Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hilltop Plaza Renovations

Many changes are taking place at Hilltop Plaza in Bowie. The changes have been planned for a long time, so none of this is recent news. I did stop by Hilltop Plaza today to take a few pictures.

The most recent change is the closing of McDonald's. The restaurant closed more than a week ago, but in the few minutes that I stopped to take this picture, two drivers entered the drive-thru before seeing the orange traffic cone.

This picture shows the construction taking place at the former Magruder's location. An Aldi grocery store will be opening in this spot in the near future. A story from last May in the Gazette indicated that the store will be open by the end of the year, but that timeline seems unlikely given the current state of the renovations.

Aldi is a discount grocery store based in Germany. The Aldi name is a short version of Albrect Discount. The company was founded by brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht.

I've never been in an Aldi store, but from what I've read on the Web, the Aldi shopping experience is different than shopping at Safeway or Giant. Aldi grocery stores are characterized by the following.
  • Aldi doesn't carry popular brands. Most items are sold under the Aldi store brand.
  • The lack of brand choices keeps the stores smaller than traditional US grocery stores.
  • In the US, only cash and debit cards can be used for purchases. Until recently, only cash was accepted.
  • Customers have to pay a quarter deposit to use a grocery cart, and the deposit is returned when the customer returns the cart.
  • Customers are expected to bring their own bags. Forgetful customers can purchase bags in the store.
  • The stores don't have bakery or deli departments.
  • Stores do carry produce, although the selection is very limited, and refrigerated displays aren't used.
It sounds like it's typical for shoppers to purchase discount items at an Aldi grocery store, and use traditional grocery stores in fill in the gaps.

There is some discussion on the Web about the relationship between Aldi and Trader Joe's. Some people claim that they are owned by the same company, and some people claim that some of the same products are found in both stores with different packaging.

The ownership of the stores is a confusing tale. The original Aldi chain was divided into two companies in the 1960s when brothers Theo and Karl Albrecht had a dispute. The two legally separate entities became known as Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud, although the companies did work so closely together that they often appeared as one company. The Aldi stores in the US are part of Aldi Sud. Trader Joe's was purchased by Theo Albrecht (the brother associated with Aldi Nord), and an Albrecht family trust owns Trader Joe's today. From a legal perspective, Aldi and Trader Joe's are not owned by the same company, but it's unclear how much cooperation exists between the two companies.

What is clear is that Aldi has a reputation for being a poor person's store, and Trader Joe's is considered to be more upscale. Some people believe that the companies work together to identify potential markets such that a Trader Joe's will never be found near an Aldi grocery store.

Judge for yourself. Here are some of the Maryland Aldi locations:
  • Lanham
  • District Heights
  • Hyattsville
  • Pasadena
  • Langley Park
  • Glen Burnie
  • Oxon Hill
  • Dundalk
  • Essex

And here are some of the Maryland Trader Joe's locations:
  • Annapolis
  • Bethesda
  • Rockville
  • Silver Spring
  • Towson
  • Gaithersburg
  • Columbia
I guess we know what they think of Bowie.

MOM's Organic Market (My Organic Market) is opening a store in Hilltop Plaza. In a press release announcing the opening of the Bowie store, MOM CEO Steve Nash said the following:

"I was born and raised in Prince George’s County. I am extremely happy to be opening our 2nd store there. The County has been largely ignored by national chains for as long as I can remember and the residents deserve a source for reasonably priced, healthy organic groceries. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s seem reluctant to open there- and they obviously don’t understand the community."

And what would Hilltop Plaza be without a newly renovated AND expanded Dollar Tree store. Do you think Bethesda has a Dollar Tree store. Hell no!

Other businesses coming to Hilltop Plaza include Walgreens Pharmacy and Fancier Spa & Salon. According to this May, 2009 Gazette article, the owners of Hilltop Plaza are also attempting to change the zoning with the county to allow construction of residential housing on the site.


  1. I prefer MOM to Trader Joe's, although the Trader Joe's vegetarian "meatballs" are wonderful. MOM has a great variety of snacks and frozen goods and I can buy filtered, reverse-osmosised water in the liter-and-a-half size for 99 cents. You can't beat that for bottled water.

  2. First comment!

    In college I would occasionally shop at the Aldi on New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park. It's very small - only six aisles, and the displays never go above your head (I do happen to be six feet tall) so you can see everything in the store at once. You feel like you're in a little kid's version of a grocery store.

    All of the products are Aldi brand, and the quality is hit-or-miss. I found Aldi ketchup to be just fine, though my Trader Joe's-shopping roommate refused to use the Aldi hand soap I put in the bathroom. The Aldi frozen strudel (they are German) was awful, as was the Aldi frozen General Tso's. But it was all so cheap I barely cared.

  3. L.A., I hadn't heard of MOM until they planned to come here. Looking forward to checking it out. Our nearest Trader Joe's is in Annapolis, and we don't go there that often.

    Dan, Glad you stopped by. Hope all went well at the parade yesterday. I'm a big fan of Just Up the Pike, and it's great to see how the posts foster so much discussion.

    Refused to use the hand soap? You've got to be kidding. Sounds like the Aldi products might have replaced the cheap food we had when I was in college - Ramen Noodles.

  4. I have been going to MOMs since it was a small alley store in Rockville. It then moved to a larger store down the street. I then followed the store to Colleg Park where I work. Now I find out months ago its coming to Bowie where I live. Hurrah! To think it all started selling organic produce at his moms house. Thanks for caring about the earth and the people who live in it. Cant wait. Patti H.

  5. I really have enjoyed Aldi's being in Bowie. My family due to this economy has found this a valuable way to help our budget