ago. For the longest time the store was the place to get lunch in Columbia. It was Columbia’s own Zabars.

Times change and so do peoples buying habits. Over the last few years I watched as Bun Penny slowly faded from popularity. I trace the beginning of this slide back to when the mall was renovated and the Lord and Taylor department store was added. What once was the mall’s front door was no longer. The entrance where Bun Penny was located took on a different character. Seldom did I see full tables in the glassed in seating area. I don’t think the store adjusted to this dramatic change in traffic patterns. Also, new competition sprouted up in town center. The Lakeside coffee shop surely took some business away too. That is what occurs in a dynamic marketplace. Either a retailer adjusts to these changes or they risk losing relevance.

That is hardly big news. It is just a fact of life.


Freemarket said...

Absolutely. I don’t blame any residents for being emotional rather than logical about Bun Penny’s departure, but the economic reality is what it is, and the facts of the competitive business environment cannot be ignored. I am sure there were some compelling emotional pleas about the loss of the farmland that the mall used to sit on, too.

peopletreefilms said...

my .02

Anonymous said...


Jessie Newburn said...

Ditto. Couldn't have said it better. Ditto on Freemarket's comment, too.

Tom said...

My question is for those who are complaining the loudest: When was the last time you bought something at Bun Penny? If it's been a long time, where else are you going? Why?

Also the story/letter is very compelling because of the emotion involved. But, that is what it is a one sided emotional depiction of the closing of a small familiy business. The closing is the results of two independent companies decisions. Before I would get involved in decrying the demise of the Bun Penny I would like to know a few facts behind the story. Also could this be the beginning of the next phase in the life of the Bun Penny?

But, ther is an important issue this brings out. One of the main requests during the Charette was including local retaialers in the vision for a healthy downtown. I would spend time making sure this comes true and perhaps should be treated similar to the low to medium cost housing. . .

Anonymous said...

I, like many others, have been an employee of Bun Penny for many years and am devistated by the news of it's closing. Of course we understand that everything comes to an end and that GGP needs to do what is best for their company, but it is unfair to trivialize our feelings over this matter. We are not only losing out income but a second home and family. To us it is a big deal.

Anonymous said...

So, the landlord made changes to the property that made the tenant's space less accessible, causing the tenant to lose business and then the landlord increases their monthly rent, too?

Sounds like a great deal to me.
But seriously, how can you "get" the Poinsettia Tree issue and not "see what the big deal is" here, too?

Bun Penny's been a part of Columbia for decades, the name well recognized and trusted because of its quality and longevity as a place to go for great food, wine, and gifts. Having a local business this well respected in our midst has been a source of pride for the community.

Channel 11 covered the story on Saturday, too.

Call such respect, pride, trust, and recognition for a locally-owned business emotional all you want. That's the kind of emotion a community needs.

wordbones said...

Anon 11:05

It is funny that you suggest the poinsettia tree and Bun Penny are somehow related. They could not be further apart in my mind.

For one, the last owners of Bun Penny were not the original owners. In my mind that makes it a different store from he original and I think that showed in the business.

The poinsettia tree is merely a thing of beauty. Period. Sure, it sits in a mall that is a temple of commerce but it doesn't cost you anything to experience it.

Bun Penny is a store. It is a store where at times I have had good experiences and at other times I have left in frustration. It is a store in the center of one of the most heavily trafficked malls in the region that somehow lost touch with that traffic. They are closing because they could no longer generate enough business from that location to afford the rent. I would venture to say that this same location at the same rent (or perhaps even higher rent) could prove very profitable for a business that gets it right.

Let's be brutally honest here. Bun Penny failed. It lost relevance to the consumers even as the mall continued to expand and prosper. If it was so important to the community, the community would have sustained it.

Yes, I feel badly for all of those whose lives were tied up in that store. But at the end of the day, it was a store, a private for profit enterprise. Nobody is forcing it out of business. It simply failed to adjust to changing times. That is sad but it is certainly not the first time that has happened nor is it likely to be the last.


Anonymous said...

