FROM WHERE I STAND: College Park is losing its local business identity
By Robert Craig Baum and Aaron Springer
Yet another College Park business has disappeared overnight.
The closure of Bagel Place reportedly stemmed from the landlord’s refusal to negotiate the lease. As University of Maryland students celebrated homecoming weekend, they were hardly happy about this news. Instead of filling campus with fight songs, they chanted obscenities aimed at the landlord, Curtis Property Investments.
Bagel Place was an important third place where people spent time between home and work. It was a prime meet-and-eat location for generations of friends and family, university and city workers, and a multitude of university students who all but made the shop home.
While we don’t know who will assume the lease formerly held by Bagel Place, if trends hold, it may well be a corporate franchise. More and more of College Park, in fact, is beginning to resemble College Park Plaza, where a number of national chains like Starbucks and Cold Stone Creamery now sit.
The corporate model of operations is antithetical to cultivating and sustaining a local economy. They favor profit, not patrons like you and me.
Curtis Investment Group Inc. is a holding company, not a traditional property management company. It relies on elevated market profits to cover the accrued debt from operational costs: outstanding loans, rents in arrears and maintenance costs. This model results in rents many small businesses simply cannot afford.
The economic conditions that supported Bagel Place — and so many other locally owned-businesses that our community once enjoyed — created an affordable and flexible leasing environment, one that acknowledges the value-added component of small family-owned businesses. Holding companies do not account for this value; they only count in dollars and cents.
If we can’t stop this corporate shift, we’re going to have nothing in College Park except franchises. Developing too fast has its drawbacks: It prices out the locals. This irresponsible growth took Bagel Place from us; what’s next? Pho Thom? Northwest Chinese? There are current plans in play that would tear down those buildings and the apartments behind them for more mixed-use apartments.
Commercial College Park can’t lose more of these businesses. It should, instead, be encouraging more locally owned businesses to sprout and flourish, else we become just another strip mall suburb.