Thursday, January 31, 2008

Crazy Accident at Wayne Avenue Parking Garage

I wish I could have seen this happen in person.

According to Channel 9 News:

It happened in the 900 Block of Wayne Ave in Silver Spring around 1:30 Thursday afternoon. Officials tell 9NEWS NOW the accelerator of the sedan was pressed and possibly became stuck which caused the vehicle to strike the back end of a minivan, run completely underneath it and push it into the air. The incident also caused damage to one other vehicle.

More pics
from NBC4. Strange, but still not as bizarre as this one, IMO.

Fun With Councilpeople

Based on how fired up people have gotten over the whole Live Nation deal (or no deal?) and the relative hype surrounding last night’s County Council “town hall” meeting at the AFI, I decided to make my first appearance at one of these events. I met up with Eric of fame and we took our seats, fully expecting to witness a knock down, drag out slobberknocker.

There was a packed house and people both inside and outside the theater were handing out fliers for all the usual issues (driving range, purple line, ICC). A long line of potential inquisitors was forming along the right wall of the theater.

The first guy in the line for questions expressed concern over the security situation in the area around the Piney Branch Rd. and University Blvd. intersection*, referencing an attempted kidnapping a couple days ago. He was fairly eloquent in describing the deteriorating conditions in the neighborhood, but immediately went into a rage as soon as a councilperson started to address his question, yelling “that’s not what I’m talking about!” Then he stormed out of the theater, repeatedly yelling “bullshit!” stopping briefly to pick a fight with some guy sitting in the audience. Of course, that would have been the end of it if he hadn’t needed to come back and pick up his jacket that he left in the front row of the theater, immediately in front of the council. So he came back down the other side of the theater yelling “bullshit!” some more, even stopping to shake his fist and yell “bullshit” at the giant Ellen DeGeneres-looking Hillary Clinton banner some guy held up the entire meeting. Comedy gold, I tell you. I’m definitely going to try and catch the public-access TV replay.

*(I’ve advocated in the past ceding that part of Silver Spring to Langley Park. Maybe we can trade it to P.G. County for the small portion of Silver Spring currently in P.G. and a neighborhood to be named later.)

There were some A/V issues and as the councilpeople tried to address the first question, their microphones kept cutting on and off, leading people in the audience to yell at them and wave their arms – also entertaining.

At that point, I thought the meeting might end up being even more interesting than I initially anticipated. Unfortunately, after the thoroughly entertaining opening act, there was a long stretch of standard, non-confrontational questions posed about issues that don’t particularly interest or affect me or that I am tired of hearing about– the ICC, purple line, etc. As multiple members of the council had to get their $0.02 in on each issue, some responses took longer than necessary.

The clock was ticking as the 9PM deadline approached, and I still hadn’t heard a peep about the Fillmore deal. Hoping that that someone would raise the subject before it was too late, we started scanning the line for potential Birchmere advocates. We pinned our hopes on the grey-haired, pony-tailed guy with black jeans and an iPod holster on his belt. He HAD to have a question about the Fillmore. Turns out we were completely wrong – it was actually John Landis, owner of Crisfield Seafood and he had a question about South Silver Spring business development. (No, not the John Landis who directed Blues Brothers and Animal House.) Could we actually get through this whole meeting with no mention of the Fillmore?

Someone walked up and asked about the driving range and mini-golf course project that was planned for the Sligo Creek Golf Course. Well, according to Councilman George Leventhal, “that’s not going to happen”, so I guess that’s that. RIP my hopes for mini-golf. Why does the poor, non-disruptive mini-golf have to be a victim of residents’ aversion to a driving range?

It’s interesting how no matter what anyone complained about, all the councilpersons claim to be against it (the ICC, driving range, etc.) If that’s so, how does this stuff always get through in the first place?

We were particularly curious what the blond guy in the business suit waiting in line was going to ask, since he certainly stood out in a theater populated with Takoma Park-y people. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that he lives in the “unincorporated part of Chevy Chase” and he and his kids were unhappy with the new kind of road surfacing the county has been using. Of course, in the incorporated part of Chevy Chase the streets are paved with gold. The kids there don’t have to touch the road surface anyway, because they all travel using flying skateboards like those in Back to the Future II. They’re Chevy Chase and you’re not.