To everyone that is trying to teach a lesson in business: get a life and get off the blog. Maybe if you spend less time on the computer and more time outside you would understand why people are upset about this issue! My first job was at Bun Penny when I was 14 and I worked there on and off throughout college and loved every minute of it. Jeff made work fun and taught me and a lot of kids that grew up in Columbia a good work ethic. Bun Penny is one of the first places I go when I come back in town and usually go there everyday when I'm home and see many faces that I have worked worked with in the past. I can't imagine it not being there, it just sucks that something that has been a staple in Columbia is going to be replaced by some generic chain. This blog should be for people who feel saddened by the closing, not a bunch of know-it all cyber-losers.

Cyber loser said...

Anon 4:49- you may have learned a good work ethic, but you sure didn't learn any respect or manners.

McKenzie said...

Hello, everyone.

I really didn't expect so many people to have such opinionated remarks. I only sent my letter to so many people because I doubted anyone would publish it. To all those who sympathize and to those who do not, thank you for taking time to think about what is happening. That is all I wanted. Instead of keeping quiet and shoving the Bun Penny history beneath the rug, I wanted to provoke conversation amongst some of Columbia's citizens.

I agree with so many of your comments. Times do change, and there should be no excuse for businesses not to evolve as well. Believe me---I have had my own frustrations with the management of Bun Penny. My dad has even admitted his own regrets. However, in his defense, he has spent the past eighteen-plus years working seven days a week with rare vacation time.

The demands of owning your own small business are high. Sometimes it's too overwhelming to change the methods of management. It seems pointless to live such a stressful life and sacrifice your family when you know that even without such rigorous competition you won't meet your $38,000 rent.

Thank you again for all of your support, ideas, and opinions. It's more than I expected, and a lot to appreciate.

Dennis B said...

Saying Bun Penny is a business is like saying Martin O'Malley is a guitar player.

It's the truth, but you're leaving a whole lot out.

For many, Bun Penny was a social hub of sorts. And when it's gone, the conduit to connect with old friends will be gone. Business often fill a social role in society as well as an economic one.

People who whine about their favorite TV show going off the air, and if they miss imaginary characters, you bet they'll miss the chance to catch up with real ones.

The fact is that General Growth damaged Bun Penny's business by redesigning the Mall entrance. Maybe Bun Penny's owner didn't complain enough. But the tables stopped being full AFTER the redesign, not when the new owners took over.

Bun Penny was also a unique business in that you won't be able to find one when it's gone. It's not like Burger King or a library branch is being shut down.

Jessie N said...

Ditto, again, on Wordbones' perspective here. Bun Penny, while one of my own absolutely favorite stores 10-20 years ago, clearly failed as a business in The Mall. And, frankly, I predicted it, as I'm sure many others did, too, when they redesigned their store along with The Mall expansion and redesign.

For me, BP went from charming, warm and delightful to stylized, faux glam and poorly designed overnight. I went from being a very regular customer to hardly shopping there at all. It lost its charm for me. And I couldn't stand the lighting or store layout. It just became, in my experience as a customer, another store hawking wares. (And the cashiers were routinely haughty and self-absorbed ... more interested in being seen by passerbys than by serving people standing right in front of them.)

So, I just stopped going. It no longer felt like "a community institution" and, so, I didn't treat it like one with my loyal patronage.

Personally, I think Bun Penny would do swell over in Columbia Gateway. I think they'd rock that scene and, once again, find themselves at the center of a small and sweet universe.

That's my two yuan before I head out for the evening.

Christian Beyer said...

I just found this out a few minutes ago. Well, it is a shame. It was a shame that Home Depot put most of the local hardwars stores out of business...that Rite Aid and CVS and the grocery store chains have eliminated our neighborhood pharmacist...and that Wal Mart and Target have smothered just about everyone else. Of course we got better prices, but now we have indifferent employers providing us with understocked shelves and poor service with no place else for us to shop. And no one to complain to. (And lets not forget that local government courts these big boys - they are not necessarily better businessmen, just subsidized.)

In places like Bun Penny the staff as well as the clientele knew where the book stopped and it wasn't in some boardroom in Dallas or Idianapolis or Paris. The buck stopped right there on the floor of the store, usually stocking shelves and helping customers. Try finding that at Wegmans or Trader Joe's or even Eddie's of Roland Park. Good luck.

