Friday, October 19, 2018

Japong Bakery to open today in Rockville

Rockville's newest bakery will open today in the Ritchie Center. Japong Bakery will open at 9:00 AM this morning at 785 Rockville Pike, and close at 8:30 PM tonight. Customers will enjoy free samples at the bakery today. There will also be a grand opening special: Buy two of their freshly-baked Pineapple Buns, and get one free.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Drybar to open in Rockville

Drybar will round out the retail spaces in the ground floor of the Canopy by Hilton hotel at Pike & Rose. The popular blowout salon will open at 11861 Grand Park Avenue next spring. Their 1705 SF space will be next to Sunday Morning Bakehouse and UNIQLO.

This will be only the fifth Drybar in the D.C. area. Drybar pioneered the trend of having adult beverages at salons, which required an update to Montgomery County and Maryland's archaic liquor laws, which became known as "the Drybar bill" when it passed in Annapolis.

Photos courtesy Drybar

Kusshi to hold soft opening next week in Rockville

Be one of the first to experience Kusshi at Pike & Rose when they hold their soft opening next week. The Japanese restaurant will open to the public this Monday, October 22, 2018 at 11:00 AM. Soft opening hours will continue through 10:00 PM on October 25.

Kusshi is named after the "ultimate" Japanese oyster, and that namesake delicacy will be available on the menu. Sushi is also on the menu, along with other Japanese specialties, sake and cocktails. Food will be 40% off during the soft opening.

The restaurant is located at 11826 Trade Street - park in the Trade Street garage, and you can walk right out onto the plaza in front of Kusshi from the elevator.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Hoeber questions Trone spending in congressional race

Republican Amie Hoeber is questioning the spending of her Democratic opponent, David Trone, in the 6th Congressional District race. Hoeber accuses Trone of trying to buy the U.S. Congressional seat, with his expenditures believed to be nearing sixteen million dollars.

Hoeber also noted that Trone has donated $2500 to the GOP candidate for governor in Pennsylvania.  "He has stated this election will be 'Decided by Western Pennsylvania,'" Hoeber said Tuesday, "but I still think it will be decided by Western Maryland."

Trone has recently returned to the campaign trail and the airwaves following successful treatment for cancer.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rockville Mayor & Council vote to return public right-of-way to private landowner

Rockville's Mayor & Council voted unanimously last night to abandon a right-of-way easement at 2131 Veirs Mill Road. Running parallel to the busy route, the easement could have been a future service road, but is now returned to the landowner for private development.

The easement was granted to the city in 1976 for use as a public street or service road. Abandonment of the property comes just as Montgomery County is threatening to demolish dozens of homes and businesses along Veirs Mill to create a wider right-of-way for a $10 billion Bus Rapid Transit boondoggle, and additional bike and pedestrian facilities. That made the idea of handing back a significant piece of property already in public possession an intriguing one at this time.

City staff told the Mayor and Council that no public comment on the abandonment proposal was received.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Rockville Town Square ice rink under construction (Photos)

Temperatures below 50 degrees over the weekend may have visitors to Rockville Town Square in the mindset for winter. The square's ice rink is under construction now, coincidentally. Where's a Zamboni when you need one?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Rockville construction update: Aldi (Photos)

As the future of groceries implodes at Rockville Town Square, Rockville's newest grocery store - Aldi - continues to be constructed at Congressional North on Rockville Pike. This used to be Circuit City years ago. Hard to imagine this store will open by year's end as promised, but stay tuned.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

New poll shows Wolf only 6 points behind Frosh in Maryland Attorney General race

A new Gonzales poll out yesterday showed Republican Craig Wolf surging in the Maryland Attorney General race, only 6 percentage points behind incumbent Democrat Brian Frosh. The narrowing gap brought new attention to the race Wednesday, with Wolf using the poll in a new fundraising pitch.

