Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You Better Enjoy the Next Two Days

I don't really have much to say about this flyer, other than that it is the single greatest piece of junk mail I have ever received.

If the End Times involve the badass animals pictured here, I am kind of looking forward to them.

(Note that apparently even the Antichrist can't get "Silver Spring" right.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday News 'N Notes

- Just in time to gouge visitors during the inauguration, Silver Spring's newest hotel, the oddly co-branded Homewood Suites by Hilton/Hampton Inn opened today on Colesville Rd, across from the existing Hilton. Why anyone would ever want to stay here instead of the Travelodge or Days Inn is beyond me.

- Kirsten's Cafe has apparently closed with little fanfare. Is Kirsten now going to concentrate her efforts on the Red Dog Cafe? Can she please bring back the old menu?

- The economy sucks, so crime is up in MoCo. Oh, and your house is worth a lot less, but at least you might be paying less in property taxes. On the brighter side, Maryland now has the highest-rated school system in the country.

- Speaking of crime, I continue to contend that most of the high-profile crimes in the area are perpetrated by people from elsewhere, as was the case with the recent shootings at Wheaton Plaza.

Montgomery County Police say the five alleged Prince George's County members of the Bloods, a national gang, charged Wednesday in connection with a shooting last month at Westfield Wheaton mall went to Montgomery County two days before Christmas "with the intent of shooting someone."
Perhaps one of the unexpected consequences of sharply lower gas prices is that it makes it easier for criminals to commute.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

In Defense of Silver Spring's Chain Restaurants

I may be a lone voice here, but I feel the need to defend the existence of Silver Spring's chain restaurants.

The frequently-repeated argument that the chain restaurants on Ellsworth/Hellsworth/The Promenade have somehow done irreparable harm to the family-owned, non-chain businesses is bogus. I have posed the question before, and have to ask it again: where in Silver Spring has a chain restaurant ever directly replaced a "local" restaurant? (Bonus points for naming one that was actually worth eating at.) I can only think of cases where it was the other way around, such as Langano replacing a Jerry's Subs.

If there were no restaurants on Ellsworth before the arrival of DTSS, how could chains have replaced them? You know what restaurant I remember on Ellsworth? McDonald's. A lot of good new restaurants have opened up outside of that two-block stretch since the development was built. Olazzo, Nicaro, Ghar-e-Kebab, Ray's the Classics and Taste of Jerusalem are just a few ones I can name off the top of my head. I think it is fair to assume that some/most of these places would never had opened had the DTSS development not acted as the catalyst that started attracting more people to Silver Spring in the evenings and weekends. In addition to the new restaurants that have opened since 2003, Silver Spring stalwarts like Negril seem to be doing okay, as the Jamaican eatery expanded with a take-out-only storefront in the last year or two. Plus, it should also be mentioned that DTSS has its own non-chain restaurants, such as Ceviche and McGinty's.

If anything, the existence of DTSS's chain restaurants, while grotesque and incomprehensible to many, has in my opinion been generally positive for the restaurant scene in Silver Spring. It reminds me of the conventional wisdom that Starbucks kills off independent coffee houses, while the reality is that the chain helps independents immeasurably, having dramatically grown the market for expensive coffee drinks. Independent coffee places actually want to move in next door to Starbucks.

I also don't subscribe to the idea that people who frequent chain restaurants would be patronizing some "local" restaurant if said chain restaurant didn't exist. I doubt the clientele of the Red Lobster would be necessarily be eating at (insert name of oppressed local restaurant here) had the seafood chain not opened a location on Ellsworth. The only difference would be that those people would be driving farther to get to a different Red Lobster. You wouldn't catch me dead in the Red Lobster, but if that's your bag, enjoy. The sad truth is that these type of restaurants fill a need. There exists a certain segment of the population that WILL NOT try any unknown places, especially ones that are "ethnic", no matter how much you try to convince them. (These are generally co-workers, because let's be honest - you don't really want to be friends with people like that.) So, for business lunches to exist - and for you to get company-paid meals - you need these chain restaurants around.

From a property manager's perspective, it makes a lot more sense to lease space to a known quantity that has a history of success. While the frequently-quoted statistic that 90% of restaurants fail in the first year may be a myth, the figure is still close to 60%. It doesn't do anyone any good to have constant turnover and empty storefronts, especially if the goal was to attract customers to a previously-dead area, such as Ellsworth Drive.

Finally, just because a restaurant is not a chain doesn't mean it's actually any good - and that chains are bad by default. At least chains have minimum quality standards that they are required to meet and are held accountable by the corporate parent. I've had plenty of terrible experiences in some of Silver Spring's precious local restaurants, many of which I no longer frequent. I personally don't frequently eat at the chain restaurants in Silver Spring, but I don't mind occasionally getting takeout from places like Chipotle or Baja Fresh when it's convenient.

If you don't like the chain restaurants, don't eat at them. Just think of them a necessary evil. I don't know where in the western world these days you will find a urban area that doesn't have its share of chain restaurants. New York, London, take your pick. I don't know why Silver Spring always seems to bear the brunt of chain hatred in the DC metro area, because other places surely have their share. Check out Dupont Circle (just one example), where you will find Potbelly, Chipotle, Five Guys, Cosi, and Subway on a single block.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Closing the Borders

Will Borders be the next store on The Promenade to go kaput? The company's stock is trading below 50 cents a share and holiday sales were down double digits from last year. We've already seen national chains such as Storehouse Furniture, Bombay Company, and Steve & Barry's with locations in Silver Spring go down in the past couple years, and there's a real possibility Borders could be next against the wall. (Pier 1, which has a store on Fenton is in the crapper, too.)

As the only store on Ellsworth that remotely interests me, that would be a damn shame. Of course, I enjoy it strictly in the place-to-kill-time sense, as anything I could buy there I would rather order from Amazon, as it's generally cheaper and tax-free. (Now, thanks to my phone, I actually do this while I am still in the store...) I guess therein lies the source of Borders' predicament. People blame big chains like Borders for the downfall of local bookstores like Olsson's, but apparently Borders is equally screwed.

I don't even know what they'd do if that Borders closed. Who could they possibly get to rent that space in this economic climate? At this point, maybe a Salvation Army store or soup kitchen. Optimally, we'd get another bookstore in its place, or maybe a bookstore/restaurant fusion like Busboys & Poets. The last thing we need is more empty storefronts. I believe there's some spaces in that complex that have never had tenants.

Speaking of the retail apocalypse, I was in Montgomery Mall earlier today and was shocked how many stores have recently closed, even in the time since I was last there only a week or so ago.