0
Votes

Retail Shuffle Leaves Empty Storefronts

Eckerd pulls out of plan to take over Gap space.

Potomac Video in Potomac Village abruptly closed its doors the week before Memorial Day, leaving another hole in Potomac’s broken retail landscape.

“I walked out there and they were throwing the racks in and they were gone,” said Jennifer Matheson, secretary for the Potomac Chamber of Commerce, who works in the Semmes building just across from the store.

The video chain’s owner could not be reached for comment, but Caren Marshall of A.I. Combined Centers, LLC which manages the Potomac Promenade shopping center said, “Basically it has to do with the video market. Everything with the change in the format and so much being done through the mail — Netflix and Blockbuster.”

Marshall said that the company is in negotiations with a possible new lessee, but declined to comment further on the negotiations or on the real estate market in Potomac Village.

While the space vacated by Potomac Video might soon be filled, other retail spaces have had no such luck.

The storefronts formerly occupied by the Gap and the Imaginarium toy store on River Road have remained vacant since late 2003. In October of that year, Florida-based Eckerd took over the then family-owned Potomac Village Pharmacy and made plans to remodel and move into the Gap space.

But Elie Pisarra-Cain, part-owner of the shopping center, said that Eckerd announced last week that it would not take over the Gap space after all and that it had given 30 days notice to employees of the existing pharmacy, which will also close, leaving three spaces open in the shopping center with no new tenants in negotiations.

“Eckerd has had it rented, so it wasn’t our space to give out,” Pisarra-Cain said. “It kind of looks like nothing's happening because the space was vacant. But they were paying rent. It wasn’t like we were out in left field.”

Although the Potomac community values the neighborhood center design of Potomac Village — which is protected in the region’s master plan — that design naturally drives commercial real estate prices up, Pisarra-Cain said.

“It’s really a lot closer to the more downtown rents because there’s just so little availability,” she said.

Commercial real estate in the Village rents from around $45 to more than $65 per square foot

Even in coveted Montgomery County areas such as the Bethesda and Silver Spring Central Business Districts commercial real estate rents for much less — generally between $25 and $45 per square foot. In Rockville, upcounty and eastern Montgomery County, rates are often below $30 per square foot.

Bob Moorman, a Potomac Realtor, had an even higher estimate. "We're looking at between $70 and $80 per square foot" in the Village, he said.

"The stores that we really all need around us all the time — the ones that make a neighborhood — they're not going to make it," Moorman said, referring in particular to businesses like George's Barber Shop and the now-defunct jewelry store in the Potomac Promenade mall. "I don't want to go to Bethesda to get a hair cut."

"Then again, there's a demand for it. You can't blame the landlords for wanting to make a profit," Moorman said.