Saturday, August 31, 2019

Escape Quest opens in downtown Bethesda

Escape Quest, a new escape room business at 4936 Fairmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda, has now officially opened. They are offering reservations, and walk-ins, for 60-minute games where a team of players attempts to escape a puzzle-filled room. A sign out front displays the times available for walk-in players.

MoCo to end frequent parker program in Bethesda's Garage 11

Montgomery County has announced it will end the Frequent Parker debit card program at the Woodmont Corner Public Parking Garage 11 on October 1, 2019. Card holders can continue to use them until that date. The deadline for turning in your card and receiving a refund for any unused funds loaded on it is December 31, 2019.

County officials say they are pursuing other payment programs to replace Frequent Parker. One possibility would utilize cell phone payments. To return your Frequent Parker debit card, bring your card to the Woodmont-Corner Garage Office at 7730 Woodmont Avenue between 7:00 AM and midnight, Monday through Friday. For more information, call (301) 657-0848.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Developer tries again to restart stalled Bethesda gas station redevelopment

After another delay over environmental cleanup issues earlier this summer, the developer of 7340 Wisconsin Avenue is again attempting to begin the approval process. The site was formerly a gas station. A required pre-submission public meeting has been scheduled for September 11, 2019, at 6:30 PM at the law offices of Lerch, Early & Brewer at 7600 Wisconsin Avenue in Suite 700. That sounds like an awfully small venue for a community meeting about an important property downtown.
The details released so far about the project include 319,000 SF of total development that will include senior housing and 5500 SF of retail. Many real estate observers have previously wondered why whoever the applicant is hasn't pursued assembly of this site with the Douglas Development-owned property that directly adjoins it. This property is atop the Bethesda Metro station, and about a block from the future Purple Line station, which should justify the maximum height and density. Douglas is one of the top developers in the region, and you would think they'd be very interested in maximizing the profit potential here.

Original developer Bainbridge previously tried to redevelop this site in 2014, but their project was also panned as too small. It had a very nice public art feature included in the design that will set expectations higher for this new plan to be unveiled in September.

Kneipp closes at Montgomery Mall, EJJI Ramen reopens

Kneipp, a German retailer of natural, vegan bath and body products, has closed at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The shop was the latest victim of the moribund Montgomery County economy, which has suffered a net loss of over 2100 retail jobs since 2000, according to the Maryland Retailers Association. Kneipp's storefront is now blacked out, but inside it has been cleared out.

Another closure at the mall earlier this week was temporary. EJJI Ramen was closed at the beginning of the week. But the company, which has another location in Baltimore, says they had to close due to a mechanical problem. EJJI Ramen is now open again in the Dining Terrace.

TTR Sotheby's International Realty opens at Bethesda Row

TTR Sotheby's International Realty has opened at 4809 Bethesda Avenue at Bethesda Row. The real estate firm specializes in luxury homes in the Washington, D.C. area. Some of the homes they are currently listing appear at the stairwell entrance area to the firm's upstairs office.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

What is going to fill the vacant CVS space at Bradley & Wisconsin in Bethesda?

The CVS Pharmacy at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Bradley Boulevard in downtown Bethesda closed more than two years ago. Its space has sat vacant since, despite its high visibility along one of the most heavily-traveled commuter routes in Montgomery County. Now a source tells me the space has finally been leased to Ourisman Automotive Group, which already has two dealerships in downtown Bethesda.

It would be a prime glass showcase for vehicles to passing drivers and pedestrians. Ourisman has a variety of other auto brands besides Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo, so it would be interesting if they decided to bring a new badge like Kia or Dodge to town.

Chase Bank to Pike & Rose?

Chase Bank is aggressively expanding across the country, having already opened two branches in downtown Bethesda alone, with a third Bethesda location in the works. Now I'm hearing they will open a future branch at Pike & Rose, on a pad site along Prose Street.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Artery Plaza fenced off for demolition

The demolition of the external courtyard at Artery Plaza, located at 7200 Wisconsin Avenue, was originally scheduled for June but delayed. Now the work is proceeding, and the area is fenced off along Wisconsin, and on the Bethesda Avenue side of the building. Demolition had been expected to occur at night between 9:00 PM and 5:00 AM for the safety of pedestrians. Owner JBG Smith hopes to make the plaza a public gathering and dining space again, as it was during better Bethesda times in the 1990s.

Lights out at Chase Bank in Bethesda after complaints

The blue light special has ended at Chase Bank at 7901 Wisconsin Avenue. After receiving complaints about controversial blue LED lighting that projected far beyond their property since they were activated one week ago, the branch has temporarily deactivated them. While I think the lights were clearly turned up too high to comply with light pollution regulations, it will be disappointing if they cannot have some color at a lower intensity. For now, the area around the bank has returned to the funereal grey darkness now found on most Bethesda streets after dark in the post-nightlife era. 
How it looked for the last week
It was also wild to see the story I broke last Thursday go viral, with no attribution to my original scoop. The blue lights story even made it to WJLA-7 News, among others, but the source who discovered it was not cited in any of them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

SunTrust Bank to close at Westwood Shopping Center, move to Kenwood Professional Building

The SunTrust Bank branch at 5450 Westbard Avenue, in the Westwood Shopping Center, will close on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 at 12:00 PM. They will then open a temporary branch on the 7th floor of the Kenwood Professional Building at 5272 River Road on Friday, November 22, 2019.

