Carytown business community thinks outside the box

Every protest needs a slogan.

Some Carytown merchants and nearby residents who oppose a Baltimore developer’s plan to turn a mid-century Verizon office building into a more than 41,000-square-foot retail property have started a campaigned called “Don’t Big Box Carytown.”

Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market is spearheading the effort. The food store’s website currently displays a large colorful banner bearing the slogan.

“It is a big deal,” said Paige Bishop, Ellwood’s new marketing manager. “Merchants in Carytown and residents that live in the neighborhood have let us know they are not thrilled about what’s going on.”

Rumors have been rampant that a grocer might be moving in.

“Pretty much anyone would agree that having four grocery stores within a block and half is a little bit of overkill and over saturation of that market,” Bishop said.

A new grocery store at that site would compete with Ellwood’s, Kroger and Martin’s.

As part of the campaign, Bishop said the group created a petition to send to city council opposing the special use permit needed to allow retail use of the property. The petition also states that the SUP “violates the City’s Master Plan, and would encroach unduly on the Museum District and diminish the unique charm of Carytown.”

So far Bishop said the group has more than 370 signatures. A Facebook page, Save Carytown, has also been launched as a place for people to go for information.

Bob Broomfield, president of the Carytown Merchant’s Association and owner of the Play N Trade video game shop, said that the CMA has not come down on either side of the issue yet but that he has many concerns about the proposal.

“We think there are a lot of things being glossed over,” Broomfield said.

One of those is exactly what retailer the developer, Maryland Financial Realty, plans to bring in. At a recent meeting of merchants, residents and the developer, Broomfield said that the developers would not go into specifics as to what retailer would occupy the space.

“They won’t say if they have one, their focus is getting the [special use permit]. Once they get that they can bring in anybody they want,” Broomfield said.

Broomfield said the CMA will meet soon with the Museum District Association with the objective of forming an official, united position. Broomfield said some CMA members have said that they support the plan and welcome more retail to the area, while others are strongly opposed. Still others, such as Broomfield, are undecided.

“There are a lot of things still to find out, and I don’t want to make any assumptions. We are not reticent to get involved – we just want to be sure when we get involved we have the right information,” Broomfield said.

Andy Condlin, an attorney with Williams Mullen who is representing the developers, said that potential tenants will not commit to the project until the SUP is approved.

“We do not have a specific user in place at this time,” Condlin said.

In fact, he said that he expects more than one user for the property.

“The intended use is for a mixed-use building that would include retail, office, and maybe medical office,” Condlin said. “The building is 40,000 square feet; we don’t think any single user is going to take all that space.”

Condlin said even if they land a major national retailer, it would not be incompatible with the neighborhood, which includes such chains as Kroger and CVS. He also said they have received some support from merchants and residents who stated at the meeting that additional retail could only help bring more business to everyone in Carytown.

As for a grocery store going into the space, Condlin said there has been some interest but no commitments.

Condlin said that the developers are currently revising the SUP to address 14 revisions that were requested by the city department of Planning and Development Review.

Among the requests is for a traffic analysis to determine how the new uses will affect congestion on the surrounding streets. The planning department also requested more detail as to walls, fencing and other architectural considerations. City planners wanted the developer to provide more on-site parking.

The final recommendation was for the developers to “further reduce the number of commercial uses to those users that are guaranteed to occupy the space.” That means the revised SUP may shed more light on whether the developers are targeting a grocery store or not.

Bruce Tyler, the 1st District city councilman, said he has heard concerns from residents in the area but is waiting for the final planning department report before he takes a position.

“I want to take a look at the whole report,” Tyler said. “The Special Use Permit is very clear: There are five things they have to do to be successful, and that is the criteria I will use for the final consideration,” Tyler said.

Those criteria as outlined in city planning documents are that the proposed use will not be detrimental to public safety, a generator of traffic congestion, a fire hazard, a cause of overcrowding or a strain on public services.

A vote on the SUP has not been scheduled yet.

Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]

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wild bill
wild bill
10 years ago

Opposition to a potential new Whole Foods outlet is being spearheaded by Ellwood Thompson?

Wow – what a surprise.

Lucy
Lucy
10 years ago

I’d rather have a Whole Foods than another head shop or tattoo parlor! The upscale tone of Carytown is at risk with the types of business some building owners are renting to. Notice that Carytown business owners are protesting the compitition (that’s the root of capitalism), not area residents–we are interested in further economic development in our community and more shopping option. A “big box” is better than panhandlers or a hookah store in a family shopping district.

