Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Powering Down 2008

We lost our power again today. No surprise there. We’ve lost power to this house more times than any other home I’ve ever lived in and I’ve lived in a lot of homes. If there is any hint of inclement weather we make sure we have the propane tanks full and fresh batteries for the flashlights.

Today it was more of an annoyance than anything else. Our office was closed because the chances of someone needing a commercial real estate broker on New Years Eve are relatively slim. We took that chance.

The annoyance was that I was hoping to get a little work done from home and maybe write a final 2008 post.

That wasn’t happening so I ventured out. We had an empty propane tank that required exchanging. On my way back from the exchange I ran into a bit of traffic bottleneck on Main Street. I could see that the cause was a utility crew fixing some lines.

The crew was from Pikes Electric in Mt Airy. I asked one of the guys if this was connected to my power problem. When the last outage occurred in October the source of the power interuptus was in this same spot. I told the guy where I lived.

“”Nope.” Yours is something else.”

He was a friendly guy though a bit brusque.

“I guess this weather is pretty good for business,” I offered.

“Not really. This isn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing on New Years Eve.”

I get the point.

When I got home the power had been restored. I am thankful to all those who don the white hard hats, leather gloves and Carhartt jackets and battle the elements to keep us up and running in good times and bad.

I propose a toast to all who man the lines for a safe New Year.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Chamber Weighs In On CB58

According to this story by Jonathan Pitts in The Sun this past Sunday; The Howard County Chamber Commerce believes that the threshold of 5,000 signatures of registered county voters needed to put a bill to referendum is “low and antiquated.”

“After the recent launch of a petition drive challenging a law that that affects the size of grocery stores, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce has issued a call to increase the number of signatures required on such a petition.”

The petition drive being led by a small but vocal group calling themselves Howard County Citizens for Open Government is seeking to overturn the unanimous decision of the Howard County Council to allow the developer of a planned shopping center in Turf Valley to include a 55,000 square foot grocery store instead of an 18,000 square foot grocery store previously allowed in a Planned Golf Course Community (PGCC) zone. The three major neighborhoods surrounding the proposed development have all voted in favor of this zoning change..

The opponents are wrapping this issue in the cloak of open government. “Marc Norman, the group's organizer, says the county approved the project with too little study and too much secrecy.”

I don’t get that. The developer has held several community meetings to explain the project to those who will be most affected by it. The issue has been heard in open council and planning board meetings. How much more open do these people expect the developer and the council to be?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Animal Collective

So I’m scanning through the January 2009 issue of WIRED magazine when my eye catches this:

A "Baltimore-bred experimental musician" was ranked number 2 in the Playlist section of monthly recommendations. "With soaring harmonies, twin-kling keyboards, and funky hand claps, it's avante-garde you can almost cuddle with."

That led to a You Tube search which bought up this:

Whether or not this is your type of music the fact that this local group was recognized in the national press is certainly worth noting.

Nicely done Animal Collective. You are welcome to play at WB’s Pub anytime.

The Old Dogs Club

On Christmas Day Mama Wordbones and I went to see Marley & Me at Snowden Square. It was the first time either of us had ever gone to the movies on Christmas Day. It was packed!

I read John Grogan’s book about his yellow Labrador two years ago while at the beach. If you are a "dog person," you'll love this book. I cried at the end.

The movie is pretty good too. I cried at the end.

I do not recommend this movie to anyone who currently has a beloved old dog in their home. You’ll cry.
We have two such aging dogs in our home. I’ve had my black Labrador for eleven and a half years and Mama Wordbones has had her Golden Retriever for thirteen. The two dogs have spent the last five years or so living together. We know that the days are limited for both of them. They show their age physically but not in spirit.

Today, I took both of them for a walk. We passed by One Eyed Jack’s house. One Eyed Jack is a black Labrador. He has one eye. One Eyed Jack is about thirteen. We were literally in his yard before he awoke and wagged his tail. His spirit is still intact too.

Then it occurred to me. We have our own old dogs club in this little corner of our neighborhood. Across the street from One Eyed Jacks house there is a twelve year old Golden Retriever named Bailey. She walks by our house every day. She still rolls over on her back like a puppy when you pet her.

The thing with dogs is that you have to walk them every day, rain or shine. Especially big dogs like Labradors and Golden Retrievers. That makes dog owner neighbors more likely to know each other. We’re out there, so to speak. We remember the dog names far sooner than the human names. Our old dogs are all buddies.

