Saturday, July 20, 2019

McDonald's testing Blueberry McGriddles at Washington, D.C. area restaurants - here's my review

McDonald's is testing Blueberry McGriddles at select Washington, D.C. area locations, including some in Montgomery County. The new McGriddles have the same sausage or bacon, cheese and egg fillings found in the original McGriddle sandwiches, but swap the maple syrup-filled pancakes for blueberry pancakes.
The blueberry pancakes retain the
McDonald's Golden Arches imprint
of the original McGriddles
This is a rare event, as the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area is rarely used as a test market for potential menu additions by fast food chains. McDonald's did test Mighty Wings at the former 4500 East-West Highway location in the 1990s. The chicken wings were introduced briefly nationwide almost twenty years later, in a fancier box than the plain white one the test wings came in.
The Blueberry McGriddle came with a
thick, folded scrambled egg, but
deletes the maple syrup filling found in
original McGriddles pancakes
Should Blueberry McGriddles be added to the permanent menu? Watch my review for my thoughts and a detailed look at the test item, which comes in sausage and bacon versions, and is only available during morning breakfast hours.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Montgomery County 911 system fails again

Officials don't know how
many emergency calls went
unanswered during outage

Montgomery County's 911 system failed twice Thursday, according to the Montgomery County Police Department, which does not operate the system. An MCPD spokesperson said that County officials cannot, as of now, tell them how many urgent 911 calls went unanswered during the service interruptions, but that the department is aware of one caller in need of basic life support medical services who was affected.

Callers who dialed 911 around 8:30 AM yesterday morning - and again between 9:35 and 9:43 AM - could not get through to the 911 call center, and instead heard a message saying they number they'd reached was out of service. According to MCPD, the failure was traced to a network outage between system components.

There is no indication that the Alert Montgomery system informed citizens of either outage. Montgomery County Government has yet to post any statement regarding the outages as of this writing.
It was exactly three years ago that I broke the story of a similar 911 system failure. Later, the County tried to cover up the fact that Alert Montgomery had failed to issue alerts to subscribers until long after the outage had ended. Two people were confirmed to have died has a result of that 2016 911 system failure, 

Yet despite their failure having fatal results for two of their constituents in 2016, the County Council has clearly failed to change its ways. Here we are again, with another 911 outage three years later. Similarly, the Council failed to upgrade the public safety radio communications system for County first responders for more than a decade, deliberately kicking the can down the road to have more play money to spend on their cartel sugar daddies.

In fact, since taking the oath of office last December, the latest Council has failed to take action on a single major crisis. Not a single thing has been done to exercise oversight and update the 911 system, complete our master plan highway system, turn around our moribund economy that now ranks last in the region by every economic development benchmark, nor to address rising rates of violent crime.
Most of the current Council term has been spent on a grotesque attack on the men and women of the Montgomery County police department. The Council's continual slander, defamation and disparagement of Montgomery's finest only put our first responders and the public in greater danger. Which fits perfectly with the County Council's record of making public safety a low priority, to the point that there are actual people who have died as a result of their failure to address basic government issues like providing a functioning 911 system. It's outrageous.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Chevy Chase Cars Express Store opens at Montgomery Mall

Chevy Chase Cars has opened a new Express Store on Level 1 at Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. Similar to the Tesla Store at the mall, they have vehicles on display and touchscreens with information about them. Potential buyers can learn about vehicle features and the buying process at the store, and then order their car using the website from their home or office.
The set-up is similar to the
high-tech, high-end customer
experience found at the Tesla Store
Touchscreens demonstrate how you can configure your vehicle options and Protection Plans. There is a special Express Store price displayed for each car. You can choose to pay in full, or via lease or credit. It will also show an instant price for the trade-in value of your current vehicle. A "Personal Concierge" functions much like the chat feature dealerships and retail websites increasingly have online. You can even select to have your vehicle delivered to your home.
While Chevy Chase Cars' main dealership is located in downtown Bethesda, your future vehicle may actually be on-site at the mall. A decent size inventory of cars is currently parked outside near the former Sears Auto Center building, in addition to those on display inside the mall.
Touchscreen in showroom
allows buyer to learn about options,
protection plans, delivery method,
and to call on a virtual concierge



