Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bethesda is Boring

After Chevy Chase upped the ante with their redeveloped row of luxury stores, it looks like Bethesda has entered into a bit of an upscale arms race. With the addition of "Bethesda Lane", they've added to the already pricey array of shops and restaurants in Bethesda Row. (How exactly is it a "row" - can someone explain this to me?) Look at the new Redwood Restaurant - I can't even imagine what the design and construction costs were for this joint. Oh, and the "Upstairs at Bethesda" apartments above Bethesda Lane? $2,000-$2,500 for a one bedroom.

I think the biggest mistake DTSS ever made (besides maybe the Red Lobster) was to not integrate apartments and condos into the development. This is something they did in similar projects in Rockville and Bethesda. Having people living there 24/7 would add a little more life to the area. For a while they were advertising those "The Ellsworth" condos at the end of the Promenade, but seeing as their website no longer works, it would appear that the plan has been put off indefinitely. Yeah, I've mocked their marketing, but I still think that location would be a more interesting place to live than some of the other areas around town where they are presently building condos. Maybe they could just give up on City Place, gut it, and convert it into housing.

Anyhoo, back to my original point. Nice as it is, here's the problem with Bethesda Lane: it's boring as Hell. All the shops on the street were closed by the time I got down there at 8PM, which was annoying because I have to admit I actually wanted to go into Le Creuset. All the outdoor restaurant seating on Bethesda Lane sat unused and chained up. There was some sort of music event at the nearby Metro Plaza, but from what I could tell it mostly consisted of slow dancing senior citizens. Sure they have great restaurants in Bethesda, but there isn't much reason to hang out after your meal.

In stark contrast to this was the scene on the Silver Spring Promenade Saturday night. I originally went there to kill some time at Borders, but there was so much to see out on the street that it was quite entertaining to just stand there and soak it up:

- Hare Krishnas banging their drums and chanting in front of the Noodles & Co. and the usual outside-the-Majestic crowd getting down to the Krishna beat.

- A free concert by an nearly all-white Reggae band.

- Some sort of event on The Turf attended by a large number of traditionally-dressed Sengalese. Apparently reports of the Turf's demise were greatly exaggerated, since it's still open for business. At least for now.

- Mormon missionaries with their short-sleeve shirts and ties proselytizing to the cute women on Ellsworth. (SURRENDER DOROTHY)

- A larger contingent of missionaries from a sect with which I am not familiar wearing white and red uniforms with large Stars of David on them. They looked like they should be wielding swords.



If anyone knows what their deal is, please satisfy my curiosity.

- The aforementioned Elders conversing with their missionary competition.

- Multiple chess matches in the outdoor seating areas of Ellsworth Street restaurants.

- Skaters performing tricks on the Lower Promenade.
I would never contend that Silver Spring competes with Bethesda in quality of shopping or food (although at least we're improving on the latter), but as far as people-watching entertainment value, we've got them beat hands down.

Also...

- MoCo Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson called BS on the proposed bill that would basically allow the Lee Group to essentially remain a slumlord on Skid Row for the next fifteen years, should they choose to do so.
"We have learned from past experience that the things Lee Development Group wants are unreasonable and can have negative consequences for other viable projects" in downtown Silver Spring, said Hanson at a hearing on the measure.
Seriously, they've been sitting on that land for twenty years - how long are they planning on waiting? Surprisingly, the outspoken residents in attendance at the public hearing were actually FOR the Fillmore. "Finish the Fillmore"... "No Train on Wayne"... everyone's got their clever slogans these days.

- Silver Spring's new Vietnamese restaurant, Lotus Café, got a writeup on DCist. Amazingly, no one has yet disrespected Silver Spring in the comments, which is usually par for the course on that site. Usually when they post anything about Silver Spring, commenters are sure to remind us that Silver Spring is a chain restaurant infested hellhole, but when there's a positive review of a non-chain restaurant there is only crickets.

- Riders request expanded service from the VanGo buses, threaten to cut off left ears if demands are not met.

- That body found in Sligo Creek Park last week was apparently not a result of foul play.

Photo of Redwood Restaurant and Bar by Flickr user cpdulis.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hasta La Vista, Greeny.

