Sunday, February 16, 2014


Downtown Bethesda's longtime surplus store, Ranger Surplus on Wisconsin Avenue, has closed. The property was recently closed on by DC-based Douglas Development, which plans to redevelop it and several adjoining properties.

One indirect result of the store closing was that the sidewalk out front remained unshoveled. Without Ranger Surplus, the block is a lonelier place: they took the uniformed sentry who used to guard the door with them. He was downtown Bethesda's version of a Buckingham Palace guard.

This guy is nowhere
to be found on
Wisconsin Avenue


Anonymous said...

So where's the new "Bethesda" forming up, Robert? Where are rents reasonable enough for chef-owners and shops with no Rodeo Drive aspirations? College Park? Wheaton? Gotta know cuz I wanna go!

Robert Dyer said...

Most of the affordable areas are slated for redevelopment - Wheaton, Glenmont, Rockville strip malls, Long Branch, etc. While waiting for that to happen - as in Bethesda - cheaper rents can be found, but usually on shorter terms unacceptable to someone trying to establish a long term business. Because they want to be able to give tenants the boot as soon as they get the green light to redevelop the property in most cases. This political policy has led thriving commercial areas like Wheaton and Glenmont to stagnate as landowners are tempted by politicians to prepare for the big redevelopment payoff.

Anonymous said...

This might be the first time anybody has referred to Glenmont as a "thriving commercial area."

There's a half-empty shopping center with an awkwardly laid out parking lot that's full of litter. There's a two-level McDonald's (probably one of the author's favorite places, actually). There's a Shopper's Food Warehouse. Oh, and there's the Stained Glass Pub, which is cool, I guess.

Also, you know what has stifled new small businesses in Wheaton? That mall -- the opposite of transit-oriented development. The county's insistence on catering to Westfield (giving them a $4 million grant to build Costco) has left those small businesses out. What would you rather do? Get a $1 hot dog at Costco or try something new but a little more expensive at one of a handful of Latin eateries?

Seeing Ranger Surplus go is no doubt a sad thing, but once again the author has it all wrong.

I'm sure he'll come up with plenty of ad hominem arguments in subsequent comments.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, anonymous is right. Let's shut down Target and Macy's immediately in Wheaton. They're the problem.

Anonymous said...

I love anonymous' elitist view of Glenmont and Wheaton. Christ, not everyone in MoCo can afford a high end, luxury lifestyle.

Robert Dyer said...

Fortunately, as a lifelong resident of the county, I was around when Glenmont and downtown Wheaton were thriving areas. As I explained above, whatever ways people consider these areas to have declined are the result of politicians dangling the lure of urban-style redevelopment. If you're offering short term leases so you can kick tenants out when you get the green light to demolish, you're not going to have the same kind of businesses leasing. The same thing happened at Westwood Shopping Center. When redevelopment seemed imminent to the owner in the mid-80s - poof! Farrell's, Baskin Robbins, hardware store - all gone.

Wheaton Plaza is not the problem. It's well-run by Westfield, and is an amenity that downtown Bethesda, Rockville and Silver Spring don't have. Take away the lure of redevelopment, use what the county is spending on urbanization to help property owners with upkeep, and Wheaton and Glenmont will have a retail turnaround in short order.

Robert Dyer said...

Hear, hear, 5:47. Despite the challenges in their commercial areas, and overall neglect by county politicians, Wheaton and Glenmont continue to have great neighborhoods. Very high-quality brick homes, and garden apartments like Privacy World that are a model for suburban multifamily development. Fantastic landscaping, in contrast to the sea of concrete proposed in the new sector plan.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm Teri, the first of the Anonymous commenters here ("wanna go") - just wanted to say thanks for the informed and informative discussion that followed!

Robert Dyer said...

You're welcome, Teri. The folks who are pushing urbanization in these areas - and literally pushing people out of their homes and businesses in the process - bank on the fact that newcomers in the area don't know the history.

People hear their spin on it through the local media, and assume that those commercial areas have always been this way. I was a witness to the final years of the "golden age" in Westbard, Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, and saw how businesses vanished in correlation to the redevelopment plans that were simultaneously put forward.

Anonymous said...

"I was a witness to the final years of the "golden age" in Westbard, Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill, and saw how businesses vanished in correlation to the redevelopment plans that were simultaneously put forward."

The more you tout supposed "golden ages" of places that never had one, the more you resist change, the more ridiculous you sound. Stick to the food reviews, those are actually slightly entertaining.

007 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I love how everything is the "politicians" fault. The politicians don't redevelop anything. The only thing the County Council does is approve rezoning. It's the private that kicks out existing tenants to go after the high-end of the market.

Hopefully one day you'll come to the realization that the strip malls and shopping malls that you cherish are outdated eyesores. The only successful malls in the region are: the two in Tysons, Fair Oaks, Columbia, Arundel Mills, Pentagon City, and Montgomery. The only reason these are successful is because they're in the center of very affluent areas. Nearly every other mall in the DC Area is losing shoppers, money, and tenants. Wheaton was only saved from the bulldozer because of Target and Costco.

It might seem like a step backwards in efficiency to replace multi-level, climate controlled malls with open air "town centers" but that's what where the demand is. If mall owners were making so much money: Frederick Towne Mall, Lakeforest Mall, White Flint Mall, Springfield Mall, Landmark Mall, Laurel Mall, Landover Mall, and others in the area wouldn't be in the midst of redevelopment. Even the surviving ones such as Tysons, Montgomery, and City Place, are going through extreme makeovers just to stay competitive.

People would rather have a walkable, transit-accessible retail center more integrated into the community and more reminiscent of "main streets" of the past, especially if it's a mixed-use center with residential and office spacem, rather than an hulking, ugly, windowless, mass surrounded by seas of parking.