Frosh was in position to win handily just a few weeks ago, although Larry Hogan has proven it is still possible for a Republican to win statewide in Democratic-controlled Maryland. Some attributed Frosh's 23-point collapse to the public perception that he has been entirely focused on Donald Trump and Washington since 2017, instead of Maryland issues. At the same time, Frosh's Trump obsession was thought to be a winning move with Democratic voters statewide.

Hammer & Stain coming to Rockville Town Square

Hammer & Stain is coming to Rockville Town Square, but despite the name, it's not the hardware store people have been demanding. Instead, it is a "Wood, Paint & Sip Studio." Similar to the painting/pottery + adult beverages fad, guests will construct a woodworking project they can take home at the end of the night.

Materials and all necessary tools are provided by the shop for the DIY workshops. Friends, officeworkers, and kids are among the target audiences for the workshops, where you might find yourself constructing planks, wood signs or rustic benches. Hammer & Stain will be located at 107-B Gibbs Street.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Apollo Restaurant to close in Rockville

The Apollo Restaurant will close at the end of this month, according to the owner, who made the bombshell announcement at a meeting about the future of Rockville Town Square. He cited high rent at Courthouse Center as the reason for the closure. Courthouse Center, like RTS, is owned by Federal Realty.

What the Apollo lacked in Michelin stars and fancy decor, it more than made up for in 4 Yelp stars, and hearty Greek/American food for three decades. A regular stop for City officials, the restaurant has a large and loyal following in the community. The Apollo is just the kind of restaurant that is increasingly facing extinction in Montgomery County - longtime, mom-and-pop operations squeezed by high rents and the high cost of doing business under an anti-business County Council.

Explosive Rockville Town Square public meeting - it's even worse then we thought

"I was crying like
hell when we 
received the letters
that they were going
to evict us"

A public meeting on the future of Rockville Town Square exceeded the fire code-allowed capacity of the Buchanan Room at VisArts last night, forcing overflow attendees to listen from out in the hallway. Emotiional testimonies by business owners were only topped by bombshell announcements of additional business closures at the Square, and another Federal Realty property in Town Center.

Takeaways from the night include two clear problems - the widely-despised parking policies at RTS, and that "the rent is too damn high" at that property and nearby Courthouse Center. Last night we learned the latter is about to lose one of its most-popular and beloved tenants, when the owner of the Apollo Restaurant announced it will close at the end of this month, citing an inability to pay the high rent Federal Realty is asking for.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton
addresses the crowd
A member of the family that owns Samovar, a restaurant that has been closed for almost two months after water leaked in from the apartments above it, detailed her struggles with brokers and Federal Realty from the beginning. She said a property manager at RTS repeatedly stalled in giving her a key to their leased space, leaving owners and contractors unable to immediately access the restaurant as they began construction.

"I was crying, asking and begging them," she recalled. "Please, we need to start." Her architect charged them overtime as a result, she added. "He was standing there, next to the door," as she had no key or passcode to let him in. She said her father had opened and operated a successful restaurant in New York City with seating for one-thousand people, one in Denver, and another in Portland, Oregon, and assumed he would find similar success in Rockville.

But, "we cannot survive here," she said. "I was crying like hell...when we received the letters that they were going to evict us," she recounted. She segued into one of the banes of RTS tenants - parking. "Nobody wants to come here because of the parking," She noted correctly that two hours of validated parking is not enough for many people. Samovar hosts entertainment and events at which people may stay for more than two hours. She said Samovar wants to continue, but "I don't know," receiving a round of applause at the end of her remarks from the crowd.
Attendees file into the Buchanan Room,
which eventually reached fire code capacity
A tearful owner of Pandora Seafood House and Bar said Federal Realty is evicting her restaurant later this month, after only one year (it was still operating last night). She said she was fooled about the full cost of renting the space by her agent, who she is now suing, and about what she would have to pay during the construction phase - which lasted quite a while, if you remember.

