Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bun Penny Brouhaha

Darrell Nevin emailed me a copy of the Mackenzie Ditter email about the impending closing of the Bun Penny store in the Mall in Columbia.

“Not sure if you knew this or saw it, but certain it is fodder for one of your columns.”

How could I have not seen it? Freemarket blogged about it here and Evan Coren blogged about it here. The Sun papers had a story about the closing and last night, on the eleven o’clock news on Channel 13, there was yet another story about it.

From my perspective, I just don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, it is sad that a family business is closing. That is always sad. It is sad for the owners, the employees and the longtime customers but I hardly think it is big news. Over the years many family run businesses have quietly closed their doors in Ellicott City and nobody ever made a big deal out of it.

I have known Bun Penny since it was opened by the Sachs family many years ago. For the longest time the store was the place to get lunch in Columbia. It was Columbia’s own Zabars.

Times change and so do peoples buying habits. Over the last few years I watched as Bun Penny slowly faded from popularity. I trace the beginning of this slide back to when the mall was renovated and the Lord and Taylor department store was added. What once was the mall’s front door was no longer. The entrance where Bun Penny was located took on a different character. Seldom did I see full tables in the glassed in seating area. I don’t think the store adjusted to this dramatic change in traffic patterns. Also, new competition sprouted up in town center. The Lakeside coffee shop surely took some business away too. That is what occurs in a dynamic marketplace. Either a retailer adjusts to these changes or they risk losing relevance.

That is hardly big news. It is just a fact of life.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Downtown Columbia: A Community Vision

It’s on the street now. The county’s long awaited and already debated framework for the development of Town Center is now available here.

It is 58 pages with two appendices. Don’t be discouraged by the page count though, there are only about 25 pages worth of meat.

I’ll read it this weekend and post my thoughts later.

Raggin On Ranazul

I don’t often write restaurant reviews. I defer to HoCoLoCo Girl in that area. However, once in awhile, just every so often, I have an experience so awful that it compels me to write a post about it.

I had just such awful experience at Ranazul last night. The thing is, I am quite certain that the other two tables in the “La Galeria” room we shared were also having awful experiences.

The short story for those with short attention spans is that the service stunk but the food was, in some cases exceptional and in all cases good. That makes the choice as to whether to return for a second chance a little more difficult to make.

For those who like the details, we arrived around 7:00 PM without reservations, a party of three. We were seated within ten minutes, so far so good.

Then we were left alone, completely alone with the paintings in the La Galeria room. We had water and menus from the hostess. I expected someone to offer to get us a cocktail while we looked over the menu. I was disappointed. At least fifteen minutes passed. Soon though another couple arrived and was seated at the table next to us. In very short order a waiter appeared at their table, welcoming them and offering to get cocktails and warm bread.

I sat watching, wishing he were at my table. Meanwhile, at the table next to us, the waiter was cheerily going over the menu and the specials in great detail. I heard him mention that they were out of the pear salad.

We still had no waiter at our table. This was getting ridiculous. Finally, I decided to go see if I could find someone to wait on our table. While hanging out at the server station I saw the guy who was serving the table next to us. I leaned over to him and said I’d appreciate it if he could find someone to come to our table. He nodded and I returned to my seat and waited.

And waited at least another fifteen minutes At long last a waitress appeared. She said she was ready to take our orders.

“What about the specials?” I was feeling a little cheated here.

“There are no specials.”

“Are you sure? I could have sworn I heard the waiter at the table next to us mention something about specials.”

“No. No specials. Would you like me to explain the menu to you?”

At this point I am getting pretty annoyed. The thought of getting up and leaving crosses my mind. Then again, I’m hungry. That’s why I came here.

We ordered a couple of glasses of wine and five tapas dishes. We had plenty of time to read through the menu during our no waiter period.

And then we waited some more.

Meanwhile, at the table next to us, things were also beginning to go south. His entrée came out, but hers didn’t. They began to exchange sympathetic glances with us.

Our glasses of wine arrived followed shortly by three of our tapas dishes. One of them was a salmon avocado sushi concoction that was delicious. Another was calamari and the third one was something called arepas, which was crab, shrimp and polenta with a sauce that was exceptional.

We polished these off in short order. The lady next to us still hadn’t received her entrée.

We all waited together. Soon, a third couple was escorted into La Galeria.

Our waitress reappeared and said that one of our choices, a salmon with crushed cashews would take a little longer. We told her we’d wanted to order two more tapas dishes and two more glasses of wine. We decided that since we were seeing her so infrequently that we’d better get everything covered while she was there.

The rest of the evening was more of the same. Soon we began laughing with the other two tables. The newest arrivals, having already begun to wonder if they were ever going to see a waiter asked, “How long have you all been here?”