This is a national trend. Over 15% of malls nationwide are projected to close. Of course I'm sure this is the politicians fault, nothing to do with economics or consumer preferences...

Robert Dyer said...

And the more you bash Wheaton, Glenmont, Aspen Hill and Westbard, the more elitist you sound. If the "smart growth" folks would turn their bulldozer engines off and research the history of these places, they would be able to sound more grounded in the real world. You're seriously saying that the above places did not have thriving commercial areas in the 60s, 70s and early 80s? I was in the stores, restaurants and movie theaters myself. Now we're supposed to surrender ourselves and our communities to the urbanization plans of somebody who drops in by parachute from NYC and says, "here's how it's gonna be?" No way.

Robert Dyer said...

The evictions in Wheaton, Glenmont, Long Branch, Takoma-Langley will be squarely on the hands of the councilmembers who voted to rezone those buildings. Developers don't write and pass the zoning code or sector plans (at least, not technically). They want to maximize profit, and understandably so - I don't blame them for that. But the council and Planning Board have to factor in the human impact, infrastructure, and effect on the county's economy. With the notable exception of Marc Elrich, they have failed to do so.

Why does a fully-leased, popular mall close? Why does an affordable apartment building that is profitable close and kick tenants to the curb. Only one reason: the council allows it. If there were no rezoning golden ring to reach for, landowners would stick with the sure profits of the status quo. Affordable units would be preserved, and retail centers would focus on quality tenants again, rather than month-to-month "demolition special" leases. Montgomery Mall was jam-packed this Christmas, as is Milestone on Black Friday. I don't see the change in consumer preferences you refer to. Just zoning changes.

Am I in Rockville Town Square, or Pentagon Row? I don't know, these cookie cutter town centers all look the same. At least try to present something distinctive like Bethesda Lane. The Disneyland town center fad will pass. Suburban neighborhoods with character will endure.

Anonymous said...

Malls are like any other business. The well run ones will thrive (Westfield) and those poorly managed (Lakeforest) will fail.

Malls are now lifestyle centers that offer more than just department stores.

Anonymous said...

It's the job of politicians to foster responsible, sustainable growth in their respective jurisdictions, and as inept as the Mont. County Council is on many issues, for the most part it's created a national model for sustainable/smart growth here in Montgomery County. Many other jurisdictions have copied MoCo's successful development policies such as the MPDU affordable housing model and the Agricultural Reserve green zone.

You continue to cherry pick and insist on ignoring the big picture/national trends. One day you'll actually take a trip outside of southern Montgomery County to other parts of the DC Area, of Maryland, of the Mid-Atlantic. Then you'd see more or less the exact same thing you're seeing in your beloved Bethesda. Aside from a few malls in relatively affluent areas, most suburban shopping malls are treading water or failing altogether. It's been nearly a decade since the last indoor mall opened in this country. From Washington State to Florida, "town center" type developments are pretty much the default type of new retail development. Strip mall and indoor mall construction are things of the past. Mall vacancy rates nationwide are over 10%, despite the closure of many properties. Please don't take my word for it though. Do a Google search, read the WSJ, Business Week, the Baltimore Sun, Wash. Business Journal, etc. (I would say the Washington Post as well, but you've already dismissed that outlet as nothing but a source of lies and deceit)

Don't get me wrong, the suburban town center, "Disneyland" fad as you call it, could very likely change in 30 years. Consumer tastes/preferences are always evolving. One form of development that has remained consistently popular in this nation for centuries is mixed-use residential/office over retail in established urban areas, and that will likely never change. Whether it will stick in the suburbs, only time will tell, but so far it's been very successful and will likely continue to be, especially with gas prices the way they are. I'm not saying that every shopping mall in the nation is destined for closure. Once the oversaturated retail market adjusts, a small percentage of malls with the right combination of management, demographics, and location, such as the two in Tysons, Arundel Mills, Montgomery Mall, Columbia Mall, etc will definitely survive and thrive.

Btw I consider Milestone Center a suburban, "big-box" shopping center, not a shopping mall. This type of large suburban retail development is still popular, with chains such as Walmart, Kohl's, TJX, and Target all continuing to grow and be financially successful (although the advent of online shopping has hurt all non-perishable "brick and mortar" stores somewhat). My comment refers solely to indoor climate controlled shopping malls.

@ Anonymous 5:00pm

Simon Properties (which up to recently owned Lakeforest Mall) is the largest retail REIT in the nation (and one of the largest in the world) and knows a thing a two about managing malls. The changing demographics of the area, the competition with Washingtonian Center, and the general decline of malls killed Lakeforest. Last November the current owner announced plans to redevelop the mall.

Robert Dyer said...

It's also been *over* 10 years since a large employer relocated to Montgomery County. Which suggests that the council's economic growth, planning and infrastructure decisions have been utterly disastrous.

I would not describe their affordable housing "efforts" as a national model either. They've allowed several affordable buildings to be demolished (Battery Lane, Hampden Lane, MacArthur Blvd, downtown Silver Spring), and rezoned many others to encourage demolition. They've also declined to require a higher percentage of affordable units, even while holding the power to do so. Finally, the Arlington Road corridor was once designated as a Metro accessible location for affordable housing. But, with the council's "leadership," it has instead become home to the most expensive luxury buildings in downtown Bethesda.

Given that Rockville Pike is a suburban area, and you agree there is demand for Milestone-style shopping centers (and I would say that demand is quite evident by the crowds of shoppers along the Pike), wouldn't it make sense to allow that type of retail development along 355 rather than urbanize the suburbs?