This Friday evening Montgomery County and the DTSS management will mark the formal end of the beloved "Turf" by hosting a going away party. The whole thing is kind of ironic in that an entity is throwing a funeral for something that they themselves are killing. The fact that they deem the Turf worthy of such an event acknowledges that it is something people really liked and will miss when it's gone. (Remember back when the "Turf Wars" were in full swing? Seems like so long ago. I guess the opposition just gave up.)

Anyway, I have been racking my brain trying to figure out why the event has been named "Sign of the Times". Did I miss something?

The poster doesn't even make any damn sense...



First of all, it's not "The Green", it's "The Turf". I don't think I've ever heard it referred to it as "The Green" in the proper-noun sense. (In retrospect, it should have been christened "Soylent Green", but I guess we missed the boat on that one.) And do you really have a farewell party TO something rather than FOR something?? Did they get this poster made in a Shanghai street market? Next thing you know, we'll have a Translate Server Error restaurant opening up on The Promenade. And what's with the skyline? We don't have skyscrapers. Yet.

Aside from having faceless alien DJs hurl rainbows at us, what else could they do to give the Turf a proper sendoff? Personally, I think they should soak the entire carpet in gasoline and light the sucker on fire. Hell, you may not even need the gas - there's so much crap soaked in that carpet it'd probably go up like a Roman candle.

Well, I'll be there out of curiosity and to get my chunk of filthy carpet.

UPDATE: Perhaps the enigmatic title of the event refers to the fact that they plan to reveal the construction sign for the new civic center. I suppose we are expected to let out collective ooooooohhhs and ahhhhhhhs when they do.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How Do You Solve A Problem Like DTSS?

As you may have noticed, a recent post elicited a high volume of comments about an increase in the amount of indecorous behavior taking place on The Promenade. Simultaneously, there was a discussion thread on my neighborhood listserv addressing the very same issue. This leads me to believe that something there has recently changed for the worse, or it could be that pent up frustrations are finally coming to a head.

It's clear that this is a subject that everyone has an opinion on. The main gist of the discussion is that people are feeling that there is an inordinate amount of rowdy behavior occurring in the DTSS area and that the situation has recently deteriorated. Some are put off by the raw language that they regularly overhear on Ellsworth St. and many have shared specific examples of intimidation, sexual harassment and abuse that they or acquaintances have suffered. These negative experiences are not imaginary and based on some sort of age, gender or race bias, and apologists who claim that this is so are unfairly blaming the victims.

The behavior in question primarily occurs on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer months, but one bad experience is enough to drive people away from DTSS year-round. Not to mention the number of people to whom the victims will relate their experiences. Remember, Bethesda ain't that far away.


Photo by Flickr user moworld.

No one's ever messed with me personally, but I can definitely say that on many occasions I've heard some pretty bad language when there were scores of young children around. Not that I don't use the same language myself, but I do so a bit more discreetly (such as yelling at the TV during a Redskins game). The threat of violence is always there, though, even in the residential neighborhoods adjacent to DTSS that my wife and myself walk through to get home. On April 23rd of this year, a man on his way home was attacked by a group of ten youths at the corner of Springvale & Pershing. There's been reports of muggings on nearby blocks, as well.

(What really bothers me, of course, is the behavior in the theater, but I won't go into that again in this post. I drove to Cleveland Park to see The Dark Knight at the Uptown this past weekend because I couldn't deal with the Majestic crowd for 2 1/2 hours.)

Fairly or unfairly, a lot of blame has been placed on outsiders, mostly teens that come into Silver Spring for the movie theater. Granted, I have no concrete figures on how many people are from outside MoCo, but I have definitely seen plenty of kids rolling up in cars with D.C. plates. I don't begrudge kids from D.C. and P.G. county the right to come to Silver Spring for the movies. If they won't build a theater near you, what else are you supposed to do? Back in the day I had to hop the 8, 9 and 14 Ride-On shame trains over to Wheaton to go to the movies there because we didn't have squat in the way of movie theaters in Silver Spring, at least before the City Place 10. Ironically, all the Wheaton theaters are now closed and Wheatonites have to come to Silver Spring for movies.

The good news here is that in this case Peterson Management (unlike the management of the Majestic) seems to be responsive to resident concerns. The property manager of DTSS sent out a letter to neighborhood groups acknowledging their concerns and detailing Peterson's efforts to improve the situation. Some highlights:

- We, at Downtown Silver Spring, take these types of comments from the community extremely seriously. We immediately brought in a new Director of Security (who most recently served in this role at Union Station and the Shops at Georgetown Park in DC – both properties with similar types of issues). (Of course they would - they need people with photographer-harassment experience.)