Chevy Chase Cars vehicles
parked outside the former
Sears Auto Center at the mall





Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Riemer admits Montgomery County is in "crisis"

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer (D -At-Large) admitted at a gathering of developers and real estate industry insiders Tuesday that the County he's helped to run for the last nine years is in "crisis." Just last year, in a bizarre and rambling press conference, Riemer had denied Montgomery had grown moribund - despite reporters citing official federal statistics proving it was at rock bottom in the region by every economic development benchmark. But at Bisnow's Future of Bethesda and Beyond event yesterday, Riemer changed his tune and acknowledged MoCo is getting whipped by Northern Virginia. But despite being surrounded by local business experts on panels at the event, Riemer brushed aside their advice and doubled down on stupid, falsely claiming the problem is a lack of skilled workers.

Riemer also lied about just how bad the crisis is. He falsely told the Bisnow audience that Northern Virginia had only dominated job growth in the region for the last two years. In fact, it has dominated throughout this century. The numbers just get worse and worse for Montgomery. Northern Virginia accounted for 91% of all job growth in the region over the last year, according to a Stephen S. Fuller Institute report cited at the Bisnow event.

For the second time in as many weeks, Foulger Pratt CEO Cameron Pratt hit the nail on the head, calling for a long-delayed new Potomac River crossing to Dulles to be built. "Look at the number of jobs being created just a few miles away on the other side of the river," Pratt told the Bisnow audience. "We've got this Great Wall of China, which is the Potomac River, that nobody can cross because there's one access point down at the American Legion Bridge. If we could connect to all of the economic activity in Northern Virginia and the Dulles Toll Road by building a bridge, all of a sudden Gaithersburg and Germantown become connected instantly."

Riemer also admitted that, despite loud declarations since 2014 that the Council would tackle the missing school capacity infrastructure crisis, "some of our most attractive real estate markets are in moratorium right now." Humiliating! He promised the Council would get around to ending the moratorium sometime late next year, a La-Z-Boy agenda pace that business leaders in attendance found less than reassuring.

Duball, LLC President Marc Dubick said the moratorium "scares the living heck out of our institutional partners. Clarity with schools should be a top priority." But despite claims that it was, the Council never actually provided that clarity, much less the classroom space needed.

Think about it. Riemer has taken in tens of thousands of dollars from his developer sugar daddies over the last decade. Yet, even with nine whole years to solve the problem, he still couldn't even deliver the basic infrastructure needed to prevent a moratorium. Along with cratering the County's economy, destroying the food truck industry in the County, and tanking the nighttime economy, it shows incompetence of the highest order.

Surrounded by expert advice from business leaders, who correctly identified the problems as missing highway infrastructure and a hostile business climate with high taxes and over-regulation, Riemer was again lost without backup from cue cards and staff. According to Riemer, highly-educated Montgomery County lacks skilled workers, and needs to train its workforce. He also delivered a rambling and incoherent speech promising that the Purple Line would attract biotech jobs to the already-densely-developed Silver Spring area, when in fact, such companies need larger campuses that are only viable along I-270 and in White Oak, neither of which is on the Purple Line.

Riemer isn't the sharpest tool in the drawer, that's for sure. Only at the end of his political career in Montgomery County has he finally summoned the courage or the shame to admit the jurisdiction he's run for nine years is in a full blown economic crisis. But as they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

White Flint project slashing planned retail/restaurant space

Developer ProMark is slashing the planned retail and restaurant space in its East Village at North Bethesda Gateway project, another troubling sign of moribundity in the White Flint sector plan area. Only Federal Realty has delivered a fully-realized development since the sector plan passed in 2010. While Federal Realty has delivered on its end of the bargain with its successful Pike & Rose property, its CEO has criticized Montgomery County officials for failing to deliver on their end. Inertia and incompetence among the County's elected officials has been compounded by the jurisdiction's hostile business climate. Both factors crippling White Flint in its effort to compete with booming Tysons, arch-rival Fairfax County's own urban makeover project.

ProMark is asking the County Planning Board to approve a reduction in retail space at East Village from 20,000 SF to only 5000 SF, a retail footprint more in line with a boutique condo building. The developer is clearly looking at market trends, which are all tailing downward in moribund Montgomery County. With the ultra-rich fleeing to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region, there is no longer a wealth base sufficient to support high-end retail, or provide the revenue to fund promised infrastructure and amenities in White Flint and other parts of the county.