“We got here last night,” I replied which drew laughter from all three tables. The lady at the table next to us, who had finally received her entrée, stated that their water had just seemed to disappear for long periods of time.

So, in conclusion to my ragging post, that I sincerely hope that the Ranazians were simply having a bad night. I may give them a try again but if they offer to stick me back in a table in La Galeria, I’m bolting

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Stroll through Downtown

On the Friday before Christmas I was in Town Center on business. I had to drop by clients offices in the Park View office building and the Merrill Lynch building. I also needed to stop by Clyde’s to pick up some gift coins. I decided to accomplish these visits on foot, getting a ground level perspective of a pedestrian navigating through Town Center. It wasn’t pretty.

Leaving my car parked in the Park View office building garage, I walked along the outside sidewalk towards 20 Columbia Corporate Center. This requires crossing the mall entrance road which on a good day can be challenging. The Friday before Christmas cannot be considered a good day. Still, I managed to cross without getting hit and only received nasty looks from the cars who grudgingly respected a pedestrian’s right of way. The sidewalk on this side of town is not exactly inviting. At regular intervals street light poles sprout from the center of the walkway creating a bit of obstacle course.

When I reached the front of 20 Columbia Corporate Center I turned left towards the mall and the Merrill Lynch Building. Coming down alongside the JC Penney store. I was struck by the garbage and leaves that littered the curbs in this area.

After exiting the Merrill Lynch Building I crossed over Little Patuxent Parkway on the pedestrian bridge and down towards the Lakeside coffee shop. It was there that I encountered Roger Caplan and Mary Ellen Duncan. It seems that whenever I stop in Lakeside I run into someone I know. After a quick chat and cup of coffee I continued down to Clyde’s to get my gift coins. For my return walk I opted to cut through the mall exiting at the Food court entrance. This was probably the faster route and certainly it was more pedestrian friendly, even with the holiday crowds.
All in all, my little walk reinforced my belief that Town Center needs a fresh perspective and a more pedestrian friendly environment.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sorry Dan

Matt and Dan
So today I dropped by Heavenly Hams in Dorsey Search Village Center to pick up my previously aforementioned turkey and ham and I run into Dave.

"Hey, did you check out my blog?"

"Yeah, it was great but you got my name wrong," he says as points to his Heavenly Ham nametag which very clearly says "Dan."

"Shit. I'm sorry. I'll fix it tonight."

Sorry about that Dan.

I gotta start writing this stuff down...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Scene This Week In...

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is that strange phenomena that compels women (and some men) to bake up batches cookies and other yummy treats. Last night Mama Wordbones and the girl were happily baking away in our kitchen in Ellicott City. That inspired this week’s scene in Ellicott City.

If you’ve never purchased a ham or a turkey from Heavenly Ham in Dorsey’s Search Village Center you are probably unaware of the preparations this store makes for the annual holiday rush. Matt and Dave are two of the guys who will hand over hams and turkeys to the throngs of shoppers who will be descending on this small shop over the next few days. Your first clue that this is no ordinary sandwich shop is the chains and stanchions for crowd control that begin outside the store doors. On Christmas Eve people will be lined up well before the store opens at nine.

This year I’m picking mine up on Sunday.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Meridian Square

The county wants to purchase a 15,000 square foot floor of the proposed 60,000 square foot Meridian Square office project in Oakland Mills. The project is proposed for the site that formerly housed a gas station next to the village center. The developer says that he needs the county commitment in order to secure financing for the building.


The developer needs the county commitment so that they can secure “favorable” financing for the project. The project could move forward without the county purchasing a floor. It would simply require that the developer put up more equity.

I have no problem with the notion of having the county spread offices and services around the county as opposed to one central location. If the county can serve as a catalyst to redevelopment I am all for it. My problem with this deal is the way it has come down. The developer buys the site, announces the project and then says he can’t do it without county support. To me that says he should have never bought the site in the first place.

The way it should happen is that the county buys the site, solicits development proposals and then picks a proposal that offers the best terms to county.

If the county does proceed with this deal they should get the space below cost in recognition of the contribution their commitment makes to the project. In other words, the county needs to get a real sweetheart deal from Metroventures.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Claire Lea Needs Something To Do

Marc Fisher had a follow up story to the poinsettia tree saga in this mornings Washington Post. I think Marc's column yesterday was instrumental in causing the GGP about face on the tree. It appears that the new sheriff in town took control of the situation and showed mall management the error of their ways.

Nice job Greg!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Geary Got It!