- [W]e implemented an “Action Team” consisting of Downtown Silver Spring, City Place Mall, Silver Spring Regional Center, Montgomery County Police and Council member representatives with the goal of providing a safe environment for all visitors to the Silver Spring downtown area.

- [W]e hold informal meetings and planned activities with local teens to obtain social and demographic information and feedback. Our next event will be held on July 31st and will include a free movie for teenagers wherein they will be asked to fill out a survey. The effort is to obtain feedback from the teens regarding their thoughts and opinions regarding the Downtown Silver Spring development.
(I'd definitely like to see the results of this survey.)
My only issue with their response was the repeated use of the word "perception", which seems to imply that there isn't really a problem, you just think there is.

The bad news is that the police have cut back the number of cops on patrol in this area. That, and unbeknownst to me, the Majestic no longer hires off-duty cops to work in the theater as security because if the cops shoot someone they're liable. What if a customer shoots someone??? Maybe the reduction in the presence of law enforcement, both on and off-duty, has emboldened those at whom the recent complaints are aimed.

Anyway, if The Man is listening, here are my suggestions:
- Install plenty of surveillance cameras around the area. There’s probably a lot already there. Yeah, it’s a bit Big Brothery, but if you aren’t doing anything wrong, then there’s no reason to sweat it.

- Don’t park half a dozen police cruisers at the corner of Fenton and Ellsworth (see above photo). While this may be more convenient for the coppers, the mere presence of these vehicles gives the impression to law-abiding citizens that some sort of violence could pop off at any moment. Retain the same number – or more – uniformed police to provide security, but leave the cruisers in one of the many garages – or at the police station around the corner. Have more bike or Segway cops patrolling the area. Really, you can never have too many Segways. Mounted officers would be good, too, especially if they could drive the miscreants into giant nets à la Planet of the Apes.

- By far the #1 solution in my book - install one of these Mosquito jobs near the entrance to the Majestic.
The Mosquito™ ultrasonic teenage deterrent is the solution to the eternal problem of unwanted gatherings of youths and teenagers in shopping malls, around shops and anywhere else they are causing problems. The presence of these teenagers discourages genuine shoppers and customers’ from coming into your shop, affecting your turnover and profits....[T]he Mosquito ultrasonic teenage deterrent has been described as “the most effective tool in our fight against anti social behaviour”.
- Pipe in Baroque music through the PA. Perhaps this could replace the endlessly-looping drum music they play in the hallway between the Wayne parking garage and Ellsworth. I hear those drums in my nightmares.

- UPDATE: A commenter pointed out that Virginia Beach has "Courtesty Rules" which outlaw profanity. Violation of these rules can result in a fine for the offender.


Photo by flickr user Tuaussi.

Of course, Silver Spring isn't its own jurisdiction, so we couldn't get a no-profanity law passed, but perhaps there are county laws already on the books that can be interpreted in a way that would allow the cops to do something similar. If nothing else, I like the signs.

I'm certainly not advocating anything extreme like instituting a saggy pants law or setting up checkpoints, only that the authorities do a little bit better job maintaining a more welcoming atmosphere in that area. Optimally we'd have Robocop, Judge Dredd or Batman - or all 3 - patrolling Ellsworth, but unfortunately they don't actually exist, so we'll have to rely on Peterson's security and MoCo's finest. (Unless, of course, one of you wants to take it upon yourself to become Batman.)

No one wants to see Silver Spring go back to how it used to be. Well, almost no one. Pretending there isn't an issue and creating a permissive environment by denying a problem exists will only lead to things getting worse. It's not about prejudice against any race, income or locality, no matter how much some people will try to make it out to be. It's about common decency and the responsibility of authorities, both public and private to create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone. As has been mentioned before, a high-profile violent incident could be the tipping point that reverses the upward climb downtown Silver Spring had been enjoying over the past five-plus years. I'm not saying that I necessarily expect that to happen, but it very easily could.

That's all I have to say about that. What are your suggestions for improving the situation? No flame wars this time, por favor.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Seattle Spares Silver Spring's Starbucks

Starbucks released their list of 600 stores to be closed (PDF) today and despite my speculation to the contrary, all of the locations in Silver Spring avoided the hangman's noose.