Other cost-and-risk-reducing changes in the East Village project reflect the stagnation in the local economy. The originally proposed underground garage, standard in premium luxury buildings, is being replaced with above-ground parking. And the number of residential units is being reduced from 382 to 335.

The Planning Board will take up the proposed plan revisions at its July 18 meeting. Planning staff recommends approval of the changes. East Village will be located at the corner of Nicholson Lane and Huff Court.
Montgomery County is on a fiscal trajectory
towards bankruptcy
Can Montgomery County go on like this? At rock bottom in the region by every relevant economic development benchmark, with revenue declining despite record-high taxes, and with debt so massive that - if the debt were a department in the County government - it would be the third-largest department, the alarm bells are beginning to go off. Those alarms are being heard in New York City, where bond rating agencies are alerting current and potential Montgomery County investors that actions by the County Council have put MoCo's AAA bond rating in danger.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Bambu Cafe soft opening today in Rockville

Bambu Cafe will hold soft opening hours today, July 15, 2019 from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Stop by and try one of their featured Vietnamese Che dessert beverages, or a smoothie or yogurt drink. Bambu Cafe is located at 12242 Rockville Pike, at Towne Plaza.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Shark Week merchandise arrives at Vineyard Vines

Shark Week hit CVS Pharmacy early in Montgomery County. Now Vineyard Vines has their own custom official Shark Week apparel and accessories on display. Items include shirts, hats, ties and bow ties, tote bags and phone grips.
The store's tag line for the limited-edition merchandise is, "You're gonna need a bigger closet." You're also gonna need a bigger wallet - the prices on the Shark Week merchandise will inspire sticker shock in all who are new to Vineyard Vines.
Shark Week begins July 28, 2019 on the Discovery Channel. Vineyard Vines is located at Westfield Montgomery Mall.






Thursday, July 11, 2019

Baja Fresh to close in Rockville

Baja Fresh "has lost its lease, is shutting its doors, and making a complete liquidation" of the contents of the restaurant, which is located at 1607 Rockville Pike in the Congressional Plaza shopping center. So states an online auction listing, which indicates the sell-off will take place on Monday, July 22, 2019. The photographs illustrating the items up for bid clearly show the Rockville location, and distinctive Congressional Plaza columns and stone masonry.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Foulger Pratt CEO criticizes MoCo for failing to complete master plan highway system

Tells Bisnow, "there's no comparison"
between moribund MoCo and booming
Northern Virginia office markets

Foulger Pratt CEO Cameron Pratt is the latest regional business leader to speak out on the moribund Montgomery County economy, which has failed to attract a single major corporate headquarters in over two decades. That matters to the real estate firm, which has many Montgomery County office buildings in its regional portfolio. Pratt tells Bisnow in a new interview that "there's no comparison" between stagnant MoCo and booming Northern Virginia when it comes to office tenant interest. He cites MoCo official's cancellation of major parts of the county's master plan highway system as a major reason we've become the bedroom community for booming job centers in Northern Virginia.

Of course, Pratt notes that Northern Virginia is much more business-friendly in its policies, and is far more aggressive in wooing companies. Both factors can almost go without saying. But he zeroes in on infrastructure as a deciding factor, as have many CEOs who have chosen Virginia over Montgomery County in recent decades.

"I think the biggest challenge Montgomery County has is infrastructure," Pratt tells Bisnow's Jon Banister. "You look at Northern Virginia; they have two airports, they have a significant freeway system connecting the airports and the suburbs to downtown, and they’ve spent money to invest in HOT lanes, in extending the Metro to Dulles Airport. That infrastructure is because of decades of planing and investment and Montgomery has not made those same investments. Montgomery County does not have a freeway connecting the suburbs to downtown. It does not have significant airport infrastructure and has not extended Metro further out. They have not been willing to grapple with the important issue of another river crossing and if Montgomery County is not willing to make investments in infrastructure, I don’t think they’ll be able to attract employers and compete with Northern Virginia."

What a bodyslam. "That's gotta hurt, Gene." Pratt's interview comes ahead of next week's Bisnow-sponsored event that will focus on the future of business and real estate in Montgomery County.

