BY ANDREW METCALF
Retailers are offering empanadas, fresh flowers and pre-cooked meals
For the next month and a half, Metro riders will see a new sight when they step off the escalator to leave the Grosvenor-Strathmore station—retail pop-up shops tucked away in the sawed-off remains of an old 4000-series rail car.
On Wednesday, the retailers that debuted at the station included Silver Spring florist Bell Flowers, D.C.-based prepared meals business Galley Foods, Rockville clothing retailer Ibhana Creations, fashion design business Radost by Martina Sestakova and Rockville’s Grandma Vera’s Bakery.
Fivesquares Development partnered with Metro to make the pop-ups possible at the station’s entrance plaza.
The retail stands will operate from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays until June 30 as part of a pilot program to test how retailers perform in the area as Fivesquares continues planning a large mixed-use development project proposed for the parking lot across from the plaza.
“The pop-ups are meant to be a small example of what you could do here,” Andy Altman, the managing principal of Fivesquares, said at a kickoff event.
Paul Wiedefeld, Metro’s general manager, said “this is only the beginning” of the transformation of the area around the Metro station. He also said the transit operator is going to look at “any opportunity we can” to add similar retail operations to other Metro stations.
Metro’s Board of Directors in February waived a longstanding policy that banned food and drinks at Metro stations so Fivesquares could test the pilot retail stands. The idea behind the project is to allow Metro riders returning home to grab items. The afternoon time slots were chosen partly as a way to limit the potential of riders picking up food or drinks and bringing them on the trains.
Also coming to the station are Broekg Turkish Bakery, Great Harvest Bread Co., Delaware juice cleanse company Juice Fresh and the Bethesda-based, gluten-free Red Bandana Bakery.
On Wednesday, the retailers were buzzing with activity. At one point, there was a line of about a dozen people waiting to buy empanadas and other baked goods from Grandma Vera’s Bakery.
Nearby, Chad Magnum, vice president of Bell Flowers, said his business had sold out of one bucket of flowers in 30 minutes. He said Fivesquares reached out to the business to join the retail mix.
“This is an amazingly creative idea and we thought it would be an awesome opportunity,” Magnum said. He noted that the florist hasn’t had a storefront in more than 10 years—it operates out of a warehouse on Brookville Road in Silver Spring. “I think it’s a great way for us to get our name out there and hopefully brighten someone’s day.”
Tahira Babayeva, a resident of Grosvenor Park who uses the station regularly, said she liked the new setup.
“I think it’s going to make a fun place to hang out,” Babayeva said.
Fivesquares officials said the retailers pay a “nominal fee” to the developer to lease the pop-up shops and the company is then donating those funds to local elementary schools including Garrett Park Elementary in Kensington. The pilot program may be extended if successful, according to officials.
Fivesquares is also working to redevelop the Metro station’s large surface parking lot. Metro agreed to sell the lot to the developer at a price that will be determined after Montgomery County approves the minor master plan for the area that will set new zoning and density limits. Fivesquares is planning to build a mixed-use development project, dubbed Strathmore Square, with possibly more than 1,000 units, ground floor retail and four to six buildings.
“This is the beginning of the transformation of Grosvenor Metro station and this parking lot into transit-oriented development,” Altman said. “Today is the start of the process.”
Fivesquares principal Ron Kaplan, a former Federal Realty executive who worked on Bethesda Row, said the company plans to invest more than $1 billion in the development.
Earlier this month, county planning staff recommended zoning near the station that would allow about 1,100 new homes and buildings up to 260 feet tall. The Planning Board is scheduled to discuss the minor master plan Thursday.
Metro is planning to replace the 412 parking spaces that would be lost when the development is constructed by adding spaces to the existing parking garage at the site.