Potomac resident Rosa Martin thinks the departure of May Jewelers is symptomatic of a larger issue facing Potomac.
“I miss it [May Jewelers] because we’re losing all the kind of businesses that make it fun living here,” she said.
The jeweler is one of several businesses in Potomac to close recently. The Gap, The Imaginarium, American Classic Clothes and Potomac Teen all shut their doors, while the Potomac Village Pharmacy was purchased by the Eckerd chain.
After 17 years in business — 15 of them in the Potomac Village —, the family-owned and operated store will be closing its doors and moving to a new location in Tyson’s Corner, Va.
“I’ve been shopping here since they opened,” said Carolyn Urgo. “It’s unfortunate how it happened.”
How it happened is difficult to pin down. John Nguyen, vice president of May Jewelers, says the owner of the shopping center, the Potomac Promenade Partnership, did not negotiate in good faith.
According to Nguyen, his store’s lease was expiring and their rent of $28 per square foot was set to go up.
He says that he and a representative of the Partnership were negotiating the terms of the deal, which included an increase in rent to $35 per square foot for the 1,700-square foot store. “We agreed to a term and wanted to sign,” Nguyen said. “She said she’s not talking to any third party.”
Nguyen states that the rate is low by Potomac standards because his store is toward the rear of the center, and does not front the parking lot. Stores in those locations can have rent as high as $50 or $60 per square foot, he said.
Nguyen says the Promenade’s representative delayed action saying she needed approval from the Bruce Hendricks, managing general partner of the Promenade.
Nguyen said that the management of the center came back unexpectedly and informed the store that they would have to vacate the premises by Jan. 31 in order to make room for the new tenant, Long & Foster, Realtors, which rents an adjoining space.
Ned Rich, managing broker of that Long & Foster did not return The Almanac’s calls by press time.
The Promenade’s ownership says that it was the store which negotiated poorly.
“They told us they had another lease location, they told us they were moving,” Hendricks said. “They didn’t accept and they didn’t agree on a new lease term.”
Hendricks, who said repeatedly that he thought May Jewelers was a “fine organization” and that he was sad to see them go, thinks that the relative inexperience of the company in negotiating leases may be to blame.
“They had a very favorable lease in their hand and they failed to react to it,” Hendricks said.
Nguyen insists that it was the Promenade who didn’t act. “They were playing games with us.
Either way, the store will be gone in a few weeks, and some residents are disappointed. “It’s so nice to be able to go to a local store and find the thing you want,” Martin said. “We’re losing the charm of living here.”