At this point, there were five minutes left and maybe thirty resilient people still waiting in line. Finally, the last speaker took the microphone. Wait, what, she wanted to know why there wasn’t a “fair and open” process for the J.C. Penney's site? All that they had to say in response was that they were “seeking answers” and that there were “many steps” in the process. Dropping a football reference during Super Bowl week, George Leventhal said that they weren’t even “at halftime yet”. And then the meeting concluded… very anticlimactic.

In the end, I think the most important thing I learned yesterday evening was wholly unrelated to county business. It was that the AFI will be FINALLY be screening The Big Lebowski again, as part of their Complete Coen Brothers series.

In unrelated news...

- NOAA is hosting an exhibit on shipwrecks at their Silver Spring HQ.

- The Silver Spring housing market is still "pretty good". Rockville's, not so much. Hey, if you want to be my neighbor, the house next door to me is on the market.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Write the Power: Retail Edition

Since "the community" will get to decide what music will be allowed at The Fillmore, I think it's only fair that we get our say with regard to what new stores are added to the downtown area.

Petrie Ross Ventures' purchase of City Place last summer provided a glimmer of hope that the mall wouldn't remain craptacular in perpetuity. So far, however, there hasn't been a lot of visible progress in that regard. There's the addition of Steve & Barry's, although reaction to that has been mixed. At least this management company instills a little confidence with a professional website; the one from the previous owners was a complete joke. Of course, half of the featured stores listed (Moby Dick, Ben & Jerry’s, Noodles & Co. and Chipotle) can't REALLY be considered part of City Place, since you don't actually have to go into the mall. I bet if you did, their revenues would be cut in half.

According to their website, "A complete new merchandising, re-tenanting and face lift is already underway." I'd like to think that was true, but it couldn't hurt to provide them with some suggestions as to the kind of retailers the locals would like to see. You can use their contact form or give them a call at 410-573-3800.

Based on the empty storefronts I've seen like the one pictured above, the Downtown Silver Spring development still has a few open retail spaces, so it wouldn't hurt to provide suggestions to them, as well.

Thanks to Springvale Roader for the idea for this post.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Where the Stores Aren't

While downtown Silver Spring has a growing number and variety of restaurants (and no, they aren’t all chains), the growth in retail stores has not kept pace. Particularly absent are the types of stores that appeal to 20/30-something males like myself. Women have certainly fared better with stores such as Ulta, Ann Taylor Loft and Marimekko, all of which occupy prime real estate along the Promenade. It would also seem that another women’s clothing store is opening up in the vacant space on the corner of Ellsworth and Georgia Avenue across from Marimekko, possibly a New York & Company. DSW does sell men’s shoes, but from the prevalence of women’s footwear available there, I suspect a majority of their business is not from male shoppers.

Sure, there’s a Men’s Warehouse, but how frequently does one need a new suit? What I’m talking about are a wider variety of stores to browse where there is a good chance of finding something worth buying. Hell, if they put in a Banana Republic, that would probably cover 80% of my wardrobe right there. I never think to go to go to downtown Silver Spring to shop, only to eat. Instead of retail stores, we have blocks and blocks of hair and nail places, which must do a thriving business since they keep opening up newer and nicer ones. Other inner suburbs like Bethesda and Clarendon have a much stronger retail mix than Silver Spring.

What we need are larger stores like Crate & Barrel along with some smaller independent shops that sell things like paper products, toys, etc. There were rumors in the past that Urban Outfitters and Bed Bath & Beyond were going to set up shop, but nothing ever came out of that.

There are a few stores that I do visit occasionally, some more than others:

Strosniders Hardware - Best. Hardware Store. Ever. The parking lot's a bitch, but when you're in there, they'll spend half an hour helping you to find a five cent screw.

Silver Spring Books – It’s not as big as some other used bookstores (RIP Bonifant Books), but I can usually find some obscure title that piques my interest if I look hard enough. Also earns points for being the place of employment of a fictional character.

Borders – I don’t so much shop here as browse. That’s because unless I have a particularly good coupon or I need to obtain something immediately, I will generally end up paying significantly more for a book than I would on Amazon. This is the ultimate “time killer” place for me in downtown Silver Spring.

CD Gamexchange – I rarely go anymore, but when I used to work in downtown Silver Spring, it was a good place to walk to and waste time during my lunch break. There was a time where they had tons of old NES games for 50¢ to $1, but now they price them at $5 or more.