One retail tenant at the Square pointed to the larger business climate beyond Rockville as a cause of her trouble."I can no longer afford to do business in Montgomery County, or the state of Maryland," she said, announcing that she currently does not plan to renew her lease when it ends. "I'm telling you, Rockville, you are losing the heart of your city. Please do not make the mistake of letting all of your small, independent businesses go."

Former Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo, widely credited for his leadership in delivering the city's redeveloped Town Center, was clearly concerned about the fate of one of his legacy projects. Giammo honed in on the question of high rents. "What are the lease rates that Federal Realty is charging tenants here, and how do those compare" with competing developments, he asked to an eruption of applause. "It's obviously the key to understanding what's going on here."

Giammo said he was "heartbroken" to find out that Dawson's Market will be closing this month. "My family and I shop there a good three, four, five times a week. It's really a part of our lives now." He noted that the number of cars filling the reserved Dawson's Market spaces in the N. Washington Street surface lot at RTS often exceed the number of customers actually shopping inside the store. Despite repeated pleas from Dawson's to Federal Realty and parking contractor Colonial Parking, "neither has ever done anything" to assist the store. "So my question is, 'Why not?' If Federal Realty wanted it to succeed, why did they ignore such obvious issues?" Giammo concluded to applause.

Another former elected official, City Councilman Tom Moore, called the decision to cut the planned height of the development's residential buildings in half a "fatal flaw." He said the reduced density deprived Town Center business owners of many more potential customers.

Resident Joe Jordan recommended that Federal Realty and the city conduct a form of exit interview with businesses that close, to determine if the cause was rent, their business model, or another issue.

Other suggestions made by attendees included more investment in arts and entertainment, turning Dawson's into a co-op market, adding a dog park, making a better connection to the Metro station, allowing up to 5 hours of free parking, and operating a shuttle bus.

There was no shortage of complaints and concerns, but one element missing from the meeting was hearing from businesses that are doing well at Rockville Town Square. What are they doing right, what is drawing traffic to them, and how might those insights assist tenants who are struggling, or Federal Realty in better targeting local demographics? There was also frustration at the lack of feedback from City officials and Federal Realty representatives. One attendee said that he had expected more of a dialogue.

Officials said they wanted to allow the maximum time for the public and business owners to speak, rather than have a back-and-forth conversation. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, who called for the meeting, said the goal was to hear from all of the stakeholders involved to determine how the development can be succcessful. Rockville Chamber of Commerce CEO Marji Graf said all of those stakeholders do share one goal. "We all want the same thing - a thriving Rockville."

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Los Primos Tex-Mex Grill to open in Rockville

A new Tex-Mex restaurant is coming to the Twinbrook area of Rockville. Los Primos Tex-Mex Grill will be located at 12303 Twinbrook Parkway. One of the owners is also affiliated with the popular Al Carbon in Rockville, and Azul Bar & Grill in Gaithersburg. The restaurant is scheduled to open this fall.

Rockville to consider redeveloping RedGate golf course

City will also 
examine if it can
terminate contract
with Billy Casper Golf

The controversial issue of whether to retain Rockville's public RedGate golf course, or redevelop the site, has come to the surface again. A discussion of the topic initiated by Councilmember Mark Pierzchala late Monday night ended with the Council voting 4-1 to direct City Manager Rob DiSpirito to assess the golf course property's potential for redevelopment, and conduct a fiscal impact study of the different options. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton cast the lone vote of opposition.

Pierzchala also made a motion to have the City examine its contract with course operator Billy Casper Golf, to see if it can be terminated, citing inadequate maintenance as a potential legal justification to do so. Mayor Newton said she has observed substandard maintenance of the property while playing golf at the course in recent years, and joined in the unanimous vote approving Pierzchala's motion.

In bringing up the matter of RedGate, Pierzchala said he was approached by an unnamed developer, who asked if the golf course was for sale. Pierzchala said he replied that it was not, but that the developer was clearly eager to build residential housing on the land.

