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Seoul Plaza at Security Square Mall put up for sale

The owners of Seoul Plaza have placed the 160,000-square-foot Korean marketplace at Security Square Mall up for sale, citing high vacancy rates and a downturn in business.

The plaza, located in a former J.C. Penney anchor store, opened in 2003 and contained a Grand Mart grocery on the first floor and several smaller shops, like a tea shop and massage stall, on the second floor.

The Grand Mart closed in 2008 and was replaced by an International Mart, with a broader selection of goods.

No asking price had been determined, Sow Thong, an associate broker for United Realty Inc., of Vienna, Va., said on Friday. Seoul Plaza, owned by the Choi family of Northern Virginia who also own a Seoul Plaza in Vienna, will remain open for business, he said.

“It’s slow going,” said Chol Choi, who is manager of the plaza but not related to the owners, of the level of business at the plaza lately.

Frank Meyer, general manager for the Security Square Mall, said the owners had been unhappy with consistently slow sales and high vacancy rates. The plaza, he added, did not attract foot traffic from the mall, which also hampered its sales figures.

“The Seoul Plaza concept just hasn’t worked,” Meyer said. “From the mall’s perspective, we hope the buyer will put in a use that’s more beneficial to the mall, like a real department store or a discount store that has more of a synergy. We don’t feel that the mall is benefitting from Seoul Plaza.”

When the Seoul Plaza was opened, it was billed as a “mall within a mall” because of its special offerings to Asian customers and marketplace design. It was designed to draw customers largely from the expanding Korean and Asian communities on Baltimore’s west side and in Howard County. It was one of many Asian grocery stores in the area, prompting some to speculate an oversaturation of specialty grocery stores.

“They have been having a hard time,” said Jay Park, chairman of KAGRO of Maryland Inc., a city-based Korean grocery and alcoholic beverage association. “It was on a second ownership and basically … there are several places already open in Ellicott City and Catonsville, so geographically it was out of the way for some people.”

Seoul Market was not a member of KAGRO, Park said, but he had been monitoring its business model.

“We like to see every business prosper, especially the Korean businesses,” he said.

Thong said the owners simply “would like to move on.”

“The property has not been a success as they would have liked,” he said. “When it opened up, they wanted to appeal to Asians, and they did not care about the rest of the mall, and that was a big mistake.”

Security Square Mall was built in 1972. The 1 million-square-foot mall is owned by CityView Commercial LLC, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and is fully occupied with  120 stores.

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