At a yet-undetermined future date, SunTrust will then move downstairs into the ground floor of the Kenwood Professional Building at 5272 River, where Gaylords Lamps & Shades is currently located. As I reported earlier this month, Gaylords is planning to move to downtown Bethesda this fall. If you've lived here more than about five or six years, you will recall that ground floor space with the little circular driveway used to be a bank.
The bad news - there will be no drive-thru at the new location. Safe deposit box owners will have to clean out their boxes before the move, as well. If you live on Westbard Avenue, you'll have a longer walk to the bank. And if you depend on drive-thru banking, you are simply out of luck.

SunTrust's announcement is another small, but interesting, clue about where Westwood Shopping Center owner Regency Center's thinking is these days. It's also a curious move by SunTrust. They're sure to lose some customers by virtue of the new, drive-thru-less location. But they did not necessarily have to make this move.

The part of the shopping center where SunTrust is located is not supposed to be demolished until the new Giant building opens. Theoretically, some of the existing tenants on SunTrust's side of the center could then move over to the retail spaces in that building. But SunTrust is choosing to move early.

So there's some room for speculation here. Is Regency still not meeting with existing tenants and spelling out all the terms for their future in detail? Will they indeed offer a below-market-rate rent to those tenants (not that SunTrust would need a lower rent)? Will they indeed be able to move over to new spaces before demolition of their current storefronts? Has the staging plan changed?

Stay tuned.

Cubano's installs sign in Bethesda

The permanent awning sign is up at Cubano's, the Cuban restaurant opening soon at 4907 Cordell Avenue in Bethesda. This was previously Louisiana Kitchen. Cubano's has an existing location in Silver Spring, which is highly-rated on Yelp.

Head2Toe Health to open in downtown Bethesda

Head2Toe Health Bethesda, a wellness center, is moving into the former Sports Extra space at 4938 St. Elmo Avenue. They will open on Friday, October 4, 2019. Services include weight loss, vitality, recovery, aesthetics, primary care, preventative care, and addiction treatment.

Yogiberry closes at Bethesda Row, will reopen under new ownership - UPDATED

UPDATE 10:50 AM: Yogiberry's closure is temporary. I have spoken with Federal Realty, the owner of Bethesda Row, and have learned that a new owner will be taking over Yogiberry, and they will reopen in the near future. That opening date is not set as of today, but I will report it as soon as I hear from Federal Realty.

The original article below incorrectly stating the closure was permanent was based on the statement from the previous business owner:

Yogiberry has closed at Bethesda Row. The frozen yogurt shop on Elm Street should have been celebrating the end of another successful summer, but has instead closed its doors permanently.
Yogiberry had been open for ten years, and is only the latest victim of the closures of the Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10 and Barnes and Noble, which have taken out many longtime businesses around the Row in the last year alone. The Montgomery County Council declined to require the developer of the Regal's site to provide a replacement cineplex at 7272 Wisconsin, which has reduced foot traffic in downtown Bethesda by about 20,000 people per weekend, according to a study on the impact of cineplexes on downtown areas. 
This loss can easily be seen in the lighter sidewalk traffic, hundreds of vacant parking spaces in the two Bethesda Row-area public garages, and little-to-no people on the once-crowded plaza outside Anthropologie & Co. Of course, the twin closures follow the collapse of Montgomery County's nighttime economy, as a result of the County Council's disastrous "Nighttime Economy Task Force" debacle, which resulted in 17 nightspots closing in downtown Bethesda alone.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Tenleytown Target construction looks ahead of schedule (Photos)

Will Target be the new CVS? After opening a number of smaller, urban-format stores - including the new one in downtown Bethesda, the retail giant is preparing to open a full-size location at CityLine, at 4500 Wisconsin Avenue in 2020. But as you can see here, the construction appears to be ahead-of-schedule, with the interior shell, lighting, and a good amount of flooring nearly complete. No signage has been installed yet, and there are obviously a lot of shelves, counters and massive inventories to be brought in.
This location, as longtime residents of Bethesda, Friendship Heights and Northwest Washington know, is one of the most historic department store sites in town. It was originally the first Sears Roebuck in Washington, D.C. when it opened on October 2, 1941. The parking structure was a marvel of engineering itself, and a heck of place to be when the nearby Civil Defense siren was tested Wednesdays during the Cold War. Only the rear pick-up at Toys R Us in Rockville, or underground pick-up at Montgomery Ward at Wheaton Plaza, could match the excitement heading down into the interior tunnel at Sears to pick up an oversize purchase.
The Tenleytown Sears, at the intersection of River Road and Wisconsin Avenue, was the Sears of choice of most Bethesdans in those days. In more recent years, Sears closed in the 1990s, and the structure was converted into a luxury residential development with retail below. Alas, the grand parking structure was lost, replaced by a new garage when Best Buy took over the 46000 SF that was left of Sears, with the rest going to housing and other retailers. When this was Best Buy, the garage was fine, but it used to try to close before Best Buy did. Not a way to encourage repeat business, to threaten to lock your car in for the night.
Alas, most of the great aspects of the legendary department stores, including Woodward & Lothrop in Chevy Chase, White Flint Mall's original anchors, and the old Tenleytown Sears, will be unknown to future generations. Target is quite pale by comparison, but it's what we've got left. And of course, it has groceries, and sometimes pharmacies, which department stores virtually never did years ago.