Alliance Comics – I buy comics very infrequently, but it’s still a fun place to look around. I also have to include this since I’ve been going there since I was 8, when it was Geppi’s Comic World.
We've already had a discussion on this blog over what type of stores residents would like to see. Of course, this was in the context of City Place, which hasn't done a damn thing lately to shed the "Shitty Place" label. I made a rare foray into City Place a few weeks back after spying the "Steve & Barry's Grand Opening: Holiday Season" sign. This was after New Year's and the storefront was still covered with plywood. I guess the sign didn't specifically mention WHICH holiday season.

Oh, and God forbid they put in a drugstore on the north side of Georgia Avenue.

A side note: I don't know what happened to it, but for awhile Silver Spring had an interesting shop on Fenton St. that specialized in the sales and service of electric razors. I had to go in once to get a replacement part on my razor and they gave it to me free of charge. It is rare these days that you can find a place with such a specific specialization where they know immediately what your issue is and how to fix it. I was also fascinated by all the antique electric razors they had for sale, as that's something you don't see very often. Not that I use an electric razor anymore, but I think it's a shame that the store is gone nonetheless.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Protest of One?

I know a lot of people have seen the recent advertisements in the Express calling for a protest of Discovery Communications' Silver Spring headquarters:

I fully expect there to be a huge contingent of protesters during every minute of the time this protest is scheduled - twelve hours a day for nine straight days. This protest may even rival the the one that erupted over Discovery's show on Jesus' tomb.

I think everyone accepts that Discovery's primary responsibility is saving the planet and there's definitely nothing else going on in the world these days that one might choose to protest in the Washington area.

Seriously though, I think it will just end up being this guy. Judging from the response on his MySpace page, the only interest has come from a goth chick in California who can't make it because she has to stay home and take care of her kids.

It's also interesting to note that the building where the environmental protest is scheduled to take place was recently awarded "platinum" status by the U.S. Green Building Council - only one of 62 structures in the whole country to be certified as such.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday News 'N Notes

- I am intrigued by the recently-opened Ghar-E-Kabab on Wayne Avenue. Can this be the Indian/Nepalese alternative I have been waiting for? I drove by the other night and it seemed like it was doing a brisk business. It is a definite candidate for an upcoming weekday takeout meal.

Here’s a short review from someone on Chowhound. Of course they had to include the obligatory “all restaurants in Silver Spring are chains” swipe present in all references to Silver Spring dining. The chain restaurants on the Promenade have been open for a couple years at this point, and most restaurants opened since that time have been independent, or at least part of a small, local chain (Olazzo, Nicaro, Taste of Jerusalem, Piratz Tavern, etc.) so that statement is unwarranted.

UPDATE: I grabbed some Ghar-E-Kabab takeout on Friday evening, and while I can't speak to the entire menu, the samosas, naan and chicken tikka masala were all good. I also discovered the best thing about this restaurant - they deliver. Note that they don't serve alcohol...yet. I imagine they are still in the process of navigating the county's draconian liquor licensing process.

- IMP is not giving up on operating a Silver Spring music venue. Seriously, don't be surprised if there is nothing there in five years and no purple line to get to the nonexistent venue. I really wonder what is more of a priority for them - having their own venue in Silver Spring or not having a competing venue.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments section of the DCist article to sample some typical ignorant D.C. Resident Silver Spring hate:

"This is terrible news. I never dreamed I'd see the day when Downtown Silver Spring™ would go corporate."

"...the wankfest that is downtown silver spring aka the disney world of suburban dc"

"The thought of having to see an otherwise cool band in Silver Spring is really a buzz killer."
I love to read the typical vitriolic comments about Silver Spring from transplants to D.C. who are much cooler than you because they recently moved to some imaginary neighborhood created for marketing purposes like Penn Quarter or NoMa. That or they are helping to gentrify Columbia Heights ("CoHi") and hang out at the Wonderland Bar every Friday night. Of course if they ever want to raise children, they'll have to move out to the 'burbs they so despise or back to New Jersey...

- Teen is struck and killed while jaywalking across New Hampshire Avenue.

- Forest Glen residents want trains to STFU when rolling through their neighborhoods. I can definitely sympathize, considering that I can hear that same whistle from my house at night, over a mile away. I can see that being particularly annoying at 3AM.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fillmore Now Officially Official

Well it looks like plans for the Fillmore in Downtown Silver Spring ("The Purple Line of Concert Halls") are finally official. I don't know what I can say about this that already hasn't been said, but I advise hiding all sharp objects in certain surrounding neighborhoods.

