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Shop Around: Rumors and reality in retail

The Columbia area is in store for some changes in 2010 on the retail front.

Will this be the year we get a much rumored Whole Foods or Costco? Or will we "Bring Trader Joe's to Columbia" as suggested by a Facebook page that has nearly 600 fans?

Don't bet on it.

A Trader Joe's spokeswoman said the company was flattered that the people here want a store, but at this time it's "not in our two-year plan."

The Whole Foods and Costco rumors have been flying around for years, but the companies have yet to confirm their authenticity.

Meanwhile, here's what we can look forward to:

'Food with integrity'

Diners won't have to wait much longer for Chipotle Mexican Grill to make its entrance into the Columbia market. The restaurant opens Jan. 15 in Trenholm Plaza, with limited free T-shirts, burrito coupons and other specials.

But before that, customers can taste-test the gourmet burritos on "free burrito day" from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 13. All burritos will be free that day.

Chipotle, which started in 1993, has more than 900 restaurants nationwide, including locations in Greenville and Charlotte.

The chain, which boasts "food with integrity," serves natural and organic food. It sells a variety of burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads.

The restaurant will have outdoor dining when it opens in a recently revamped outbuilding at Trenholm Plaza at Forest Drive and Trenholm Road.

A timeline for Mast

The popular and eclectic Mast General Store bought the old Lourie's building on Main Street in November after months of speculation.

While the store - a combination outdoor outfitter and country store - likely will not open in 2010, Columbia shoppers can expect a timeline this year for when the store will be built.

Store officials said they make plans slowly and carefully to ensure success, but once they set an opening date - probably in 2011 or 2012 - it will be firm.

The company, based in Valle Crucis, N.C., did say it plans apartments for the second and third floors of the 15,000-square-foot building. The store will occupy the first floor and basement.

New mall owners?

Midtown at Forest Acres has had a troubled history in recent years, but brokers say they are close to a deal for new owners to take over and lease out the vast empty spaces in the mall in the heart of Forest Acres.

In fact, "now leasing" signs have sprung up around the mall in recent weeks.

Mall merchants say they are hopeful new owners would breathe fresh life into the struggling shopping center that soon will lose a massive Verizon Wireless call center and once was planned as a showpiece of mixed use retail and residential.

More coming attractions

- Look for BB&T to start building its new bank branch on the former Hiller Hardware site this year. The store was torn down a couple of weeks ago, but bank officials have remained mum on their building plans. The site plan for the one-story bank with a drive-through has gained at least partial approval from the city of Columbia's design board.

- Rush's will open its first new store in nine years at 51501 Sunset Blvd. in the Target shopping center by Feb. 1. And that might just be the start of the restaurant's expansion plans. Officials at the West Columbia-based company are looking at other high-growth areas to possibly open more new restaurants.

- Roundabouts Consignments will fill a 36,000-square-foot storefront left dark when Stein Mart vacated the space on Two Notch and Polo roads earlier this year. Expect the thrift store to open this week with more space for furniture and men's and children's clothing.

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