The 'last owners' that some of you referred to were not outside investors or a rabid competitor trying to eliminate competition (as is usually the case in these situations) but existing employees of the company, employees that started out as entry level staff. I started my career as a dishwasher at Bun Penny and within a very short time had the opportunity to advance into management. Since then I have worked for independant food operators and large faceless corporations. Today I have the privilege of teaching high school children culinary arts. Most of the best things I am able to teach them I learned at Bun Penny over 20years ago and it saddens me that there are so few opportunities for respectable, personable and compassionate employment out there. We need more Bun Pennies and fewer Wall Street operators. And we need more landlords who will work with the merchant, something that Columbia has been sorely lacking. (With people like the Rouse Company as your landlord it is a miracle if an independant operator can stay in business for 5much less 35 years.)

I pray that Jeff will be able to finally take a breather from all the hard work and dedication he has invested over the last quarter of a century in maintaining a home town icon. Good luck, brother and thanks for everything.

Columbia has been diminished yet again.

squeakyflirt said...

I have been going to Bun Penny since I was a little girl. I have many memorys of going in there with my dad and the closing is evry sad to me. I also know someone who has worked there for many years. This is not just a store closing but a way of life ending. I will never forget going into the store and looking into the barrels of candy and begging my dad to buy me some and him always saying no but him giving me some of his potato Kinish when we got home. Now 20 years later I rarely go into to the store and I regreat that. Everytime I thought about going in and ordering a sandwich I would just put it off until next time but now there will be no next time. Times have to change but for many Bun Penny has been there and has been like a second family to many of the workers. I understand about the economic reality but to many Bun Penny is more then just another store. It also symbolizes how mnay privately owned stores can't survive becuase of bigger copperate owned stores. The Columbia mall used to have tons of privatley owned stores now with Bun Penny closing there is just one left and only one original store left and thats a tailors for pete sake. This is just not about a store but about a way fo life and a fixture in peoples lives that no one expected to go way.

Christian Beyer said...

Oops, sorry about the typos - that' the buck not the book. But you know that.

A dios

squeakyflirt said...

Sorry about the typos, to early in the morning.

Anonymous said...

The Closing of Bun Penny -

I find it interesting the responses regarding the closing of Bun Penny. As a Columbia resident since 1983, I was a very frequent customer at Bun Penny. I knew remember the current owner Jeff when he was an employee under the old ownership. So there is a little history there!

Personally -I stopped patronizing Bun Penny after one of the co-owners Danny died a few years ago. The only reason I stayed a customer at Bun Penny was becuase of Danny. It was his bright smile and personal touch that keep me going back, even though I complained to Danny several times about his partner Jeff. In my over 20 years as a Bun Penny customer (both for business and personal). Jeff NEVER acknowledged I was even in the store. He seen I was a customer for over 20 years, but never approached me in the store or even spoke a single word to me. Can you imagine this after 29 years. I personally know, Danny tried talking to Jeff about his shortcomings as it related to his customers, but it feel on deaf ears.

I personally know several previous employees who worked for Jeff and believe me, he was not a saint. In fact, Jeff was a tryant at times. Unfortunately,after Bun Penny's expansion and Danny's untimely death the store changed its ways. I stopped going to Bun Penny several years ago and I met many old time residents who stopped as well. I am not saying the outcome might have changed if Jeff changed, but we will never know.

I fully understand the challenges small businesses have in Columbia, but there are several who still are viable.

Margaret said...

Like many, I was stunned last week to hear that Bun Penny is closing. While it is true that they are our competitor, I feel a sadness for several reasons.
Firstly, as the co-owner of a small
retail Columbia business (Produce
Galore), I know the hard work involved. Years of working seven days a week aren't easy on the body, on the mind, and on the family.
In the bigger picture, the closing of one more small business in this
community puts Columbia a little closer to being just another anonymous American city. To me, it
is the small, unique stores that help make one city different from another.

Christian Beyer said...

In the course of doing business, (especially when relying heavily upon younger people as we do in the service industry), it is easy to come off as a tyrant to more than a few employees. Not always, but more often than not, those employees that view their bosses as tyrants are those that most often attract the most corrective attention. I have been called an S.O.B. by more than a few but generally I take much of it with a grain of salt. That being said, I realize that in the heat of battle I have tended to forget the necessary pleases and thank-yous as well. Like Jeff, I am no saint.