Of course, by the time it opens, I may be too old to go out to concerts, at least on a regular basis. In the meantime, I will still have to trudge down to the 9:30 club on a Tuesday night to see Wilco. I'm just relieved that this whole CF has finally been put to bed... or has it?

Let's take a trip down memory lane with some selected Birchmere/Fillmore posts:

8/30/06: Doug Duncan Announces that Birchmere is coming to Silver Spring.

7/25/07: Birchmere plans get nixed; wait, what's this about Live Nation?

7/31/07: Your neighbors and the county government know better than you what you should enjoy listening to. Sadly, the Rock-afire Explosion video is now private. I really wanted to watch that again :(

9/15/07: Nothing "objectionable" will ever be sung at Live Nation.

9/26/07: Live nation deal is official, only not.

9/26/07: If not Michael Bolton, then who?

9/27/07: Bennedict Duncan wants to take his state money with him.

11/6/07: Seth Hurwitz gets spooked by Live Nation, suddenly extremely interested in Silver Spring venue.

11/30/2007: Are we going to end up with... an empty JC Penney's building?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Will the last Discovery employee in Silver Spring please turn out the lights?

I’ve predicted in the past that Discovery Communications will ultimately re-locate away from Silver Spring, and the announcement yesterday that Discovery Health will be replaced by an all-Oprah network (“OWN”) only reinforces my belief.

“In addition to providing her talent, and personal commitment, Winfrey will have full editorial control over the joint venture and will be responsible for OWN’s programming, branding and creative vision,” a press release stated.
Unless Barack Obama is elected our next president and Oprah becomes Secretary of State, I don’t see her moving to the D.C. area anytime soon, so I would imagine that she and her presumably hand-picked staff will be based out of an office elsewhere. There is certainly a precedent for this at Discovery, with TLC having moved its entire staff to Los Angeles last year. The head of Animal Planet, Discovery’s third most widely distributed network after Discovery Channel and TLC, is already based out of New York and there have been layoffs in the Silver Spring office for positions that we re-filled in NYC. Another of their bigger networks, Travel Channel, was sold to Cox Communications as part of a large ownership transaction to prepare for Discovery’s eventual public offering.

Discovery CEO David Zaslav is based out of New York and has no local roots, unlike previous CEO Judith McHale. I don’t think he’d mind if the company upped and joined him. Of course, this is all purely speculation on my part and I hope I’m way off base. It would be a shame if Discovery were to leave Silver Spring, as it is a primary sponsor of basically every event that takes place downtown. Also, having such a well-known company based downtown certainly lends cache to the area. Doug Duncan and others envisioned Silver Spring as a “Burbank on the Potomac” (yes, Silver Spring is not on the Potomac…) with a collection of media firms and the smaller companies that support them. Let’s hope Mr. Zaslav doesn’t have other plans.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Silver Spring to Look a Little Less Like Detroit

It appears as if some of Silver Spring's biggest eyesores are finally in the process of being fixed up. There has been quite a bit of work going on inside the building on Colesville across from Discovery. This structure, originally a auto dealership but more recently a collection of small businesses, has been shuttered for nearly four years now after a "suspicious" fire. You can't really tell what they're doing from the outside, but I saw they had a mini bulldozer-y thing driving around inside a week or so ago.

Another eysore, the former armed forces recruiting station on Georgia Avenue that has a tree growing out of it has a "for lease" sign posted on the boarded up windows. It's only been 10+ years or so... Fixing up that block would go a long way toward improving that section of town.

Seriously, I can't believe that these buildings were allowed to remain in their present states for so long. I don't know if it's the owners' faults or some bureaucratic tie-up, but it's embarrassing that this is what people see coming into the center of Silver Spring from the two major arteries. Let's hope they finish up whatever they are planning to do ASAP and make these structures useful again.

Speaking of buildings that need a makeover, I was in Kensington this afternoon and their new Safeway is shaping up really nicely. Why are we stuck with the dumpy Safeways downtown and in Four Corners? I do have to say that the old Kensington Safeway was actually WORSE than either of those, if you can believe that.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wait, I Still Function!

Yeah, it's been a loooooooooooooong time since my last post. I realized today that I've fallen off the blog posting wagon.

I'm getting ready to start a new job shortly, which means a lot of work trying to finish up everything outstanding at my current one. In addition, I've been letting Call of Duty 4 and Rock Band dominate my free time.

So, a belated happy new year to everyone and expect to see a (real) post in the next day or so.

A gold star goes to anyone geeky enough to get this reference, BTW.