Zen Tara Tea, the independent tea shop and retailer that opened its own Bethesda Avenue store after success at a local farmers market, is closing on May 26.
The news was first reported by blogger Robert Dyer. Zen Tara Tea (4710 Bethesda Ave.) will let customers know in an e-newsletter on Wednesday.
Co-owner Methee Thavornvongkajorn said a variety of factors contributed to the decision, including nearby construction of Lot 31. The construction there has caused disruptions to the busy intersection of Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues. The crosswalk on the south side of the intersection has been closed off and many have complained of a parking crunch now that the surface Lot 31 is gone.
Developer StonebridgeCarrass, which is building two apartment buildings on top of a new county-operated underground parking garage, has put signage around the construction area pointing people to existing businesses that may be affected.
“We don’t want to blame it on the construction alone,” Thavornvongkajorn said. “It’s that, it’s the parking. We have quite a few people who actually say they don’t come into Bethesda anymore. Some customers in Rockville actually have us do delivery.”
Thavornvongkajorn and partner Guy Munsch will maintain the online retail arm of the business. It opened in 2007 with a small tea counter at the Bethesda Farm Women’s Cooperative Market, just up the street from the store. The store, which opened in 2010, featured more than 100 teas, most grown organically.
From the e-newsletter:
Talking with our staff and our landlord over the past month, ultimately we decided it was best to maintain our integrity and close this chapter of our tea adventure with our heads held high. Zen Tara Tea is not going bankrupt, isn’t closing in the middle of the night leaving employees and creditors in a lurch, not asking for a bailout – we’ve lived up to all our responsibilities. There are certainly things we could have done better and will learn for next time but we have few true regrets. We’re also extremely proud of our teas and our service, many of the customer service problems endemic to retail businesses we’ve never had, thanks to our staff and to really great customers as well.
Thavornvongkajorn said the pair has discussed opening a smaller shop with the same landlord in the future, though for now, they’ll go on a “tea sabbatical.”
Video via Zen Tara Tea
Another small business is closing in Bradley Shopping Center, and the owner of the most recent storefront to move out indicated the mini-exodus is no coincidence.
Booktopia owner Nina Embrey said she decided to close for mostly personal reasons, including an ill parent, but things at the Shopping Center are different after Bruce Variety shut down earlier this year.
“The feel of the mall has definitely changed,” Embrey said.
Bruce Variety owners alleged the owners of Strosniders Hardware, their next-door neighbors for almost 60 years, orchestrated a rent increase that led to their closing and move to Woodmont Triangle.
Kae Robin & Company (6910 Arlington Rd.) announced in March it would close. The store said owner Jo Ann Horn was retiring. Horn didn’t return a request for comment.
Booktopia (6912 Arlington Rd.) sells children’s books and gifts and has been in Bradley Shopping Center for two-and-a-half years, but Embrey said uncertainty about the future of the strip mall played a role in her decision.
Embrey’s lease comes up at the end of April. Despite a letter of commitment to extend the lease from the group of trustees who own the property, she said she has not heard back about rents. Embrey said she enjoyed working with the landlord group.
Trustees reached for comment have remained mum on the changes in the shopping center since Bruce Variety announced it would close. And Bruce’s move signaled big changes for the entire property. Embrey, who is selling most products for 25 percent off and many for bigger discounts, said she had customers tell her they came to her shop only after or before visiting the beloved crafts and party store.
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Flikcr photo by Nomadic Insight
A Bethesda cookie store has closed after a local news station aired an unflattering report on its mice problems.
WUSA9 reporter Russ Ptacek, who does a regular segment in which he confronts owners of restaurants that have been shut down for health code violations, came to Cookies By Design (4913 Cordell Ave.) in Woodmont Triangle last month.
A voice recording at the store’s number said that after 17 years, Cookies By Design closed on March 30. The report was published on March 29.
The store, which blogger Robert Dyer first reported is closed, was shut down by Montgomery County because of mice but cleared for reopening upon a second inspection. In his report, Ptacek inspects the store himself and claims to find mice droppings that are “very soft” and “fresh.”
An unnamed Cookies By Design manager said she had only had two days to clean up.
“I’m doing the best I can,” she said.
Today the storefront is vacant.
Cookies By Design is a Texas-based national chain. Attempts to reach the shop owner and a representative of the national company were unsuccessful.
Video via WUSA9
Business has been tough for a while at Zelaya Shoe Warehouse (4940 St Elmo Ave.) so an impressive new job offer was hard to turn down for owner Tony Zelaya.
Zelaya, who has run the store for almost 11 years and who almost shut it down in December of 2011, will be moving to Dubai to work as the main buyer for a major Middle Eastern fashion website. Zelaya Shoe Warehouse will close Sunday or Monday, depending on the result of a clearance sale this weekend.