But I worked with the man for six years and where perhaps he was not as gregarious as some would like, he has always been devoted to customer service as well as his staff. I am sure that if he were aware of how he may have been insensitive to some he would have made some sort of amends. But then again, he is only human.

Bun Penny started out as a traditional Jewish deli with a wine store attached. That clientèle faded away and over the years, what with changes in mall policy, construction projects, remodeling, corporate competition they have had to bob and weave to stay in the game. It ain't easy. And when you go from being right at the main entrance to being stuck down and alley with no easy ingress or egress while your expenses keep rising exponentially- well guess what happens?

But this is not about the peculiarities of any one individual it is about the face of America changing to something that more may be pretty but is lacking in character. Bun Penny was unique. (As are places like Produce Galore - another icon that has been swimming upstream for years - ain't too many left.)

(Hey I was there from 80 - 86 so if you bought deli I must have waited on you too. I miss Danny as well.)

wordbones said...


I guess I've just been around too long.

The list of local businesses I've known that have come and gone over the years keeps growing.

How many people remember the Tidewater Bookstore in Wilde Lake Village Green or The Cheese Shop in that same center?

They were locally owned.

Back then folks lamented that the mall killed them. Bun Penny was part of that mall.

Today, a small local business called Lakeside coffee shop thrives right accross the street from where Bun Penny is located.

Iron Bridge Wine Company on Route 108 surely took some of the wine business away from Bun Penny. Iron Bridge Wine Company is locally owned and operated.

My point is that small locally owned businesses are still opening and trying new things in Howard County. Sadly, they sometimes close as well. That is how the market operates.


Christian Beyer said...

It's a good point but....

What hurt those village center stores was the fear of crime (I worked in a couple of those as well as in the mall)

Lakeside is a small business oriented operator. Apples and oranges.

And Iron Bridge isn't even part of Columbia. No landlord either. It was a stroke of genius to buy the old Crown's Pub and grab that very specific niche of the hospitality business.

You have pointed out a few new ones. Nevertheless the vast influx of business in this area is made up of large corporations not local operators.

The market, the market. The "market" as an entity doesn't exist. It is a an abstract term used to describe the actions of people as they buy and sell. Maximum profit need not be our goal in a civilized society.

Anonymous said...

I am the MOST frustrated person right now, I know first hand what really happened to Bun Penny. But for right now I would just like to say how sorry I am for the person responsible. He knows who he is, and its just very sad to me that it had to come to this. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people in these last days, and I would like to thank them for making me feel like I'm not alone. I have never used the internet to talk to anyone. But I feel like I'm going to explode if I don't respond in some way to all of this. Trust me I do have much to say, but I am going to stay anonymous. I think it must have been VERY hard for the whole family. I wish Jeff Ditter the best of luck in his future.

wordbones said...

christian beyer,

I think the owners of Iron Bridge would be surprised to find out that they had no landlord. Don Ruewer (their landlord) would probably be surprised too!

As to Wilde Lake Village Green, trust me, back when those stores closed, crime was not an issue, the mall was. I worked there back in that ancient time.

Anon 7:57 AM,

That was a pretty cryptic post. What really happened to Bun Penny?


Christian Beyer said...

Oh, sorry, I thought the Weickers had bought that old property outright. Should've figured that our local land baron had already beat them to it. But the point I was trying to make (poorly) was that the old Village Centers were more or less under the same umbrella as the mall: Rouse - HRD - CA- not too much difference at the time. Remember the brouhaha over Harbor Place around then? Rouse was accused of forcing merchants out of their spaces at lease renewal time in order to maintain a 'fresh' face on the mall. There's history here.

I remember working in Oakland Mills as well as Wilde Lake in the late seventies (when the mall had been open for some time) and business was booming. Then there was a series of violent crimes that may have been overblown by the press but nevertheless from that point on there was a great demand for security personnel at the centers. Lot of talk about the layout allowing felonious types to lurk unseen. I used to hear customer concerns about safety all the time.

Anyway, that is the past. What about the future of the Town Center? Isn't it becoming (or is already) just another White Marsh or Arundel Mills?

squeakyflirt said...

The Columbia Mall is defintly become another white marsh. The Columbia Town Center has gone from a place with many unquie stores to one of all chain stores. The only thing you can really get in the mall anymore is clothes and some electronics.