It’s going to be hard when any of these guys goes.

Party Patter about Parking

“There is no parking problem in Ellicott City.”

I was at a holiday party last week, overeating and overindulging as previously noted, sitting around a fire with a diverse mix of locals. The topic of discussion was the health and welfare of the businesses in the historic district of Ellicott City. Inevitably, the discussion shifted to parking. The party guest who made the aforementioned statement regarding parking is a stakeholder with a heavily vested interest in the health and welfare of the old mill town.

I won’t mention any specific names here. It was a party. I was a guest. I was open about the fact that I wrote a blog and I wanted everyone to speak freely, not for publication. I further disclosed that I had written a column in the October issue of The Business Monthly about this very issue. I happen to believe that there is a parking issue in Ellicott City.

And yet I told this guest that I agreed with him. Today, given the number of vacant storefronts and the traffic choking parallel parking on Main Street, parking is not that bad in the historic district. On the other hand, if we are talking about the health and welfare of Ellicott City, we need to be thinking about the future. The future of Ellicott City could easily be more. More meaning more restaurants, galleries and boutiques and lodging bringing more shoppers and more tourists. With over 2 million people within a twenty minute drive of Maryland Avenue and Main Street, Ellicott City has the potential to be much more economically vibrant than it is today.

To get there the town will need a better parking situation and better traffic flow on Main Street. Eliminating parking on Main Street would free up space for outside dining and a more attractive streetscape and remove the current bottlenecks caused by parallel parking. This was actually envisioned in the Ellicott City Master Plan which was published in 2003.

So yes, today there is no parking problem in Ellicott City but there are other major problems that more parking would certainly fix.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another Year in the Blogosphere

I took a brief respite from my regular posting to overeat and overindulge. As with any act of hedonism, you eventually have to pay the piper. Today I resume writing, tomorrow I intend to resume running.

Since it is close to year end and since one of the pioneers of local blogging is no longer blogging, I thought I’d return to posting by taking nominations from the blog readers of the best and worst of local blogging in 2008. In deference to the blogger who started this nascent tradition, I’m dubbing this the 2008 HoCo Hayduke Blog Superlatives or H2BS.

For starters, I’ll nominate HowChow as the best new local blog of the year. HowChow is covering the local food scene better than anyone has before.

The Andy Warhol award nomination goes to JessieX who briefly changed her homepage picture to something resembling a Warhol painting. After receiving mixed reviews, she has since changed back.

The Betsy Brown Blog Procrastination Award nomination goes to Western Howard Blog. Not only has Betsy not posted since June, her last post was even about procrastinating.

The nomination for the Transformer Award goes out to Embrace Hostility. This fall Embrace Hostility morphed into Columbia Now transforming from a snarky irreverent blog to an informed thoughtful blog.

There are no rules or criteria here. Feel free to make up your own award names too.

Fire away.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Balwash Post?

According to this story in today’s Washington Post and this story in today’s Sun, the two papers will soon begin sharing news and photos in both papers continuing efforts to save money. Ironically, the stories in the two papers were written by two different reporters, Michael Rosenwald and Stephen Kiehl.

The Sun spun the news this way:

“I know journalists in both newsrooms may find this anathema," said Timothy A. Franklin, editor of The Sun, "but we're talking about daily, breaking, fairly routine stories so The Sun can use its resources developing original, unique content, which I think is a key part of our future success."

The Post spin was:

"We have great respect for The Baltimore Sun's reporting and believe adding their expertise to our regional coverage will be very beneficial to our readers," Marcus Brauchli, The Post's executive editor, said in a news release.”

The local coverage from The Washington Post has been weak since they got rid of the Howard section and replaced it with the Maryland section. I guess we can expect to see Larry Carsons byline in the Post in coming months.

With the same coverage on local affairs, I wonder at what point it makes sense to subscribe to both papers on a daily basis.

Monday, December 22, 2008

C’mon, man!

ESPN Monday Night Countdown has a new feature this season called “Come On Man.” This segment of the show is reserved for highlights from some of the previous weeks more egregious acts on the gridiron. Lately I’ve been compelled to use this expression for local goings on.

Take Charter Medical Group for instance.

Back in the early fall, Charter Medical Group made local headlines by announcing that their entire primary care practice was converting to a boutique or concierge type medical practice. These types of practices eschew the traditional insurance middleman and instead contract directly with the patient. The promise of these practices is a higher level of care by seeing fewer patients.

