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Vacant Fresh Grill Building Could Have New Tenant, New Look

by Aaron Kraut | March 12, 2014 at 10:30 am | 444 views | No Comments

There are signs of life for the long-vacant former building of Fresh Grill and the DansezDansez dance studio in Woodmont Triangle.

After a nearly two-year legal dispute over construction damage between the building’s landlord and the developer of the next-door Bainbridge Bethesda apartment project, a for lease sign is up in Fresh Grill’s former window.

Landlord Lenny Greenberg said his Bethesda-based Greenhill Realty Company is looking at a couple of options for renovating or completely rebuilding the property, which Greenhill claimed was severely damaged by negligent excavation and construction work next door.

Fresh Grill closed in February 2012 and is in the middle of its own lawsuit against Bainbridge (the developer of the almost finished 17-story, 200-unit apartment building) construction company Turner and White Flint Express Realty Group, the Greenhill LLC that holds both 4905 and 4909 Fairmont Ave.

In the meantime, Greenberg said his company is looking at the possibility of a new 7,000-square-foot building with ground-to-ceiling windows in the hopes of attracting a new tenant.

A rendering is posted in the window of the former Fresh Grill.

“We are looking hard at what is the right thing to do with this property,” Greenberg said. “We’re waiting now for some other outcomes but we’re going to make up our minds shortly.”

Greenberg said Greenhill Realty is due to meet with Bainbridge and Turner next month to discuss settlement terms. A judge last year ruled in favor of the landlord in a key part of its case.

Fresh Grill was forced to close in February 2012 and has now permanently closed in the location, according to its lawsuit that was filed in December. The restaurant is suing whichever party a judge finds responsible for the permanent closure of the business — developer, construction company and landlord included.

There are still some Fresh Grill fixtures in the restaurant.

Greenberg said the new building won’t reach all the way to St Elmo Avenue, where Greenhill Realty recently shut down the Red Tomato Cafe because of similar construction issues, including reports of falling wet concrete. There is a separate lawsuit against the developer and construction company pending there.

Ranger Surplus Closes In Bethesda

by Aaron Kraut | February 18, 2014 at 9:05 am | 893 views | 1 Comment

Ranger Surplus closed in Bethesda

After 18 years, the Ranger Surplus store on Wisconsin Avenue has closed.

The store, known for its unique array of products and military clothing, actually closed its Bethesda location (8008 Wisconsin Ave.) on Jan. 31. Blogger Robert Dyer reported the news over the weekend.

The store was on Wisconsin Avenue for 18 years, one of a locally owned chain that also included a now vacated store in Wheaton. Ranger Surplus still has stores in Rockville (811 Hungerford Dr.) and Vienna with a new location slated to open next month in Frederick.

Ranger Surplus stocked camping gear, work clothing and stuff you certainly couldn’t find anywhere else in Bethesda. The Army Navy store had knives, pepper spray, airsoft guns, battledress and even MREs (military-inspired Meals, Ready-to-Eat).

A representative of the store did not return a request for comment.

D.C.-based Douglas Development Corp. bought the block including Ranger Surplus for $9.2 million in December, with plans to turn it into an apartment over retail project starting in 2015.

The block includes the next-door Bethesda Valet and the KNL Beer & Wine on Woodmont Avenue, the detached house/beer and wine store next to Bruce Variety.

Bethesda’s O’Rourke Jewelers Calling It Quits

by Aaron Kraut | January 23, 2014 at 5:25 pm | 270 views | 1 Comment

After 47 years and plenty of pearl necklaces sold, a longtime jeweler is calling it quits in Woodmont Triangle.

O’Rourke Ltd. Jewelers, in the same 7950 Norfolk Ave. space since 1968, will close on Jan. 31 as president and second-generation family owner Katherine Graf heads to retirement.

For what’s one of Bethesda’s longest-tenured businesses, it’s a bittersweet event.

“We’ve seen Bethesda change a lot,” Graf said. “We probably have the best customers in the world and I’m sad to see it go, but it’s time.”

Graf took over the store from her parents. Her mom died in 2012 at the age of 95. Graf would pick her up every day and bring her to the store.

“I wanted her to have that experience because she really enjoyed it,” Graf said. “When she passed away, I thought this was the right time.”

As you might’ve guessed, longtime customers have been flooding the store in recent weeks to reminisce. It was known for its pearls and repairs.

On Saturday — the last Saturday the store will be open — Graf will host a reception to celebrate.

“It’s been wonderful. It’s like a little community and it has changed a lot. People who lived here, had kids, moved out and came back,” Graf said. “The small business experience for us has been really fantastic.”