None
None
10 years ago

It’s seems obvious this is less about Carytown and more about competition. Whether or not the addition of another grocer to the area is overkill will be determined by the shopping public …

Brett
Brett
10 years ago

If “anyone” would agree that having four grocery stores is too many then why worry? The rest will take care of itself. Did Safeway or Ukrops petition against Ellwood when they tried to open (not sure, just asking)? This is America, open up whatever you want and let the best man win. And besides Ellwood, once you crush the competition, think of the nice, new, empty grocery store you can take over.

Scott Dickens
Scott Dickens
10 years ago

Just what the vacancy rate in Carytown needs, some corporate competition to dilute one of the last independent, unique Richmond shopping experiences remaining.

Plow down the site and build a skate park and rec center for kids. Or how about a community garden or a park? That’s a novel idea.

The traffic around that Ellwood block would be outrageous.

Scott

Becky
Becky
10 years ago

I would love for a Whole Foods to come to Carytown! They support local farms and charities – plus, it’s an amazing grocery store. The last time I went into Ellwood’s to buy chicken, I had to choose from 3 packages of old-looking, terribly-butchered chicken – and overpriced! Plus, when I look at their prepared foods, the staff usually ignores me until I’ve been standing there staring at them for a few minutes. Bring on Whole Foods!

Shellie Scanton
Shellie Scanton
10 years ago

Lucy – the area residents are 95% against this – at least the ones that have come to the last 4 neighborhood meetings. “The intended use is for a mixed-use building that would include retail, office, and maybe medical office,” Condlin said. “The building is 40,000 square feet; we don’t think any single user is going to take all that space.” – I love that the lawyer tells the media one thing and the neighborhood something completely different. Multi-use has always been option 2 (barely even discussed). Option 1 has always been 1 single use for the entire verizon building.… Read more »

AVa
AVa
10 years ago

As a resident of Carytown, changing the zoning of that building to commercial only creates a traffic and parking nightmare for us. Add that to the drop in property value AND we have to listen to delivery and garbage trucks in the wee hours of the mroning. If you want a big store there, you can buy my house NOW and pay the current fair market value…

Debbie
Debbie
10 years ago

Carytown is one of the last unique “mom and pop” retail districts anywhere. It gives Richmond it’s character and I love to bring my out of town guests for a special experience. I can go to a Whole Foods in just about any city anywhere now…and since the developer wants total control of who he puts in there…it can be a Walmart for goodness sakes! I am all for competition but I don’t want Carytown to become another national retailer shopping district and basically a “cookie cutter” of what is in the suburbs and that is what will happen if… Read more »

RobinsonSt
RobinsonSt
10 years ago

I love independent merchants as much as the next person, but I thoroughly welcome more retail in Carytown. Ultimately, I win as a customer. Ellwood’s would obviously be concerned here, but that’s not a valid justification to prevent a business from moving here. Keep in mine Ellwood’s is opening a second store in DC soon–Doesn’t that move them closer to being a “big box” store, too? Yes, the vacancy rate is high, but we all know that will change once the economy self-corrects itself. We need to welcome any and all retail businesses willing and able to pay Carytown’s high… Read more »

Chris
Chris
10 years ago

As a city resident who lives near Carytown, I hate driving to the counties for shopping. More retail nearby is necessary — tastefully done of course. A retail center with a park-like grounds feel and small to medium retailers is ideal. I would agree that another grocery store is unnecessary but Carytown is still ripe for more retail development. Ideally some good local retailers like Blue Ridge Mtn Sports, Saxon Shoes, etc. can bring upscale tasteful shopping that fits in with the area’s desired clientele. To Scott – I think your idea ignores that Humphrey-Calder is right up the street… Read more »

Fred
Fred
10 years ago

I guess everyone knows where this Verizon building is, but please help the folks that don;t know Carytown, and the author of the article failed to mention – what’s the address!

AVa
AVa
10 years ago

Fred: The building is located at Nansemond and Ellwood (north end of Carytown).

Chris
Chris
10 years ago

As a Museum District resident I think this is an opportunity for us to have input into the development as opposed to be taken advantage of as we have been when current zoning allows a use that is no longer compatible with the neighborhood. The fact that a national developer is willing to invest multi millions of dollars in this site is a confirmation of the success of Carytown. This site is no longer very desirable for office use in our current market. The most vocal opposition seems to come from the immeadiate neighbors who – not surprisiongly – have… Read more »

Paul
Paul
10 years ago

Well put, Chris. As a resident a couple of blocks from the proposed site, I support the development. I love Carytown, but the truth is the district is limping along and has been for a while. A national retailer with a reputation for community engagement would be a great addition.