I don't know why I even care - I rarely even go to Starbucks. I guess it's just principle. The fact that we have the economic wherewithal to continue supporting three Starbucks within a few blocks of each other is a positive sign.

Wheaton wasn't so lucky... they one inside Wheaton Plaza (YES IT'S WHEATON PLAZA) was on the cut list. Of course, there's another one in the same shopping center, so they shan't go without.

Photo by Flickr user SWP Moblog.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Silver Spring News 'N Notes

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday. It looks like they can't hang a name on you anymore based on this photo from Silver Spring Daily Photo:

The crappy generic family restaurant is the latest establishment to succumb to the black hole of commerce that is Shitty Place.  It had a good run, though - it's been in that space for years, perhaps even since the beginning, though my memory fails me on this one.  Kind of belies the whole "chain businesses are driving all the independent shops out of business" argument when it is the chains that are shutting down around town.  Silver Spring's Ruby Tuesday, Bombay Company, Storehouse Furniture, Jerry's Subs & Pizza (and maybe now Steve and Barry's?) have all taken dirt naps in the last couple years.  Seriously, can someone provide me with examples of independent businesses (particularly GOOD ones) that have closed and been replaced by a chain in the same space?  No, Rostas (now T-Mobile) doesn't count, because for one thing it is coming back in a space previously occupied by a chain.  Maybe the rug shop became the American Apparel, but I can't think of much beyond that.

- Why does every article about a restaurant or bar in Silver Spring have to be prefaced with the BS assertion that Silver Spring is all chain restaurants?  Also, where are all the "strip malls" in downtown Silver Spring to which the author refers?  From the top of the Quarry house stairwell, the author of this article could look in any direction and spy only non-chain restaurants.  But, of course it's always easier to stick with the conventional wisdom that "Silver Spring is all chains because one block of Ellsworth has some and anything else is an aberration".

- Remaining on the subject of chains, I just noticed for the first time tonight that a Smoothie King franchise is going in on Fenton Street between Ellsworth and Colesville.  Now we have a place to get our $5 smoothie on.

- Ok, my effort to start up a Rock Band night crashed and burned, yet the freakin' Silver Spring library is hosting a Guitar Hero tournament???

Something seems sketch about this concept... Guitar Hero at the library?  This has to be some kind of ploy to make kids read or something, like the guy at the state fair who makes you a balloon animal and then forces you to learn about Jesus in return.  You bet your ass that if they hadn't hastily scribbled the  "ages 11-18" rule on each of the flyers, I would have been rolling up in there next Monday, though.

- Veridian Nazis.  I hate Veridian Nazis.

- My wife said she witnessed a big fight at the corner of Ellsworth and Fenton last Friday evening.  Anyone know what was up with that?  Apparently the photography-preventing security guards were standing around and not intervening untill the combatants actually came to blows.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Can you miss something you never had?

It is with a heavy heart that I report that it would appear that Alberto's Pizza (of DuPont Circle and Adams Morgan) has aborted its plans to open in Silver Spring. For what seems like ages, they've had their sign up on the storefront at 9433 Georgia Ave, yet it never looked like they were actually moving in. I have speculated in the past that perhaps the fire at their Adams Morgan shop delayed their plans, but that was a long time ago.

Well, the Alberto's sign is still up, but there's a big "FOR LEASE" sign in the window.That's a damn shame, because Alberto's probably would have become Silver Spring's best pizza by default. Sigh.

I guess the sign can be put into storage with the "Future Home of the Birchmere" banner, or we could open a museum of defunct plans for Silver Spring. On your left is the American Dream Mall exhibit...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Yeah, but will he bring it out to your car?

As I type this, county exec Ike Leggett is bagging groceries at the Silver Spring Whole Foods.  My man needs to hit up the council for a raise!

I really need to get a phone with a decent camera.  Hopefully this Friday I will.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Summer at the Silver is Gold

I was recently thumbing through the AFI Magazine I picked up on my way out of Whole Foods and realized what a great lineup they have at the Silver this summer. If you don't feel like dealing with the summer blockbuster crowd at the Majestic and prefer to see a known quantity at a theater with adults, the AFI offers a lot of great alternatives. Here's some of the film series they're running this summer along with my picks from each. Not that the other movies aren't great - these are just the ones I would personally pay to see on the big screen.