I understand the primary docs dilemma. The insurance model was not working very well for them. I even wrote about this in my November column in The Business Monthly, “One Doc Too Many.”

I went so far as to sign up with Charter and give them a check.

And how do hear about their plans to cancel their plan to pioneer this new paradigm of healthcare in Howard County?

From a fellow blogger!

And then from the Flier!

So far I’ve heard nothing from Charter.

C’mon, man!

I don’t know who is advising these docs but whoever it is has a lousy sense of customer relations. For many of us the decision to go with this new concept in medicine was not easily made. For many, I suspect, it was the subject of heated discussion. To be treated in this manner is egregious.

C’mon, man!

A Story of Christmas Past

I read this op-ed piece by Ted Gup, “Hard Times, a Helping Hand,” today in the New York Times. It is a true story of a tough Christmas 75 years ago that will sound uncomfortably familiar this year. It’s a nice little story with a somewhat happy ending.

I felt it appropriate for this blog because the hero of the story remained anonymous for all these years, exposed only by the chance discovery of a battered old suitcase in an attic by a great grandson who also happens to be a professor of journalism.

Talk about a story being dropped in your lap!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scene This Week In...

I was driving down Main Street in Ellicott City around noon on Saturday. As fate would have it, I ended up stopped right in front of a group of carolers. It was the perfect holiday scene. The only thing missing was snow. Thankfully I had my trusty camera close at hand and was able to snap a couple of pictures before the light at Main Street and Maryland Avenue turned green again. I have no idea who they were but I’m glad I got to hear them even it was for the briefest of moments.

Sunday I found myself over in Oakland Mills Village Center for a “BlogTail Holiday Party” at the new Second Chance Saloon. It was a rather small gathering for a cold Sunday afternoon but the company kept everyone warm. JessieX and Cheri Beck hosted the meet up which was also attended by Hedgehog and Kate Dino. I spent most of the time talking to Dave and Kate. It was a short party since about half the attendees including the hosts, were off to the Cookie Swap next door at three o’clock.

Again, I’m not going to write a review of Second Chance. There are other good local blogs for that. It wouldn’t be fair either. I only had a couple of beers and an order of three blue cheese sliders. I will say that the sliders were delicious, cooked to medium perfection. The service was about as slow as I’ve ever experienced and the place just wasn’t that busy at two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. I met one of the owners, a woman named Wendy and she seemed nice. I’ll go back and check it out for a real meal in the next few weeks. Of course Oakland Mills is also home of the formerly controversial Meridian Square office condominium project. I say formerly because despite this nice sign that says Coming Fall 2008, nothing much is happening at this site. I saw this one coming. The tightening of the credit markets have made financing for this type of project very hard to come by, even with a wired deal with the county. I wonder if there is an expiration date on that deal?

Every Morning, Bright and Early

I sent off a tip to my newspaper carrier,Robert Cranford, today. Instead of just adding a few bucks to the regular billing statement, I sent it in the mail to him directly, with a note.

Back in the day, when I carried papers in Bryant Woods for The Washington Post, the carriers had to do their own collections. I used to visit all of my customers once a month. During the holidays this often meant a few extra bucks. Nowadays the billing is all centralized. If you ever actually see your Washington Post carrier it is because you happen to have run into them in the wee hours of the morning.

And the Post comes every morning of the year, including Christmas Day.

This year I am especially grateful that I can get a daily paper in my driveway every morning. The newspaper business is in trouble and cuts are being made across the board. According to this story in The New York Times, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News will no longer be delivered to subscribers homes on at least four days of the week. “On other days, they will still print slimmer single-copy editions. The changes will be accompanied by staff cuts,”

Pretty grim stuff.

I am doubly fortunate. I also get The Sun delivered to my driveway every day. Though the slimmed down paper is a mere shadow of former journalistic greatness, it still covers Howard County better than the Post. It does make me wonder though. How long before they start making cuts in home delivery?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Still Chilin’

Surprisingly I’ve kept pretty close to my schedule today. I went to The Mall after I posted this morning. At 10:30 AM the place was fairly empty. I stopped in the LL Bean store to do some quick Christmas shopping. As I was leaving I noticed some folks setting up the gift wrap tables in the front of the store. I suspected they were volunteers for a charity of some sort.

They were.

I should note here that I am lousy at wrapping packages. When I was much younger I used to cajole my sister Kelly into wrapping my presents for me. Now I search out gift wrap stations. I had eyed up this particular gift wrap station when I first walked into the store.