Pierzchala initially proposed studying a plan that would redevelop RedGate as City-operated athletic fields (soccer fields in particular), and residential housing consisting of townhomes and single-family homes. An unspecified portion of the parcel would be "returned to nature." After Newton and Councilmember Beryl Feinberg questioned why the study would only look at that specific mix of land-use options, Councilmember Virginia Onley proposed a successful amendment - adding the phrase "including, but not limited to," to Pierzchala's initial language. Newton supported that wording, but still voted against the study.

While - again - the developer was not identified, the "win-win"-style PR talking points, land acquisition choice, and housing types certainly sound like EYA. That developer has just recently offered a similar plan for the Montgomery Women's Cooperative Farm Market in downtown Bethesda, and successfully received approval of a comparable non-Metro-oriented development with the same housing types near Tower Oaks. Of course, EYA is not the only townhome developer in the region, so we'll have to wait and see. But the Spider-Sense is tingling.

The National Golf Foundation is expected to release a report on RedGate in January, which will tell city officials what it will take financially to bring the course up to standards. But Pierzchala said he didn't want that to end up being the sole discussion, and would prefer to have parallel discussion of other uses of the site, as well as Billy Casper's alleged default on its contract with the City.

Feinberg pressed for hard numbers on what the expense and potential revenues of every option would be. Pierzchala said he didn't need completely accurate numbers to move forward, and that ballpark estimates by staff would be sufficient for the decisions that need to be made.

"We will do our best," DiSpirito told the Mayor and Council. He estimated that an in-house analysis, without hiring outside consultants, could be completed by early January. That would be in time for the NGF report on RedGate, which is located at 14500 Avery Road, off of Norbeck Road.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Rockville's interim City Clerk to be the new City Clerk

Former Deputy City Clerk - and current acting City Clerk - Sara Taylor-Farrell has been chosen as the replacement for Kathleen Conway, who left the position last month after a closed session of the Mayor and Council. Taylor-Farrell will formally be designated as "Resident Agent for the Mayor and Council of Rockville" at tonight's Mayor & Council meeting. Municipalities are required to designate a Resident Agent, and in Rockville, it has been standard practice to have the City Clerk fill that legal role.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Rockville mayor schedules public meeting on future of Rockville Town Square

Rockville City Hall is in crisis mode after the announcement that Rockville Town Square retail anchor Dawson's Market will close at the end of this month. The bad news followed the exit of another major restaurant tenant, Mellow Mushroom, the previous week. Dawson's failure has given at least the public perception that the property is taking on water in a big way at this point - fair or not. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton has now scheduled a public meeting on the future of the Federal Realty development, which was the keystone of the city's revitalized town center when it opened a decade ago.

In her announcement of the meeting, Newton said Dawson's Market was "an incredible community partner, and I am very sad to see them close. It came as a shock to me as well.” The meeting will be held next Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 7:00 PM in the Buchanan Room at VisArts at Rockville Town Square.

The city has had many discussions over the years about the high turnover of tenants at the property, and a parking system that has infuriated patrons and tenants alike. With many high profile closures, including original tenant Toy Kingdom last year, action may finally have to be taken to stop the bleeding.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

King Farm man arrested in Rockville rape

Montgomery County police have arrested and charged the suspect in a Rockville rape. An adult female victim was grabbed while walking just after midnight along Route 355 on October 3, and was pulled into the woods along West Gude Drive, where she was sexually assaulted. She managed to break free and run to a nearby office building,, where a security guard called police.

Detectives from the Special Victims Investigations Division determined Dustin Thomas Rogers, 25, was the suspect. Officers went to his home on Gaither Road in King Farm around 6:00 PM last night, and arrested him without incident.

Rogers has been charged with 1st degree rape and 1st degree assault.  He was also charged with a separate count of 1st degree assault via a warrant stemming from an unrelated event. Rogers is being held without bond and will have bond review today at 1:00 p.m. in Rockville District Court.