Pratt is one of the few CEOs to publicly challenge County officials' ongoing refusal to complete the master plan highway system. Bob Buchanan, another County business leader willing to speak up, told transportation officials in Virginia that many of his MoCo business colleagues are afraid to challenge elected officials on their failure to build the new Potomac River crossing because of political pressure.

Montgomery County officials years ago canceled no less than three freeways leading into the District: the Northwest Freeway, the North-Central Freeway, and the Northern Parkway. They canceled the Rockville Freeway in the late 1980s, and are currently blocking the M-83 Highway from being constructed in the upcounty. And of course, they've prevented the new Potomac River crossing to the Dulles Airport area from being built for decades. Dulles has the wide variety and frequency of flights to international business destinations that corporate leaders need to be competitive. They simply cannot meet their travel needs at BWI or Reagan National, which themselves are infuriatingly long drives away from MoCo.

Imagine knowing what the solutions to a major problem are, and simply refusing to implement them. Under the current "leadership" of our MoCo political cartel-controlled Council, that is what passes for "The Montgomery Way." Heckuva job, Brownie!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Cooper's Hawk Rockville opening next week

Cooper's Hawk has set the opening date for their new Rockville location. The restaurant and winery will open Monday, July 15, 2019 at 1403 Research Boulevard in the new Research Row shopping center, a company spokesperson tells me.

You can see that the permanent signage has been installed on the facade of the restaurant. They've also already got an interesting assortment of wine bottles and containers arranged inside the front windows.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Closing sale underway at Saks Off Fifth in Rockville

The collapse of high-end retail in Montgomery County continues. A closing sale is now underway at Saks Off Fifth at Congressional Plaza on Rockville Pike. Items are 20-40% off, which somewhat undercuts the "Nothing Held Back!" claim. My guess is that unsold merchandise here will wind up at the many other Saks Off Fifth locations that remain open around the country.

Windows in the storefront display the "Everything Must Go!" signs now ubiquitous in shop windows around the county. Montgomery County has suffered a net loss of over 2100 retail jobs since 2000, according to the Maryland Retailers Association. The flight of the rich to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region has since cratered high-end retail centers in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, with the latter's once-touted "Rodeo Drive" of Wisconsin Avenue now a sad strip of vacant storefronts, aging apartments and smashed-out bus shelters.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Sign installed at Escapology in Rockville

The permanent sign and door stenciling have been added to the front of Escapology, coming soon to 11572 Old Georgetown Road at Pike & Rose. Like another escape room business in downtown Bethesda, this one has been severely delayed in opening, so it's encouraging to see some activity here.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Ding Tea opening in Rockville

Rockville is nearing "peak bubble tea," and the latest addition will be Ding Tea in the Ritchie Center, opening soon at 785-C Rockville Pike. It will be in the space next to Kiin Imm Thai.

eyebobs opens, Crabtree & Evelyn closes at Westfield Montgomery Mall

Westfield Montgomery Mall is one up and one down in tenants. Designer eyewear boutique eyebobs has opened on Level 2. Meanwhile, Crabtree & Evelyn has permanently closed.



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

China Garden sets soft opening date in Rockville

China Garden is finally happening. The restaurant's owners told me last night that they have scheduled a soft opening for their long-delayed new location at 11333 Woodglen Drive in the White Flint area of Rockville. China Garden will open on July 12, 2019 at 11:00 AM for lunch.
Specializing in dim sum and authentic Cantonese cuisine, China Garden has operated since 1973 in its original Virginia location. All of their chefs are recruited directly from Hong Kong.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

KFC Cheetos Chicken sandwich arrives in Rockville/Cheetos Lovers Box Review

KFC launched its limited-time-only Cheetos Chicken Sandwich nationwide yesterday. The sandwich contains a crispy chicken breast brushed with a cheesy Cheetos sauce, served atop a layer of Cheetos and mayonnaise on a bakery roll. It comes in a special Chester Cheetah box.
For larger appetites, there is the Cheetos Lovers Box. For just under $10, you get the Cheetos Chicken sandwich, Cheetos popcorn chicken, potato wedges, mac & cheese and a medium drink. There is no special box for the Cheetos Lovers Box, unfortunately. Watch my review of the sandwich and Cheetos Lovers Box for a full evaluation.