It turns out these particular volunteers were gift wrapping on behalf of Boy Scout Troop 361 in Columbia. From left to right in this photo are Gavin Watson, Barbara Watson, Lisa Ray and Barb King. Gavin and Barbara are from Ellicott City and Lisa and Barb are from Columbia. They did a fabulous job with my packages.

I think LL Bean gives the charity a donation in return for the volunteers staffing the gift wrap station. They also take tips.

From The Mall it was off to Lilys Mexican Market on Dobbin Road. It is nice that we have specialty grocers like Lily’s around here. Some things you just can’t get at Harris Teeter.

From Lily’s it was a quick jaunt over to Trader Joes. TJ’s was rocking at 11:30 AM but as always they move the lines pretty well so I was back home to begin my chili cooking by 12:30 PM, only a half hour behind.

The pot now sits on the oven, simmering away. In about an hour it will be time to add the final ingredients. I’ve even had time to clean up the kitchen before Mama Wordbones gets home.

Chili Today

My January column for The Business Monthly is put to bed (a special thanks to those commenter’s who provided input), it’s a good time to take a day off, and just because I can and I feel like it, I’m taking today off. I’m making chili.

I actually started last night with the all important overnight marinade of one of the meats. I played the blues and sipped on a glass of Rosso Classic (a tasty little red blend I picked up at The Wine Seller in Shipleys Grant, $9.99) while I diced up red meat. The dogs were close by my side.

Today I start cooking around noon. First I need to dash over to The Mall, the Mexican Market on Dobbin Road and Trader Joes, in that order.

I just wanted to get a quick post in and also say “nah, nah, nah,” to all those who are reading this post while stuck at work. I feel your pain, not.

I’ll try and post again later when the chili is a cookin’.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The End of an Era

In the latest move to shore up their balance sheet by selling assets, General Growth Properties has packaged up its downtown festival marketplaces for sale. Harborplace and Harborplace Gallery in Baltimore are being bundled up for sale along with Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston and South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan.

It was these city marketplaces that led to Jim Rouse being featured on the cover of Time magazine back in August of 1981. Those were heady days at The Rouse Company when every major city mayor was calling on The Rouse Company to build a festival marketplace in their town.

Times change and the festival marketplace business isn’t what it once was. In truth, the downtown markets were never that profitable for the company to begin with. The operating costs were far higher for these non anchored urban retail centers than they were for traditional suburban retail centers. They held more of a public relations value than anything.

Today, Harborplace generates $114 million in annual retail sales in 285,000 square feet of retail space.

Wegmans Saga Part Eight

I received an email today from “Buffalo Guy.” Buffalo Guy has lived in Ellicott City for the past fifteen years and, in his words he, “wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

That being said, Buffalo Guy apparently misses not having a Wegmans around and so naturally he is anxious to see the proposed Columbia store open. Buffalo Guy sent me a copy of the Order from the Howard County Board of Appeals in the matter of Philip Rousseau versus Howard County Planning Board, Wegmans Food Market Inc., and Science Fiction, LLC. The order grants the motion to dismiss the appeal that Philip Rousseau made after losing his last appeal against the Howard County Hearing Examiner. The order was dated December 2, 2008.

In other words, it’s another win for Wegmans. They still seem to be on track for a late 2009, early 2010 opening.

Thanks for the update Buffalo Guy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The lines continue to blur between this blog and my column in The Business Monthly.

Sometime between now and tomorrow evening I need to submit 900 or so words for my column in the January 2009 issue (Volume 17, Number 1). This is crunch time.

I already have a theme. It’s “the good, the bad, and the ugly of the past year.” For example, the good is the return of the poinsettia tree to the Mall this Christmas. The bad is the car dealer ad that surrounds the tree.

I guess that could qualify for the ugly too.

Another one, the good is the news that Integral Systems and SAIC have committed to over 300,000 square feet of new office space in Columbia Gateway. The bad news is that General Growth Properties had a major layoff this past week.

I could go on. I have others. The ugly examples have been the most challenging of the three. Good and bad tend to be black and white. Ugly is highly subjective.

Would you like to play along?