I still can’t quite believe it but it appears that GGP is caving in on the poinsettia tree in the mall. The mall issued the following press release today:

-General Growth Properties Works With Columbia Community
To Resurrect Tree-

(COLUMBIA, MD), December 13, 2007 – Executives from General Growth Properties (GGP), owners of The Mall In Columbia, today announced that the poinsettia tree will once again return to The Mall In Columbia for the 2008 holiday season. After witnessing the show of support for the tree from the Columbia community, GGP has decided to bring the holiday symbol back to the center.

“The community of Columbia has spoken and we heard loud and clear,” said Karen Geary, senior general manager, The Mall In Columbia. “GGP is committed to this community and recognizes our role as trustees of the community’s legacy and traditions. We are grateful to the many people who voiced support for our poinsettia tree. They are our neighbors in this community and they need to know that we listen and respond, whether it is a holiday tradition or the larger issues involving Town Center’s future.”

The Mall In Columbia continuously shows its commitment to the community. Recently, it opened Healthy Howard’s Soft Play Area in the JCPenney Court. Young families shared with GGP their desire for an area in the mall that would be suitable and safe for their young children. The center also introduced “Santastic,” an interactive holiday experience for families young and old. This interactive Santa display has been embraced by the community and will join the poinsettia tree as an annual holiday tradition at the center.

Geary Doesn't Get It

Dan Beyers first blogged about this in Columbia Talk today but I felt I had to chime in too. After all I was quoted in the column. Marc Fisher, Metro columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a nice column about the malls decision to discontinue the poinsettia tree this year after a thirty six year run.

Karen Geary, the general manager of the mall was quoted as saying ""The Poinsettia Tree doesn't define the community the people define the community."

Hey Karen, we really don't need a mall manager to tell us what defines community. That is not what the poinsettia tree was about anyway. It was simply something of beauty that was different from any other holiday decoration anywhere. It made our mall special. GGP should appreciate that more than anything. Yes, the mall is a temple of commerce but what harm does it do to set aside one area for something that simply makes folks feel good about coming there?

I think this is potentially a public relations nightmare for GGP.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scene This Week In...

The Lakeside coffee shop is a cool place. I have to admit that I take some personal pride in this place. I was the guy who convinced Mike Lentz, the original operator, to go there. I also had to convince Columbia Management that it was a good idea. The Columbia Management folks were a little gun shy about that corner because all of their Rouse masters walked by it all the time. Anyway, what was originally Riverside became more appropriately named Lakeside. Mike is now somewhere along the coast of North Carolina running a raw bar…at least that’s what I heard.

But I digress. This past week I spotted fellow blogger Bill Santos and his wife Ann sitting by the fake fireplace with laptops in their laps. Jud Malone quipped that they were emailing each other.

And while I am on bloggers, apparently we have a new western Howard County blog, appropriately named, Western Howard Blog. Welcome, post often.

When I was a kid growing up in Catonsville one of the highlights of the Christmas season was going up to firehouse on Frederick Road and seeing the train display. That tradition is alive and well in Ellicott City at the Ellicott City Fire Company #2. They have a 24 X 10 train garden display that includes interactive buttons for the kids (and their dads). It’s free too though donations are always appreciated. The station is located at 4150 Montgomery Road (think Long Gate Shopping Center). The display will be up until January 6th. Hours are Saturdays and Sundays (11 AM to 8:30 PM), and Wednesday through Friday from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. Call (410) 313-2036 for additional info.

Change of Command

The Sun reported this morning that Doug Godine has been replaced. Doug has been the general manager of Columbia for GGP since last year when he replaced Dennis Miller. The new general manager is Gregory Hamm. Gregory has been working as consultant to GGP for over a year now with an office in Columbia.

And no story about GGP and Columbia would not be complete without the obligatory quote from Alan Klein,” I think a change in leadership behavior was needed; whether a change in leader was needed I don’t know.”

In my opinion, Alan Klein is not exactly a leading authority on leadership but the papers love to quote him anyway.

Doug Godine is a true gentlemen and I wish him well in his future endeavors.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Ultimate Decider

The Plaza tower saga rated a front page story in today’s Washington Post business section. It appears that the ultimate decision as to whether the tower will be built rests with the ability of WCI Communities to secure financing. A year ago that would not have been a problem for the Florida developer but back then its stock was trading at around $35.00 per share. Today it trades for $4.84. It may be mid January before the fate of this project is decided.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Poinsettia Protestors

The poinsettia tree protest was held today. My daughter and I attended, dutifully carrying our poinsettia plants to show our fealty to the cause. The cause of which I write is the hope that a mass protest might compel GGP to reinstate this cherished Columbia holiday tradition and get the freaking cars out of the fountain at the same time.Judging from today’s crowds, that is not likely to happen. I’d give it a 10% chance that we will ever see the poinsettia tree grace the center court fountain area of the mall again.
That is no reason to call today’s protest a failure. On the contrary, it was a grand success but for a different reason. It was a success at bringing community together. Old friends met and hugged. Pictures were taken and laughter was evident amongst the din of conversations.