EXCLUSIVE: Apartment Construction Controversy Deepens

by Aaron Kraut | January 14, 2014 at 9:15 am | 1,469 views | No Comments

Construction of the Bainbridge Bethesda apartment building overshadows BCC Automotive, which will likely close its doors by March 1

A car repair garage claims falling wet concrete damaged its clients’ luxury vehicles. A now shuttered gourmet sandwich shop says the very construction workers responsible for damage to its building would regularly clean up mortar dust and patch up cracks in its walls.

And despite a Montgomery County official’s determination that its buildings are structurally safe, the landlord next to the Bainbridge Bethesda apartment project has moved two popular tenants out and will likely move two more out in the coming months.

As crews work to finish the 17-story, 200-unit Bainbridge Bethesda apartment in Woodmont Triangle, the controversy surrounding the construction of the building has only deepened.

Greenhill Capital, the company that owns 4910 and 4912 St Elmo Ave. and 4905 and 4909 Fairmont Ave., claims shoddy foundation work from developer Bainbridge, its contractor and sub-contractor has led to permanent structural damage that means it must kick out its tenants for safety reasons.

Bainbridge, Turner Construction and the Schnabel Foundation Company deny the bulk of the landlord’s claims.

Even after a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Greenhill in one lawsuit, the construction continues and the lawsuits keep coming.

Green Tomato LLC, the company that holds ownership of the St Elmo Avenue storefronts for Greenhill, sued Bainbridge and the contractors in November along with tenant BCC Automotive, Inc. A representative from Green Tomato said the luxury car repair company and the Red Tomato Cafe next door will likely have to leave their spaces by March 1 because of continuing safety issues.

Meanwhile, Fresh Grill — the Fairmont Avenue restaurant that closed in 2012 because of alleged structural damage on the other side of the block — is suing the developer, construction company and landlord.

Its owners say the entire saga put the restaurant out of business. It’s seeking at least $1.2 million in damages in a separate lawsuit filed in December.

(more…)

Charleston Alexander Closes Bethesda Store

by Aaron Kraut | January 13, 2014 at 9:15 am | 339 views | No Comments

Charleston Alexander, closed in Bethesda

Jewelry store Charleston Alexander closed its Bethesda location last week and consolidated its stock at its Northern Virginia headquarters.

The diamond importer moved out of its space at 7845 Wisconsin Ave. on Jan. 5.

A letter on the front of the store says owner John Sabet and family decided to double the size of the Falls Church flagship location. The Bethesda staff has also moved to that location, the letter said.

According to state property records, the Sabets own the roughly 20,000-square-foot store, built in 2005.

Waygoose Redux Closes In Bethesda

by Aaron Kraut | December 30, 2013 at 10:15 am | 785 views | 5 Comments

Waygoose Redux

Another independent business at the Shoppes of Bethesda is out, and its owner says opportunities for small, local businesses in Bethesda could be on the way out too.

Deborah Simon closed her Waygoose Redux gift shop at 4926 Hampden Lane on Saturday. Simon had recently taken in Shoppes of Bethesda neighbor Bella Italia after that shop closed.

It is the fourth locally owned, independent store to close in the shopping center in 2013. Ri Ra, an Irish pub and restaurant that relocated to Georgetown, also closed in 2013.

Waygoose Redux relocated from Rockville to Bethesda Row a decade ago. Three years ago, with national chains gulping up space on ritzy Bethesda Avenue, Simon again relocated the store just a few blocks away to Hampden Lane.

But with online retailers putting a big dent in her business and a landlord interested in pursuing more of those national chains, Simon said she had to hold one final blowout sale over the weekend.

“If you want to support small businesses like this, you need to support them and you need to stop relying on online shopping,” Simon said. “We just saw huge drops of people coming in. People who shopped with us last year didn’t come in this year and it’s been like that for a while. It’s the ease of the internet that’s killing small businesses in many ways.”

Waygoose was known for its jewelry, ceramics toys and other home decorations produced by a group of artists Simon said she gained much respect for over the years.

Her store was one of just a few remaining independent gifts shops in the area.

“If you want something that’s not clothing, that’s not food, that’s gone,” Simon said. “It used to be a nice shopping district, where you could go and see a lot of variety, find stuff you hadn’t even thought about.”

As for the future of small, local retailers in downtown Bethesda, Simon said that will require customers and some help from the landlords. A Pure Barre, a national chain of franchised fitness studios, will take over the spot of Bundles of Cookies (4930 Hampden Lane).

“Landlords are tending toward national chains because it’s easier in many respects,” Simon said. “And people are spending money, they’re just not spending it on these kinds of items. That’s really what it is. If you really do support small local businesses, then do it with your pocket books and your feet.”