I’m open to any and all suggestions for the locally good, bad and ugly examples. Be creative. Of course I’ll only use the ones I like but I will attribute them appropriately (anon 4:15 AM, anon 5:18 PM, etc.). If you want to be discrete with your suggestions and not have them shown in the comments section here, you can email me at 

It would be fun to see just how much I can blur these lines.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Business Is Good

There’s some big news on the local business front this Monday. As previously rumored in The Sun yesterday and today on the HowChow blog, Looney’s Pub has leased the recently closed Trapeze restaurant space in Maple Lawn. We reported that Looney’s was searching for a Columbia location back in September. I guess they felt the deal in Fulton was just too good to pass up. This will be Looney’s third location in Maryland.Over in Columbia Gateway, the word is that SAIC has committed to lease all of the 200,000 square foot Franklin Center at 6841 Benjamin Franklin Drive. Earlier reports had them leasing only about two thirds of the recently completed Class A office building so this is a significant change.

In Emerson, the James F. Knott Realty Group has purchased all of the remaining land in the Emerson Corporate Commons office park from General Growth Properties. Knott is just now completing 120,000 square feet of speculative office space in two buildings on Stephens Road in Emerson. We have heard that both of these buildings have been leased to an as yet undisclosed tenant.

In light of all of the grim economic news lately, this is yet another indication that our area may weather this recession better than most parts of the country.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Shopping 08 Part 2

When I last left you at the end of Part 1, I was continuing the search for the surprisingly elusive Lazy Susan for Mama Wordbones for Christmas. After striking out at Williams Sonoma and Le Gourmet Chef, I decided to follow the advice of the very helpful clerks at Le Gourmet Chef and check out Crate & Barrel. Since Crate & Barrel does not have a local store I took my quest online.

As it turns out, Crate & Barrel doesn’t carry Lazy Susan’s either.

Now I’m getting frustrated so I go to Amazon. I’m thinking I gotta be able to find a Lazy Susan on Amazon. Sure enough, a Lazy Susan was available “in stock” from an Amazon partner,, Inc. I ordered one. It would be shipped by December 15th. Perfect.

Or not.

Friday I received an email from one Ashley Pineda at, Inc..

“Our apologies, due to a shipping or manufacturer delay we cannot ship your order at this time.

We expect the ordered product(s) to be available again in approximately 1-2 weeks. When the shipment is received, your order will be processed and sent out immediately. You will receive a UPS tracking number or US Mail confirmation the day we ship your order.


This is beginning to get surreal. What is going on with the world’s supply of Lazy Susan’s?

And then I had an “AHA” moment. I’ll bet Oak Tree Furniture has Lazy Susan’s. I drove over to their store on Route 108 this afternoon.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of them sooner. If you have never been to this store you should really check it out. Joe Blanchfield and his wife Debbie run one of the nicest furniture and accessory stores in the Baltimore Washington corridor. It is a fun place to visit as well.

Joe and I went to high school together.

Anyway, they have Lazy Susan’s. I snatched one up and Debbie and her helpful assistant, Sam Adams, found a box for me and wrapped it up too.

Whew, at least now I can scratch that one off the list.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Another Holiday Card Story

My friend Kim sent me a nice card yesterday. Along with her card she included a little note about her visit to her local post office. While there, she decided to purchase holiday appropriate stamps for her Christmas cards. Christmas cards are Christmas cards to Kim. They are not “holiday” cards. Not overtly religious or anything just a simple statement of faith.

Allow me to give you a general idea of who Kim is. Kim is just a little younger than me. She’s raised a fine young lad, who has given her grandchildren. Soon Kim, her husband Fred and their yellow Labrador, Termite, will be headed off to the Florida Keys for the winter. The grandchildren will stay in Maryland.

Kim and I were neighbors once in a place about six miles up the Severn River from Annapolis. She still lives there in good weather. Among the many things we share in common is encroaching blindness. All my life I had 20/20 vision. The day I turned forty three I needed glasses to read a menu in a restaurant. It’s gone downhill since then. I mention this because this is the same fate that has befallen Kim.

So, in Kim’s words, back at the post office, she waits in line, “The holiday stamps were displayed on a poster behind the counter. When it was my turn I quickly gave my directives to mail this (cheapest way) and give me that, (the blue ones looked pretty). As I was waiting for them to print my receipt I took a second look at the pretty blue stamps. What exactly were they?”

Happy Ramadan!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Due Date

Today is the deadline for the $900 million debt obligation that General Growth has been attempting to renegotiate. According to this story by Alejandro Lazo in today’s Washington Post, “General Growth was also working yesterday to negotiate with the lender of a separate, $58 million loan. In the Nov. 10 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Sec, the company said weakness in the retail and credit markets cast doubt on its ability to refinance its loans or obtain capital.”