RobinsonSt
RobinsonSt
10 years ago

I agree with Chris’ sentiments completely. The people saying “we already have three grocery stores” don’t understand that a Whole Foods shopper is a different demographic–It’s lovingly called “Whole Paycheck” for a reason! Whole Foods provides far more options that we currently have in the city. While I almost never buy groceries at Whole Foods, I do go there for prepared food often. There are many city residents who drive to Short Pump just like me, because it is not easy to do all of your grocery shopping in Carytown. My shopping habits won’t chnge much because I’ll still visit… Read more »

kevin
kevin
10 years ago

The property owners in Carytown may want to start investing in their local independent tenants as much as those same creative tenants have invested in their landlord’s real estate and buildings.Carytown will ultimately benefit from an increase supply of new quality retail space. One thing that has killed some really great local businesses over the years has been having to pay premium sq/ft prices and triple net leases for what is often the sub par space of detached and short sighted landlords. Build it and they will come is one development axiom. Neglect it and they will move is another.… Read more »

jason b
jason b
10 years ago

It troubles me that most on here are ganging up on an out of town developer that is going to create jobs and spend out of town money in our fair city. Since when in america has it become our right to tell someone what they can do with his property. You neighbors keep crushing these guys and make em pay there lawyers thousands to hear you complain about loud dumpsters when all they want to do is make something happen. Good luck to federal realty not all business is bad business.

Jeff E.
Jeff E.
10 years ago

What the Whole Foods fans don’t seem to acknowledge is that as more chains move in and rents go up, the small and unique businesses that make Carytown what it is either have to close or are forced to move to another part of town. Do you value having what people in the suburbs have or do you enjoy living in a neighborhood with character and soul? If you prefer the former why aren’t you living in Short Pump to begin with? My impression is that those who chase stores like Whole Foods around could care less about locally owned… Read more »

Annie
Annie
10 years ago

Very well put Chris! “The fact that a national developer is willing to invest multi millions of dollars in this site is a confirmation of the success of Carytown.” As a Carytown frequenter, I have beenexcited to see new locally-owned stores CHOOSE to come here (fabrik, bits and pieces, and a new west coast something store opening soon), and think it’s amazing that a national chain-an UPSCALE national chain-is interested in opening there too. Do I think it will impact the other 3 grocery stores? Sure, but it could be for the better. This sounds a whole lot like self-preservation… Read more »

Formerly Fan
Formerly Fan
10 years ago

Carytown ought to be a Richmond gem. It should be a hot spot, drawing crowds daily and staying open late. It ought attract shoppers, diners and revelers from throughout the metro area and travelers passing through. Yet night time traffic is sparse, Westenders still view it as somehow exotic, and most retailers there have a half life of about two years. There is simply not a big enough attraction or sufficient parking to drive pedestrian traffic at required levels. Some might argue that retail rents are too high in Carytown.. I submit that retail revenues are too low. 3rd Street… Read more »

Bart
Bart
10 years ago

Bring on Whole Foods!

Phil
Phil
10 years ago

I’ve just moved back to Bellevue after living in the Museum District for two years, and in reading this story about my old neighborhood (and the posts so far), two items jump out. First, it’s unsettling that the developer won’t talk about potential tenants until AFTER they get their special use permit. It’s easy to conclude that if they thought the announcement of their potential tenant(s) would result in positive feelings they’d have made the announcement; so, perhaps the tenant they have in mind is one NO ONE would like? These are out of state developers, by the way, not… Read more »

MH
MH
10 years ago

Unfortunately, I think a lot of the press and the resulting posts miss the points of the issue here. One fundamental issue at hand is that this development is two blocks from Carytown and actually in the midst of the residential Museum District neighborhood. Development of it as a retail space is counter to what the city has outlined in the Master Plan which dictates its use to be a buffer between retail and residential. The question is then do we want to convert a residential area to retail? The second, and perhaps more concerning issue, is why won’t the… Read more »

