<pc>Photo by Mirza Kurspahic/The Connection
<cl>The Giant at Tall Oaks Village Center is scheduled to close on Nov. 29.
<sh>More than nostalgia plays into neighborhood distress.
<hd>Closing Affects Neighbors
<ro>"Forget about Giant, they are gone. Forget about Giant, they are losers."
<ro1>— Ilse Sheiman
<ro>"I hear a hidden agenda here and that is the redevelopment of Tall Oaks."
<ro1>— Dick Rogers
<1b>By Mirza Kurspahic
<bt>For some neighbors of the Tall Oaks Village Center it is nostalgia that drives their concerns over the closing of the Giant store in that shopping center. However, for most of the neighbors the concerns are much greater than the anxiety of losing their longtime favorite grocery store.
"This isn’t just about nostalgia," said Judy St. Andre, who said she was a faithful customer who happened to walk into the store on Nov. 1 when someone announced the store was closing. "If the Giant goes, Tall Oaks dies," she said.
The decision to close the Tall Oaks store, said St. Andre, is counterproductive for Giant. She said she would not go to the North Point Giant to do her grocery shopping, she would go to Harris Teeter. She added that most of the store’s 49 faithful employees, many of whom she knows personally, still do not know where they will be transferred. Others are being sent to stores in Washington.
"It is not a concern of today, it is a concern of many years," said Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). "They [Giant] are being driven by a different market, and it is a Wegmans market," said Hudgins. The comment refers to a tendency of today’s grocers to invest in large supermarket stores. Hudgins said Reston was planned around its village centers, which are anchored by a grocery store. Giant’s decision to leave Tall Oaks defies a way Reston’s residents chose to live, she said.
The property manager for Tall Oaks Village Center, John Bone, vice president for property management at Atlantic Realty Company (ARC), said it was indicated to him that Giant would close down all of its small stores. He learned of the Tall Oaks store closing two weeks ago. He said the leasing team, KLNB Retail, has been in contact with companies who could possibly replace Giant in the 38,000-square-foot space, but with only two weeks gone, he had no news on any new store in that space. Bone said 30 to 40 people have been contacted so far to fill the space.
For resident and Realtor Ellen Moyer, the concerns of losing the neighborhood Giant meddle in her business. Moyer said she nearly started to cry when she learned the grocery store was closing for personal reasons, but she also has two listings in the neighborhood that list one of the amenities as a walking distance grocery store. Not only does she have to change the brochures for the listings, but also the store closing could have a drastic effect on surrounding property values.
Residents and merchants met with Hudgins, Bone and Robin Smyers, Reston Association board representative for Lake Anne and Tall Oaks, on Saturday morning. The meeting attracted about 50 people concerned with Giant’s decision to close the Tall Oaks store.
MOYER IS NOT the only one whose business interests could be impacted with the store’s closing. "If the Giant goes down we will lose 30 to 40 percent of revenue," said Keith Morris, owner of Paradise Nails Skin Cares in the shopping center. He said he guarantees the store, which has been at Tall Oaks for four years, will not survive if it loses customers and rent continues to increase.
Dharm Singh, who owns the animal clinic at Tall Oaks, said he has seen three generations of customers in his clinic since the 1970s. He said people who move out to Ashburn and other areas continue to visit his clinic. However, if Giant does not attract the customers, people may choose to take care of their animals at a shopping center where they can do their grocery shopping, too.
Residents and business owners are not only concerned that the 38,000-square-foot site would not attract another tenant, but also that the space would join other vacant spaces at the center, some of which have been vacant for years. Bone estimates that about 92 percent of the center is currently occupied. Hudgins said she would request information within the next 30 days as to the status of other grocery stores coming in to replace the Giant. "A grocery store is essential," she said.
Some residents raised concerns of a hidden agenda on the property owner’s — Boston based Colony Realty Partners — part. Vacant space does not serve anyone — owners, residents or merchants — but some of the space has been vacant for years. It does not make sense "unless the owner is deliberately shutting this down," said Mike Corrigan. He added that with the planned arrival of Metro to Wiehle Avenue, the center, located off of Wiehle, is a prime piece of land for redevelopment. Colony, which owns close to 3 million square feet of space in the Washington metropolitan area, took ownership of the Tall Oaks Village Center at the very end of December of 2006 from Regency Centers.
Dick Rogers, president of a nearby cluster of 180 houses, raised a similar concern. "I hear a hidden agenda here and that is the redevelopment of Tall Oaks," said Rogers. "Where do you think we should go to have some influence," he asked Hudgins.
Then there are the concerns of people in specific demographic groups, such as the elderly. Ted Moline warned that the majority of the residents at Lake Anne Fellowship House shop at Tall Oaks. Hudgins said the village center is the only one in Reston that has a dual bus service — buses ending and starting their routes there, as opposed to having to follow a certain route around to get back to the place where the first bus was boarded. "The transportation piece becomes more important," said Hudgins. The Giant’s closing has an impact on bus service coordination and placing more vehicles on the road from Tall Oaks, as those residents have to go elsewhere to get their groceries. Hudgins said Giant should have recognized "the philosophy of how we live here and not what the market prescribes."
"Forget about Giant, they are gone. Forget about Giant, they are losers," said Ilse Sheiman, a senior citizen who is concerned about where she would get her ice cream and prescriptions.
TRANSPORTATION, or rather the village center’s location, could also be a prescription for the center’s remedy. Noël Miller, a nearby resident since 2000, said better signage off of busy and congested Wiehle Avenue could improve the center’s vitality. "Signage needs to be a top priority," said Miller. It could serve to attract more customers, in turn attracting more businesses to fill the vacancies and improving existing merchants’ traffic. There is a sign on the corner of Wiehle Avenue and North Shore Drive that points the traffic towards the center, but that sign should include names of the existing businesses, giving itself and the businesses more visibility.
Hudgins said the meeting served to bring the community together with the property manager, who could in turn communicate to the property owners what the community’s concerns are. Bone said that letters from the community would help him convey the concerns from the community and the numbers of people with those concerns. St. Andre also brought a petition to the meeting, a petition for Giant to stay, but many at the meeting felt Giant would not reconsider its decision.
"The owners wanted me to tell you that they are committed" to Tall Oaks, said Bone about instructions received from Colony. "I think they are saddened by Giant’s decision to leave."
Hudgins said short-term goals need to be addressed first, in order to ensure the viability of the remaining merchants at Tall Oaks. "The larger issue has to be what can come there and how soon," said Hudgins. "What are our options for short-term and then discuss long term," said Hudgins.
Smyers, who said she was "disheartened" that the property owner is Boston-based, said a three-way dialogue between the community, property owners and managers and the supervisor’s office about the center’s future would ensue.