Things are looking pretty bleak in the local office of GGP too. This week they had an across the board layoff of some long time local employees who had previously survived the transition from The Rouse Company to General Growth. That’s a pretty sour way to end a year.

There may some hope for GGP though. In his market newsletter, Seeking Alpha, Todd Sullivan wrote, “…General Growth (GGP) is in a tight spot. But, with Citi (C) taking a 5% stake, the debt is all but assured to be refinanced.”

Unfortunately, this news will be of little solace to those who find themselves cleaning out their desks today at 10275 Little Patuxent Parkway.


Columbia Talk has the latest update on the GGP debt refinancing. It looks like they successfully dodged this first bullet.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Spin on the Street

In an earlier post I wrote an imagined conversation between supporters of referendum on Council Bill 58 and an unwitting shopper being approached to sign their petition. Yesterday I had a real life encounter and it went like this:

“Excuse me sir, are you a registered voter in Howard County?”

“Why yes I am.”

“Would you sign our referendum petition to keep more big box stores out of Howard County?”

“More big box stores?”

“Yes, stores over 55,000 square feet.”

“That’s a big box store?”


“Then you consider this a big box store?” I had just come out of the Safeway store in Long Gate.


“Isn’t this really about the planned grocery store in Turf valley that was unanimously approved by both the Planning Board and the County Council?”

“Yes. We really don’t want that grocery store. I am with the Howard County Citizens Association and we believe the council was wrong in approving this. If you sign our petition it will allow the people to decide.”

“But the people do decide when they elect the council members. Why should I waste taxpayer dollars second guessing them? I elected them to make these informed decisions.”

“We are just trying to help the council do a better job.”

That was her final word. I think at this point she realized that I was not an unwitting shopper. Needless to say I didn’t sign the petition.

Has anyone else been approached with a similar or different spin on this?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's Just Not the Same

I like getting Christmas cards. I especially like getting Christmas cards from people I know who include a personal sentence or two.

We send out cards from our office. Real cards. I know it is old school and we seldom include a sentence or two because there are so many to send but we think it is a nice gesture to say thanks to those who you've done business with over the past year.

I got thinking about Christmas (or "Holiday") cards today when I received this email with the subject line "Season's Greetings from Howard County Community College."

Dear Friends –

In support of HCC’s sustainability initiative, this year we have decided to send a holiday card electronically. The card below was designed by HCC staff member, Patricia Quinn.

Now this is a nice card and everything and I do appreciate the sentiment but it just doesn't feel the same as a "real" Christmas card.

I mean, how are we supposed to tape it up with the rest of the cards?

I guess we'll just have to print it out.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas Shopping 08 Part 1

I stopped by The Mall this afternoon. I wanted to sneak in a little Christmas shopping in the middle of the work day. The commercial real estate market is a little soft right now so I didn’t think I’d be missed around the office for a couple hours.

Anyway, I was on a mission to find a lazy susan. That’s what Mama Wordbones wants for Christmas and I thought it would be a pretty simple request to fill. I thought wrong, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

My first stop was Restoration Hardware but not to look for a lazy susan. I went there to find some funny Christmas stuff. Suffice it to say that they have a wide variety of funny and a bit off beat stocking stuffers. Last year I purchased eight blinking reindeer noses for dinner gifts on Christmas Eve.

Anyway, as I entered the store I see this guy wearing a blue cape and a Lone Ranger mask. Written in pen on tape along the back of the cape was “Super Dave.” I thought this was a tad odd but I was certain there had to be some logical reason as to why this guy was dressed up as some kind of super hero.
There was. I soon discovered this display of “Super Hero in a box.” So there it is, if you want to be a super hero this Christmas all you have to do is go to Restoration Hardware and shell out twenty two bucks.

That wasn’t for me though. I’m no super hero. I opted instead for a pack of lies. For ten bucks I got a set of 50 playing card size cards with “the best excuses and lies for every occasion.” I’m not sure who I’m giving this to yet but it will surely be someone special.

And oh yeah, Super Dave is actually David Trent in real life.

After that experience I began my search in earnest for a lazy Susan. My first stop was the new Williams Sonoma store. It turns out they don’t carry lazy susans. “We get a lot of requests for them, “I was told by nice lady wearing a green apron, “Lazy susans and spice racks.”

They don’t carry spice racks either?

I left Williams Sonoma and went up to Le Gourmet Chef. Surely this kitchen gadget store carries lazy Susans. In fact they don’t. The very helpful staff recommended I try Crate and Barrel.