“It was a job offer I couldn’t refuse,” Zelaya said. “Even if the store was doing well, I probably would have shut it down. It was that good of an offer.”
The store was faring better since Zelaya slashed prices in early 2012. But in retail, with big department stores and online merchants, succeeding as a small business was a tall task.
Zelaya was frank about the small business environment in Bethesda and elsewhere, especially after the economic struggles of recent years.
“People just go to the big box retailers. They go online and they get shocked when they see a small business owner go out of business but yet, they hadn’t really been supporting them very long and when they did, a lot of times, they’d come in and haggle.” Zelaya said. “I think small businesses that are great restaurants can survive. People are still eating out. When it comes to footwear and retail, the small business owner really can’t compete price-wise with the department stores, can’t compete price-wise with the online companies and the customers kind of smell the blood in the water.
“I wish that it was different. I thought after 10 years, I’d be owning three or four locations and having tremendous business,” Zelaya said. “But basically, I hit the employment lottery. I’m very blessed and very excited.”
From now until Sunday, all shoes will be $20 or less. For more information visit Zelaya’s Facebook page.
Kae Robin & Company (6910 Arlington Rd.) is closing as owner Jo Ann Horn prepares to retire, an employee confirmed today.
The gift shop and stationery store has been opened in Bradley Shopping Center since 1959. In December, longtime crafts store Bruce Variety announced it was closing just a few doors down from Kae Robin. Owners said the rent in the shopping center had got too high and many bemoaned the loss of the independently owned small business in a changing Bethesda area.
A representative from the Shopping Center did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the time and it is unclear if Kae Robin is facing a similar situation.
We left a phone message with Horn this morning.
The owners of the shuttered Bruce Variety store said the support they got from the community, including an online petition with more than 2,900 signatures, motivated them to find a new storefront.
They are rumored to be moving to the former Creative Parties Ltd. space at 8011 Woodmont Ave.
“It’s been the grassroots effort. …That’s really motivated us to really make a concerted effort to find a new space,” co-owner Linda Ridenour told County Cable Montgomery’s County Report This Week.
Ridenour and husband Richard Dimock say the rent at Bradley Shopping Center is too high to maintain profitability. The property owner has not commented on the story.
Video from MyMCMedia
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Flickr photo by atorphoto
A foreclosure auction scheduled for this morning was called off, according to store owner Arnie Fainman, who is renting the space from property owner the Jaffe Group.
Fainman wouldn’t say why the auction was called off, other than to say he will continue operating the store that has been at the corner of Old Georgetown and Greentree Roads for nearly 90 years.
A few local restaurateurs, including Bezu and Aroma owner Eddie Benaim, were on-site this morning before being told the auction was off.
For now, Fainman said the property still belongs to the Jaffe Group. The store is recognized as a historic place by Montgomery County.
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Flickr photo by Bill in DC
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The Photography Center of Bethesda will be the next casualty.
After more than 15 years at 8126 Wisconsin Ave. and 35 in the Washington area, an out-of-the-way location and the advancement of digital and cell phone camera technology will force Gerard Garcia to close his doors this month.
Frame sales are down to near nothing. Customers are increasingly buying digital cameras and equipment on the internet and at major department stores. And even longtime customers are now taking and editing their own photos in the comfort of their homes.
Garcia’s staff, which at one time included 11 employees, is down to one — his wife Penny, who will be moving with him closer to their children in New Jersey once the shop closes sometime between Sept. 15 and Sept. 30.
Signs on the front of the store announce a clearance sale. Camera accessories are half off. Babette, the red-haired mannequin in front of the shop for its entire history (except for a brief hiatus when it was stolen, then returned), is on sale for $400 or the best offer.
“We’re very afraid because we’re losing our livelihood but also it feels like the death of an art form,” Penny Garcia said. “People are using their iPhones. All the frame shops and photo labs have closed. Our line of business has definitely changed.”
Gerard Garcia said the decline of the photo shop industry combined with the decrease in foot traffic near the shop served as a “double whammy.” The two storefronts just south of his location have sat empty for at least a few years.
But that section of Bethesda has floundered as newer retail developments, such as the posh Bethesda Row, have grown more prominent.
“This part of Bethesda has been absolutely ignored,” Gerard Garcia said. “It’s strictly a destination store now.”
In the next few years, developers are planning a six-story office building on the site of the Texaco station and a 360-unit apartment with a ground floor Harris Teeter across Battery Lane.
It’s the type of development Penny Garcia said may have helped the small, yet versatile photo shop make a comeback. But with the huge sea change in the photography industry, it was no sure bet.
“It’s very sad,” Garcia said. “But we don’t have a choice.”