The holidays provided a perfect backdrop for the gathering. It added a festive air.

It was not just the loss of the poinsettia tree that was lamented either. It was the vehicles dumped in the fountain and the car dealer banner that surrounds the fountain court that bothered people. It has just become too much.

The poinsettia protesters also noted that the fountain court seemed to contain more poinsettias than it did at the beginning of the holiday season. This turns out to be correct. I took this picture the day before Thanksgiving. All of the mall holiday décor was in place including the Santastic experience.

There are many more in fountain area today and not just because of those that the poinsettia protestors bought by.

If nothing else, the poinsettia protestors can take credit for having affected that change. Every little bit helps. In fact, maybe an annual “poinsettia drop” could be become a new tradition.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Poinsettia Protest

My friend Jim Binckley bought my attention to a column by Diane Brown in this weeks Columbia Flier. It seems that an ad hoc group of Columbians is planning a little protest this Sunday.

Claire Lea, Sandi Carbotti and Janet Shinski are planning on converging on the center court fountain at noon this Sunday with a poinsettia in hand "to make a statement."

"The loss of the tree is the loss of tradition," says Claire. "Our tradition seems to have been arbitrarily demoted. It's just gone. And I believe there are thousands of us who remember and who want it back. It's just so sad."


Perhaps. It will be interesting to see how many people show. I'll be there, with a poinsettia in one hand and a camera in the other.

Karen Geary, the mall manager, tried to justify the poinsettia trees demise with this letter to editor. I don't know about you but to me the letter rang a little hollow and a little preachy.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

In This Month’s Business Monthly…

I’m going to try something new here. As you may or may not know, I also write a column in the Business Monthly. In fact, I have been writing a column in the Business Monthly as long as the Business Monthly has been around.

I’ve been through three owners but I like the new ones the best. I figure it can’t hurt to suck up to them once in awhile anyway. The Business Monthly has been my only steady writing job. I figure that the fact that I get a 1099 every year for writing validates me a professional writer. Thankfully I also have another job.

Anyway, since I also have this here blog, I thought it might be fun, once a month, to open up this blog to comments about my latest column. I’ll gladly take the good, the bad, the ugly and the anonymous.

Or not. Your call.

This month’s column is entitled “The Ghost of Christmas Past.” You can find it here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Scene This Week In...

In a word, snow. The first of the season, a good one too. My nine year old daughter and I both agreed that this morning it was magical.

For the Ellicott City scene I choose The Good Life Market in Ellicott City. These guys really did a nice job with the holiday décor. They even play holiday music outside. This was picture postcard perfect for a snowy day before Christmas.

In Columbia there is an old stretch of Oakland Mills Road that winds through Thunder Hill and the Smith Farm. It is an amazing trip in time to how Columbia looked before it was Columbia. The fact that it runs right in the middle of Columbia makes it even cooler. It is a very pretty drive on a snowy day.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Private Meetings Part Two

Last night I attended a political fund raiser for County Councilperson Greg Fox. It was extremely well attended given the fact that it was a) Sunday night and b) rainy cold and miserable.

I heard from several different people at the event that GGP has already met with most of the council members privately to share their vision for Columbia's town center. I hope that is true. I also hope that, if it is true, it will stop this silly posturing by the Columbia Council and the village boards over open meetings.

Again, I have no objection to public meetings. They play an important role in formulating public policy. Similarly, private meetings play an important role as well as they don't allow for posturing for the press and tend to focus more intensely on the subject matter.

The 2008 Columbia Festival of the Arts

The 2008 Columbia Festival of the Arts will be held June 13th through June 28th. Mark your calendars so you can be sure to be in town for the 21st annual festival. If you go to website you can see a sampling of last years paid performances. Right now the festival staff is booking entertainment for for the paid events at the Rouse Theatre and the free events at Lakefest...which brings me to the point of this post.

The festival needs money!

The success of the Columbia Festival of the Arts is largely dependent on the amount of money they are able raise during these cold months. Right now that fundraising is going on in earnest as most good acts need to be booked by the end of January.

If you are thinking about making any charitable contributions before the year end for tax purposes, please consider the arts. All donations are fully tax deductible. You can send a check directly to the festival offices at the Columbia Festival of the Arts, 5575 Sterrett Place, Suite 280, Columbia, MD 21044.

I'm trying to get them to accept Pay Pal but right now you'll need to contribute in the old fashioned way.