Steven Spielberg Retrospective

This is just part one. I presume part two (next summer) will give us Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, etc. I saw Private Ryan at the City Place 10 (the precursor to The Majestic) and will always remember how someone in the audience thought it was hilarious when the maimed guy on Omaha Beach picked up the bloody remnants of his arm...

- Jaws
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - Saw this one back in the day at the Roth Silver Spring West, now Bethel World Outreach Center.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
- E.T.

Totally Awesome 2: More Films of the 1980sThis is a follow-up to last year's series, which allowed me to see The Terminator on the big screen for the first time. This year, I will enjoy the same pleasure with Aliens.

- The Goonies (Alas, I missed this one... all the shows were Friday & Saturday.)
- The Breakfast Club
- Better Off Dead...
- They Live (Starring Rowdy Roddy Piper, of course.)
- Poltergeist- Aliens
- Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

Muppets, Music & Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy

This one offers discount tickets for kids 12 and under.

- The Muppet Movie - I have a very vague recollection of seeing this at the old Roth Silver Spring East Theater.
- The Dark Crystal - The scariest kids movie ever.
- UPDATE: Labyrinth - How could I omit this one? Ziggy Stardust and Jennifer Connelly - what's not to like?

David Lean: A Centennial Celebration

I've somehow managed to never see Lawrence of Arabia at the AFI. Perhaps this will be the year.

- Lawrence of Arabia
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- Dr. Zhivago

In addition, they'll be screening the fims of Miloš Forman and Warren Beatty. The latter will be receiving an AFI Life Achievement Award and will presumably be enshrined on the nonexistent Silver Spring Walk of Fame.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Starbucks Dead Pool

As mentioned before, Starbucks will be closing 600 of their underperforming stores in the near future. There's no way all of Silver Spring's Starbucks survive the purge. So, which locations in Silver Spring do you think will get the axe?



My top three are the following:

#1 Burnt Mills ("E" on the map): This one is wedged closely between the ones in Woodmoor and White Oak and is almost a lock. I think the Woodmoor one is reasonably safe, but as that's one I actually use on occasion, its departure would be annoying.

#2: Hillandale ("G"): Near the beltway entrance, which might be a positive, but between the Langley Park and White Oak locations. Not much foot traffic, I bet.

#3 White Oak ("D"): If Burt Mills or Hillandale doesn't buy the farm, this one may.
I'll also be amazed if the Langley Park Starbucks survives. I was always surprised there was a Starbucks there in the first place and wondered if it was one of the "Magic Johnson" Starbucks. I don't think it is.

I realize there is a contingent of people out there who would gladly be rid of them all, but the truth is that the existence of Starbucks, while grotesque to you, actually helps the independent coffee houses people worry about so much.

Starbucks mapping concept blatantly stolen from Thayeravenue.com.

UPDATE: Here's an unofficial map of the Starbucks locations that will be closing.  Of course, the information used to compile this is based on hearsay, since Starbucks refuses to release an official list.  It's still pretty limited at the moment, so keep checking it for updates.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

City Place Steve & Barry's to be Euthanized Soon?

Oh, Steve & Barry's, we hardly knew ye.
I mentioned last Friday that it wasn't going so good for Steve & Barry's and it looks like things haven't got any better. According to today's Wall Street Journal, Steve & Barry's may have immediate plans to shutter 100 of their 275 retail locations and may flush the whole operation if they can't get emergency financing. Even if the former scenario is true, I somehow get the feeling that City Place isn't one of their highest traffic locations and wouldn't survive the purge. Add that to the fact that they are planning on opening another store in Wheaton Plaza (much higher traffic) and things look bleaker for City Place.

At least we can chalk this one up to corporate incompetence rather than the lameness of City Place.

UPDATE: Could we be losing one of our Starbucks, too?? I can say with some certainty that the one on the Promenade isn't going anywhere.

Great Purple Line Summary

There's so much back and forth and changes in plan with regard to the so-called Purple Line that I generally avoid discussing it here. I can't even keep track of it myself. That's why I find this graphic from this weekend's Washington Post so valuable. (Click to enlarge.)

Personally, I'm all for it. I could walk a couple blocks and catch the train to Bethesda. Um, I mean, not that I'd ever go to Bethesda, of course...

(The retro Purple Line would still be the best alternative, IMO.)