When many commuters think about Metro these days, they think about shutdowns, smoke warnings, and SafeTrack surges — probably not shopping. But that could change.
A slate of local businesses will operate out of a new pop-up retail plaza outside the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station in northern Bethesda, Md. The kiosks are housed inside sections of a refurbished Metro car, and will be open Wednesdays through Fridays from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. until June 30.
The rotating set of vendors includes a bakery, flower shop, and a juicer. Artists-in-residence from Strathmore and other local musicians are also scheduled to perform in the afternoons.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but this is phenomenal,” said Nate Port of Grandma Vera’s Bakery. At the plaza’s grand opening on Wednesday, Port hurriedly squeezed fresh juices and doled out hot empanadas to a line of sweaty customers. “I don’t know if I can handle the volume,” he said with a smile.
At the women’s apparel and accessories store Ibhana Creations, owner Meena Tharmaratman sat and watched as Metro riders and interested locals browsed through the kiosks. “It’ll be a cross-section – everybody travels on Metro,” she said of the new customers she might attract at her store’s new outpost. “It’ll be delightful.”
In part, the retail plaza is part of a pilot project to investigate if hosting food vendors can work for Metro. The transit system temporarily amended a longstanding ban on food and drink sellers at stations in order to open the plaza. The kiosks’ afternoon hours were aimed at homebound commuters, who are more likely to be exiting the station rather than entering.
The project also ties back to the troubled transit system’s efforts to retire outdated railcars, part of its Back2Good safety and reliability campaign. In early February, WMATA general manager Paul Wiedefeld announced plans to retire all the system’s 4000-series cars by the end of the year. Most of the cars get sent to Baltimore to be scrapped, but the retail plaza project offered an appealing way to give one lucky car a new life. The idea was dreamed up by D.C.-based real estate development company Fivesquares Development LLC.
“They had this creative idea and we said, let’s go for it. And that’s what they’ve done,” said Wiedefeld
Fivesquare shipped the 75-foot-long, 80,000-pound car to Robert Mojo, a steel sculptor on Long Island, NY. He sliced it up into separate kiosks, and built an abstract sculpture out of the leftover parts. “My vision was a futuristic subway car, with all the innards from the old, existing car,” he said at the plaza’s opening.
The sculpture will eventually be mounted outside the station.
Fivesquares also plans to redevelop the station’s surface parking lot into a mixed-use project called Strathmore Square. The development could include more than 1,000 housing units and retail stores.