Incidents of rape in Montgomery County are up 53% this year.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Dawson's Market to close at Rockville Town Square

The bad news at Rockville Town Square continues to pile up. Now anchor retail tenant Dawson's Market says it will close on October 27, 2018. Despite more special events and tastings than any chain grocery store, the organic, hipster-oriented grocery store never took off. "Unfortunately, the store did not generate enough business to be financially viable," owner Rick Hood said Tuesday.

While the immediate focus has been the closure announcement, much of the context for just how big of a blow this is to the Square has been absent. Remember, the grocery space was one of the biggest design failures of RTS from the beginning. The demolition of Magruder's to make way for the new town center was originally meant to be made up for with a new grocery store in the new development.

But the anchor grocery space was hidden in the back corner of the development off N. Washington Street. Major grocery chains passed on the opportunity, leaving landlord Federal Realty without the prize retail anchor they needed for maximum traffic. In fact, Dawson's extracted concessions from Federal before agreeing to the lease, including over-the-top signage the market argued was necessary just for potential patrons to locate their hidden spot.

Apparently, the major grocery chains know their stuff. Dawson's never had anything close to the traffic you would find at any Giant, Safeway or even Trader Joe's or MOM's Organic Market. The too-few complimentary reserved parking spaces for Dawson's were often full at prime times, leaving grocery shoppers in the grip of a paid/validation parking scheme that has enraged drivers and business owners alike.

Failure is not an option here. While there have been sentiments that RTS is another Rockville Mall, it's not going anywhere after the investments made by all the stakeholders, including the City of Rockville. There may be no assurance of attracting another grocer unless major changes are made to the parking arrangement.

Perhaps if Federal Realty could attract either a Lidl store or an Asian grocery store, and provide enough reserved parking, the grocery space could work. Many have argued that more residences are needed within walking distance to provide more foot traffic for all businesses in the Town Square. Two large apartment towers are coming within one block of the development, but they won't be delivered for several more years. 

Unfortunately, the new developments have also provided more dining competition. Gordon Biersch had the craft beer market cornered until World of Beer came along in the Upton/Cambria Suites development, for example. A longer and stronger roster of restaurants at rival developments like Pike & Rose, Washingtonian Center/Rio and Downtown Crown - and their lure of free parking - has cost Rockville Town Square much traffic. A new Wegman's down the Pike in a couple of years won't help matters.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Bill to ban smoking in all outdoor dining areas to be introduced today by Montgomery County Council

Smoking and vaping on outdoor patios at Montgomery County restaurants could soon be a thing of the past, if Montgomery County Council Bill 35-18 passes. Scheduled to be introduced by Councilmember Sidney Katz (D - District 3) today, the bill would ban smoking and vaping in all outdoor dining areas, including partially-enclosed spaces.

A public hearing on the bill is currently scheduled for October 23, 2018 at 1:30 PM. The Council will also have to sit as the Board of Health, and pass an accompanying regulation as that board, to legally enact the smoking ban.

The legislation is very similar to that passed by the Rockville Mayor & Council last year. Adam Zimmerman, an activist who spearheaded the Rockville effort, is also advocating for the County to pass Bill 35-18. He says the ban will improve health, while increasing business at venues non-smokers currently avoid.

Rockville's ban was opposed by some restaurant owners, such as Danny Trahan of Mellow Mushroom. Trahan closed his restaurant permanently last month - though the smoking ban wasn't the primary reason. He viewed the ban as the last straw in Montgomery County's costly and unwelcoming business climate. It will be interesting to see what restaurateurs have to say about the proposed County ban.

Residents who testified before the Mayor & Council last shared Zimmerman's view that business would improve, citing their reluctance to dine at two Rockville Town Square restaurants that allowed outdoor smoking before the ban. Because many restaurants now open their doors and windows, patrons have also complained that smoke now drifts inside from patios.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Goodyear tire shop posts "coming soon" signage at Rockville Town Square

The new tire retail concept from Goodyear is hinting at its imminent arrival on Gibbs Street at Rockville Town Square. But it's still not giving us the name of the concept, which has been referred to as "Roll by Goodyear" in trademark filings.