Of course, Crate and Barrel doesn’t have a store in Columbia. They do have a website though and that’s where I’m headed next.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Abusing a Right

The right to petition the government through referendum is a key component of our democracy. Unfortunately this right can be abused by anti growth activists to overturn zoning decisions they don’t like.

Such appears to be the case with the Howard County Citizens for Open Government or HiCCOG. This new group has been formed primarily to overturn Council Bill 58 which allows a 55,000 square foot grocery store in a Planned Golf Course Community as opposed to an 18,000 square foot grocery. Turf Valley is the only community in Howard County that has this PGCC zoning designation and the change was requested by the developer of a proposed shopping center in that community. The majority of the people in the communities surrounding the project seem to be in favor of this change and it was unanimously approved by the county council. Hiccog has launched a petition drive to overturn this decision through a referendum.

Who the heck is Hiccog?

As near as I can tell Hiccog is primarily Marc Norman and Frank Martin. These two guys have been frequent opponents of the Mangione family plans for Turf Valley. Undoubtedly they will be joined in their referendum crusade by other anti growth activists in the county. They need only to get 5,000 signatures of registered voters in less than 60 days to get this issue on a ballot.

While some may think that an insurmountable task, it is not really as difficult as it sounds. Picture the shopper coming out of the grocery store on a cold Saturday afternoon being approached by a petition pusher.

“Are you a registered voter in Howard County?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Would you sign our petition from Howard County Citizens for Open Government?”

Open government? Sure, who doesn’t want open government?”

“Sign here.”

No doubt some folks will actually read the referendum language but I’m guessing that when its 30 degrees outside and you have a load of groceries, most folks will simply sign away without asking too many questions. Besides, referendums are all part of a healthy democracy aren’t they?

When used properly yes. When used to fight a minor zoning squabble, not so much in my opinion.


Then fire away.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Baby its Cold Outside

It may not officially be winter but it sure looks and feels like winter. When I woke up this morning the street outside was covered in snow.

As snowstorms go it wasn’t much of one. It was more like a taste of things to come. By Wednesday, when the temperature is predicted to climb back to 60 degrees, the traces of the white stuff will probably be gone. Still, I’d have to say that a “White Christmas” is possible this year.

The cold didn’t seem to keep folks out of downtown Ellicott City on Friday night for Midnight Madness. Mama Wordbones and I felt fortunate to snag one of the parking spaces right on main Street, though my parallel parking skills were somewhat wanting and traffic backed up a bit as I tried to salvage my maneuver. For those who got stuck behind me, sorry about that.

After parking we headed up to the new Diamondback Tavern to check it out. We arrived right around eight o’clock and were seated right away.

I am not going to write a restaurant review for two reasons. One, it is too early to subject them to that. They have only been open a little over a week. It is reasonable to expect that there will be bugs that haven’t been worked out yet so shortly after opening and there were. Two, there are now a healthy variety of food blogs covering the local dining scene so I’ll leave that exercise to others like HowChow , HocoLoco Girl and Live In Howard County.

I will say that I had a dish called “Shrimp and Grits” and it was delicious. I will also say that I met two of the partners, Lee and Evan and they seemed like nice guys eager to make sure their guests are taken care of. We will be back.
After dinner we headed up the street to the Wine Bin. The Wine Bin is the new liquor store that opened in the old firehouse across from The Judges Bench. The place was busy and they were offering tastings. We tried an appropriately named wine called “Firehouse Red” and purchased a few bottles. We also met the owner, Dave Carney. It is a nice looking store with an interesting collection of wines. If you are an oenophile it is definitely worth checking out.
The walk with our wines back down to our car chilled our bones again. We decided to hop across the street to Fishers, the former bakery that has been renamed Sweet in an attempt to transform itself into a coffee shop. They partially succeed. The place is an eclectic mess and the young staff was a little too self absorbed but the place was warm and the hot cider hit the spot. It was the perfect remedy for a cold night in the old town.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Happy Repeal Day!

Today marks the 75th anniversary the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution. Seventy five years ago the prohibition experiment ended in America and we could drink legally again.

Not that prohibition stopped anyone from drinking. Yesterday, on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, Kojo did a half hour program on Washington DC during prohibition. One of the stories was about a notorious bootlegger known as The Man in the Green Hat who actually had an office in the capital building to better serve our nations lawmakers.

