Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Foresters Eyeing Former "McGregor's" Space

A group of Arlington Foresters is hoping to build more community with a high-end market, coffee, ice cream or other "neighborhood hang-out" in either the vacant Mrs. McGregor's Garden Shop space, the Country Curtain space, which will be vacant in August, or both. (Click to enlarge the image.)

A group of neighbors in Arlington Forest want the Arlington Forest Shopping Center to feel like a destination, a place neighbors could go to sit, talk and meet. None of the stores or restaurants has that drop-in and hang around feel that a coffee shop, an ice cream shop, or even a small, upscale market might have.

Now might just be the time to make the destination happen, since the space that was Mrs. McGregor’s Garden Shop has been vacant for months, and the Country Curtain is moving to Fairfax in August.

“Right now, we’re wanting to know if the landlord is even interested,” said Michele Cato, an organizer of a group of Foresters looking into the business idea.

The answer is: probably not.

The problems are quite a few, and the neighbors know this, Ms. Cato said.

Van Woodley, the leasing agent for the space, said he has been contacted by people in Arlington Forest.

The small, basement space formerly Mrs. McGregor's Garden Shop will not work as a coffee shop, the leasing agent said. (Click to enlarge the image.)

“We’re not encouraging a coffee thing for that location, without ventilation, limited air conditioning,” he said. He works for A.J. Dwoskin and Associates, of Fairfax. He said they haven’t had a lot of luck with coffee shops, but one might work if it could be on the main level near the Brick’s Pizza and Chrystal Thai, but of course, there is no space open there.

Yet there’s trouble beyond the ventilation. The rent for the small space in the basement of the shopping center, on the side of the shopping center that faces houses, will be about $4,000 a month plus utilities, and they want a five-year lease. Mr. Woodley said someone has to guarantee the roughly quarter-million dollars over five years that the lease will require. Without a financial backer, any idea would be tough to pull off.

“Being tucked under like that has some drawbacks,” he said. The fact that it faces homes, and therefore is restricted in what it can be, is a big issue for the leasing agent. His company is looking toward a small, professional service such as a tax accountant.

Drainage issues and a wet basement are drawbacks that Ms. Cato said she sees. Parking is a concern for both sides.

Ms. Cato thinks her group might come up with an idea that would use both the Country Curtain and McGregor's spaces together. That's an idea that Mr. Woodley said his firm has been pursuing with other companies interested in the property. They have a "wide range" of different retail companies interested in the space, he said, but he would not elaborate.

The Arlington Forest group is looking at creating a co-operative of some sort, possibly, or of finding a financial backer. Ms. Cato said her group knows that anything is a long shot, but they are thinking of an upscale market that would serve coffee, ice cream and pastries, but would also sell food and baked goods.

She said there is some historical precedence for this, too, as the original plans for the center called for some sort of market.

“We want something community based,” she said. “There’s an amazing amount of interest in the community.”

She knows that parking would be an issue for anything, and she believes the community would not support a regular grocery store or convenience store. Her group, which met last week for the first time, divvied-up the jobs, doling out roles to match the people’s strengths. One is calling the landlord, another is looking into the co-op option. The group is strong in the time they can dedicate and in skills, she said.

She admitted that it would be OK if they’re group did not put together a winning proposal, so long the space got something that the community could use to congregate. If the Brick’s Pizza just had nice seating, that would work, she said, adding later that she wanted it to feel more like the Westover Shopping Center on Washington Blvd., with its ice cream and coffee shops, a hardware store, nice restaurants and other places for the community to gather.

“We’ll work with all the neighborhood groups,” Mr. Woodley said.

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Could someone please tell me how Little Quipo and Fiesa Oriental can afford $4k/mo.? Assuming the price is the same for an even better location.

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