The Dark Side of White Flint, Part 19:
Welcome to The Dark Side of White Flint, an ongoing series about the not-so-wonnerful, wonnerful, wonnerful side of urbanizing the suburbs. These articles provide "the rest of the story" about redeveloping White Flint not found in rosy local media reports.
A Christmas shopping visit to the downscaled Toys R Us store on Rockville Pike brought disappointing, if expected, news: the store will close for good sometime next month, according to a store employee. Worst of all, the store is not relocating; it is the end for Toys R Us here. Having split my childhood toy purchases between this location, and the also-demolished Lowen's toy store in downtown Bethesda, this conclusion is certainly a sad one for me. The original Toys R Us structure was already demolished on the other side of the shopping center; this store is essentially a pop-up affair, but still had a decent inventory. As Toys R Us winds down from its final Christmas shopping season, a closing sale is offering modest discounts of 10-30%. Under the sale's terms, there are no refunds or returns. Shelves throughout the store are increasingly bare, and most are not being restocked.
The anti-suburbia activists will say this is no big deal, "change happens, deal with it," and that urbanizing strip malls on Rockville Pike will reduce exhaust emissions. All three arguments are false.
There is no equivalent toy store anywhere in the Bethesda or Rockville area. Furthermore, Toys R Us carries multiple toy lines exclusive to its stores. Having come directly from the nearby Target, I can confirm that the selections are quite different. And when the Toys R Us was fully stocked, there was simply no comparison between the stores. I am a big fan of Target, and shop at several of their stores frequently. But they understandably cannot devote the space or depth to toys that Toys R Us can, given the broader merchandise array of a big box store. The loss of convenience and toy merchandise selection is indeed a "big deal" for downcounty residents.
Change may happen, but in this case, the desire of parents and children to buy toys has not changed. Development decisions cannot be made in a vacuum, but must take into account the needs of current residents, and the general economic best interest of the area. There is no convincing argument for the destruction of a successful commercial area like Rockville Pike. And even less logic behind one that then banishes the longtime businesses whose stores are demolished. Change in Montgomery County today is primarily driven by development interests, even when other business interests are damaged in the process.
Finally, urbanization of White Flint and Rockville Pike is leading to more driving, not less. The patrons of demolished businesses astronomically outnumber the future residents of luxury buildings in the area. When that Hallmark ornament cannot be found in White Flint, or that Toys R Us-exclusive toy must be had for Christmas, shoppers don't deprive themselves - they hit the road. And now their shopping trip burns several times the amount of gas. So we've made our community less convenient (unless your life revolves around $100 restaurant dinners and high-end shopping 365 days a year), and increased auto emissions, to boot.
In what is becoming a "disposable society," there are costs. Welcome to the dark side.
White Flint Mall demolition, phase one (Photos)
Phase one demolition continues (Photos)
The Cheesecake Factory goes dark at White Flint Mall (Photos)