My favorite tidbit from the show though, was the origin of the Maryland nickname “The Free State.” I guess always assumed it had something to do with the Revolutionary a War or emancipation but apparently I was wrong. According to one of his guests, that moniker was given to our state during prohibition because bootleg liquor moved so freely across Maryland’s borders.
So go out tonight and support your local innkeeper. Appropriately enough, it is a good weekend for the two cities bar scene. The Second Chance Saloon is opening tonight in the Oakland Mills Village Center in Columbia and last week the Diamondback Tavern opened on Old Columbia Road in Ellicott City.


Scene This Week In...

This picture could have been taken in January or February. Looking at this scene you would not have a clue that it is December and only three weeks from Christmas. Outside of the mall, there is very little evidence of the holiday season. Columbia at Christmas is pretty drab.You can’t mistake what season it is in Ellicott City. Public and private buildings sport wreaths, red ribbons and garland. The town has a festive holiday feel.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

In This Months Business Monthly

Some months I struggle to write something that I feel is relevant with an added touch of humor. Weeks before last months deadline I began asking friends and colleagues for ideas and suggestions. It didn’t help that the paper had an earlier deadline than usual because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

None of the suggestions I received provided me with that creative spark I was looking for. A bottle of wine didn’t offer much help this time either though on other occasions this strategy has helped, sort of.

Just as I was floundering around for a topic I ran across a letter to the editor that Barbara Russell sent to The Sun calling for a halt to consideration of General Growth Properties proposed zoning changes for Columbia Town Center. As much as I dislike Barbara and her cockamamie interpretations of what Jim Rouse intended for Columbia I was grateful for the creative spark she provided.

Barbara believes GGP’s plans are irrelevant given their current financial issues. I happen to think that Barbara is irrelevant. Thankfully she no longer serves on the Columbia Council.

You can read this month’s column here.

Red Sky in the Morning

The hardest part is actually getting out of bed. Once you get past that it gets considerably easier and if you have the right clothes a morning run this time of year can be richly rewarding.

Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A General Malaise

“You can’t shit a deal”

That’s what a prominent local developer quipped to me during the last recession. This week The National Bureau of Economic Research formally declared that the recession began last December. This was no news to the local commercial real estate community. Developers have seen the volume of deals steadily decline since at least then. For most, this was the slowest summer for leasing in recent memory.

For the past year brokers have been trying to fill vacant space in new buildings while several tenants vacated or downsized in older buildings. Building owners are offering a variety of incentives to both prospective tenants and their brokers in an attempt to fill the empty spaces. Much of that effort is to no avail.

From my experience, companies are hunkering down. Even those who really need to expand are opting to stay in place and make do with what they have as they wait to see happens to the overall economy regardless of what is happening locally.

And locally we are in better shape than most of the country.

The Baltimore Washington corridor is still poised for strong growth with an influx of more than 20,000 new jobs coming to Fort Meade over the next three years. The only problem is that those jobs won’t really start filtering in here until the fourth quarter of 2009. That doesn’t help a building owner looking for rent paying tenants today.

All across the region, building owners and their listing agents are sitting down trying to figure how to position their empty space against the other guys’ empty space. The few prospects actually looking for space are being heavily courted and the profit margins are paper thin. Most don’t expect things to pick up much for at least a year.

That’s not exactly a cheerful note to end the year on.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Back to Blogdom

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is behind me and with Christmas bearing down on me like a diving Dow, I can get back in the swing of posting here.

The big news, reported in the blogs first by Dan over at Columbia Talk, is the second armed robbery in Clarksville this fall. This time the target was the Pizza Hut. The only thing I have to add to what has already been reported is a comment I heard secondhand from the franchise owner, John Schultze. John is reportedly upset with both the police and the press for reporting that the employees used a cell phone to call 911 from inside the locked freezer. John apparently believes that by divulging this bit of information the press has given a heads up to all future armed robbers to check their victims for cell phones before leaving the scene. I happen to agree with him.

Also reported by Columbia Talk is the upcoming Midnight Madness shopping event in the historic district of Ellicott City this Friday. Stores and restaurants will be open until midnight as well as the B&O Railroad Museum. The B&O Railroad Museum is currently showcasing its Holiday Festival of Trains. The county has suspended parking fees in the historic from now until the end of the year.

This weekend might be a good time to check out the new Diamondback Tavern which opened last week. The tavern is located in the space formerly occupied by the Tiber River Tavern on Old Columbia Road just up the hill from Main Street.

Ah, it’s good to be back.