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | December 30, 2013 at 9:00 am | 433 views | No Comments

Flickr photo by ehpien

White Flint Store Closings — Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids in White Flint Mall will close Jan. 12 and the Mid-Pike Plaza Toys R Us (11840 Rockville Pike) will also close next month. Both properties are set for redevelopment. [Friends of White Flint] [Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row]

Montgomery Might Benefit From State Budget Increase — With growing tax revenues, Maryland’s budget could grow by as much as four percent in the next fiscal year. With that additional money expected to be spent on education, Montgomery County could be the beneficiary. County leaders will push for more school construction funding once the 2014 General Assembly starts up next month. [The Gazette]

Traffic Ebb and Flow, Visualized — A data artist and software developer used traffic speed data to create a map showing the waves of traffic around the region in the week of Thanksgiving. [Mapbox]

Flickr photo by ehpien

Boutique Owner Says Fairfax Better For Business Than Bethesda

by Aaron Kraut | December 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm | 668 views | 5 Comments

Take5 Boutique logoSakina and Mahir Iskender opened their Take5 Boutique last year in Bethesda with high hopes and an exclusive roster of high-end fashion designers.

They debuted a British clothing brand with Aston Martin test drives and took part in a number of other events to get the word out. But the boutique, and its location on Fairmont Avenue, just wasn’t working.

Mahir Iskender said it became clear that Bethesda — at least the Woodmont Triangle section of town — wasn’t the place for a small, high fashion-minded business.

The husband and wife team from Germantown moved Take5 to Fairfax’s Mosaic District this week, leaving the Bethesda space vacant.

“As an entrepreneur, I would not recommend boutiques to open in Bethesda. Maybe Chevy Chase would be better,” Mahir Iskender said. “It is a very tough market as people are very conservative over there and for some reason, not willing to spend.”

He told the Washington Business Journal that Bethesda’s older clientele gave him the sense that the Mosaic District would be a better fit.

Bethesda Row has a number of clothing boutiques on Bethesda Lane and Bethesda Avenue. The property owner, Federal Realty, also hosts fashion-inspired events year-round, including an annual fashion runway show to promote the stores.

But breaking into Bethesda Row is an expensive proposition, Iskender said. Most of the existing shops have a national presence and much more money behind each operation.

“The lease is so high in Bethesda Row and Chevy Chase, it is difficult to survive,” Iskender said.

Zen Tara Tea Closing On Bethesda Avenue

by Aaron Kraut | April 30, 2013 at 4:30 pm | 298 views | 1 Comment

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

Booktopia Closing In Bradley Shopping Center

by Aaron Kraut | April 12, 2013 at 9:15 am | 349 views | 1 Comment

Booktopia in Bradley Shopping Center is closing at the end of April or in May

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.

Morning Notes

by Aaron Kraut | April 12, 2013 at 8:45 am | 126 views | 1 Comment

Flickr photo by Nomadic Insight

Cookies By Design President Says Company Closed Bethesda Franchise — The president of recently shuttered Cookies By Design (4913 Cordell Ave.) said the Texas-based company revoked its franchise agreement and ordered it closed after a WUSA9 report on its mice infestation. [WUSA9]

Bethesda Elementary Parents Seeking Pedestrian Safety Changes Start Facebook Page — The group seeking No Turn On Red signs and speed cameras to protect pedestrians on Arlington Road started a “Share The Road Bethesda: page on Facebook after starting an online petition earlier this week. [Share the Road Bethesda via Facebook]

Police Say Carjacking Suspect Was High On Crystal Meth — Glenn Vincent Rhodes, 34, of an unconfirmed address attempted to carjack another vehicle after a police pursuit that took him and a passenger from the White Oak section of Silver Spring to the Loehmann’s Plaza Shopping Center in North Bethesda on Wednesday night. [Montgomery County Police]

MTA Wants Private Sector Help (And Funding) For Purple Line — The state’s transit agency recently issued a Request For Information to private companies to help build and pay for the roughly $2.1 billion light rail that would connect Bethesda to Chevy Chase, Silver Spring and College Park, among others, before terminating in New Carrollton. [Washington Post]

Flikcr photo by Nomadic Insight

Cookies By Design Closes After Unflattering Report

by Aaron Kraut | April 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm | 456 views | 1 Comment

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

Bethesda’s Zelaya Calling It Quits On St Elmo

by Aaron Kraut | March 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm | 1 Comment

 

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.

Another Bradley Shopping Center Favorite Is Closing

by Aaron Kraut | March 7, 2013 at 11:40 am | No Comments

 

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.

Bruce Variety Owners Say Support From Customers Motivated Them To Find New Space

by BethesdaNow.com | January 22, 2013 at 10:00 am | No Comments

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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