RobinsonSt
RobinsonSt
10 years ago

MH, how do you figure the development location is “two blocks” from Carytown? It’s the next block over from CVS, Martin’s, Carytown Burger and Fries–All of these stores are definitely a part of Carytown. Never mind the two largest plots of land on the proposed development’s block are Walgreens and the U.S. Post Office. Ellwood would make for a better entrance to the proposed development, but I don’t understand the fuss, since the Post Office is already oriented to Floyd. Anyone buying property abutting a huge office building knew they were moving right next to a big retail shopping district,… Read more »

Evan
Evan
10 years ago

As a neighboring property owner on Floyd Avenue, I would be pleased to see this property be redevolped into a first class project with sufficient parking ot meet the needs of thier customers. I see it as an amenity that will increase the popularity of Carytown and the immediate area.

kh
kh
10 years ago

We need stores like whole foods and trader joes, and affordable clothing and shoes stores (I’m thinking a tjmax, marshalls, and saxons) in town but I’m thinking downtown. Downtown has a huge boulevard called Broad Street and boy is it empty. Downtown is in desperate need of pedestrian traffic and shops. We still have vacant lots and boarded up windows. Better for our tax dollars to fund the city over ugly short pump and suburban sprawl. And yes, I shop in Carytown and I do my best to support the small shops but in this economy, I’m being forced to… Read more »

BobB
BobB
10 years ago

Maybe a mosque would work well there.
Carytown doesn’t have a car dealership, that could work.
It’s too bad that there is a lack of confidence in the decision makers (city council) to make an educated decision that is in the best interest of their constituents not retailers, that is why they are elected right.

BobB
BobB
10 years ago

Don’t worry Obama will take care of this, he is doing so good.

Ry
Ry
10 years ago

I’d like to see a Whole Foods there and think there’s enough business to go around. But for those not in real estate, in the current market commercial renters, e.g. Whole Foods, will not commit to the space until you have the site and development plan approved, financing in place, and ready to move forward. That’s why they can’t tell you who’s going to be in the space, they can’t. And its certainly not good business to go around to tell everyone you have someone signed up when they haven’t committed yet.

Lucy
Lucy
10 years ago

The people leading the fight against this urban renewal are misleading residents by saying “No to big box in Carytown.” A Big Box WILL NOT FIT ON THE SITE. There is NO THREAT of a big box. OK, crisis over. What we need is revitalization and renewal and here’s someone offering it. Embrace it, celebrate it, work with it. I WANT revitalization on that corner. I’d love a Trader Joes! Or any other honorable business, be it national chain or locally owned. We should be meeting with the developer to negotiate extra trees, plaza space and other pedestrian scale amenities… Read more »

Lucy
Lucy
10 years ago

Shellie: you are wrong stating that the area residents are 95% against this. I live and own West of the Boulevard and I am 100% in FAVOR of revitalizing that corner, which already IS operating as a business, so the traffic, delivery, trash removal already are in place there with no trouble, have been for decades. *I* have not heard about these meetings you mention, obviously there’s an attempt to only invite opponents, and that misleading practice worries me. I received one flyer on the day of the meeting and there was not enough time to schedule it, I already… Read more »

Ex Employee
Ex Employee
10 years ago

Don’t “Big Box” our Carytown… Understanding that this campaign was initiated by the same employer who has attempted to build his own empire of chains, and infiltrate neighborhoods in cities very far from the intersection of Ellwood and Thompson, makes this campaign extremely laughable. It makes sense that Ellwood Thompson’s would look to the the Carytown Merchant’s Association, a coalition of capitalist with a lowercase “c”, for allies in their struggle against a “big box” development. This, after all, is one of the fundamental roles of a merchants association. The association consists of employers united under a single organization to… Read more »

Justin Belsley
Justin Belsley
10 years ago

Carytown needs Whole Foods!–Not lame old Martin’s (already a big box chain, no one protested against that) or Ellwood’s (ruthless prices and owned by a local a-hole). This movement is totally frontin’. ELLWOOD’S IS TERRIBLE AND HAS A HOMOPHOBIC EMPLOYMENT POLICY. Booo! Ellwood’s.

David
David
10 years ago

Funny how no one protested the building of a new parking lot and brand new building for Walgreen’s, but they are protesting the repurposing of an abandoned building. Ellwood’s is just complacent and afraid of competition. Sorry, but they suck. Not that I think Whole Foods is the greatest thing ever–I don’t. But competition in this market is desperately needed. Ellwood’s stuff is always old and expired…old produce and meat, bread that’s stale or moldy, and the prepared sandwiches are marked with expiration dates that are almost a week after they make it–nasty. Not to mention the poor customer service.… Read more »