August 15, 2006

Tour de Montgomery


I was in Rockville and Silver Spring, Maryland the other day, which gave me the opportunity to sample these two redeveloped towns in lower Montgomery County. The flavor is decidely vanilla. Silver Spring boasts a redeveloped downtown, led by anchors Discovery Communications and the American Film Institute Silver Theater, both on the main drag, Colesville Road. A block off Colesville, near the intersection of Georgia Avenue, is Ellsworth Drive, which contains a pedestrian plaza and fountain, the Majestic movie theaters, and a collection of restaurants and shops that are unrivaled for yards around, or at least as far as the nearest shopping mall. On Ellsworth and around the corner on Fenton Street, the effect is more pre-fab than fab, with eateries including Potbelly Sandwich Works, Red Lobster, Macaroni Grill, Starbucks, Panera, Ben and Jerry's, Baja Fresh, and Chick-Fil-A. Well, at least they have Chick-Fil-A, which used to be somewhat rare this close to the Mason-Dixon line.


The shops include Ann Taylor Loft, Moto Photo, Storehouse furniture, Borders Books, Bombay Company, Next Day Blinds, DSW, Mens Wearhouse, Pier 1 Imports ... is it ok if I stop now?

At the intersection of Ellsworth and Fenton is Silver Spring's version of the village green, covered, fittingly, in Astroturf.

Ellsworth's one saving grace is Cakelove, the annex of the beloved DC bakery owned and operated by an ex-lawyer. The prices at Cakelove are startling, with cupcakes no larger than a child's fist going for $3 per, and 9" round cakes selling for $55 and up. Is my birthday coming up?


A few miles away, Rockville has undergone similar changes. Stretched out along Route 355, or Rockville Pike, it is centered by the original downtown. There, a similar Epcot Center-style redevelopment is taking place, with the Regal movie multiplex as the current focal point. Hmm, Regal, Majestic. Surrounding the Regal are, of course, another Potbelly and Ben and Jerry's, as well as Moto Photo. A few miles north is King Farm (Majestic? Regal? King?), one of the last farms in this lower part of the county, which was purchased by developers several years ago and turned in to housing for thousands. Near the north end of King Farm are some shops and eateries, including an outpost of Mayorga Coffee, the original being in downtown Silver Spring. While the Silver Spring Mayorga is dimly lit and somewhat grungy, the King Farm version is as sterile as a Jamba Juice store. To top it off, they play oldies music at high volume, which severely negates the free wi-fi experience.




Like vanilla, Ellsworth Drive, downtown Rockville and King Farm are pleasant enough, and leave absolutely no lasting impression. These developments represent the future of Silver Spring and Rockville, apparently. Maybe they represent the future of America. If so, I may consider moving to Canada for some diversity. Do they have Chick-Fil-A up there?

21 Comments:

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Washington Cube said...

The newly developed Silver Spring is a nightmare. A canyon where it is difficult to drive and impossible to walk, filled with corporate chains. I loathe it. And I hate that they moved AFI out there instead of leaving it inside the Kennedy Center.

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Silver Spring and Rockville typify most of suburbia sadly. For a contrast look at the Del Ray area in Alexandria, a charming collection of shops and restaurants that smacks of diversity and charm. Such a difference!

 
At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Media Concepts said...

St. Elmo's Coffee puts Mayorga to shame! But unfortunately, NoVa is not immune to this type of development. A few miles north, along Clarendon Blvd. in Arlington, you have the Market Common, with Crate and Barrel, Barnes and Noble, Williams and Sonoma, Pottery Barn, etc. etc.

 
At 8:00 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

You're right. NoVa is definitely a mixed bag with most of the mix looking like Silver Spring or worse. And yes, the latest attempts to modernize Ballston-Clarendon have resulted in a tacky amalgamation best represented by the Cheesecake Factory. A once charming area has gone from one-story diversity to megafloor boredom.

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger Sligo said...

Perhaps you should go back in time fifteen years to how Silver Spring used to be and see how much you like it. Maybe you could hang out with the homeless people in the parking lot at McDonald's. Perhaps then you wouldn't feel like moving to Canada. You also act as if the whole of downtown is one block of Ellsworth St. The entrance to that area is a restored 1938 Art Deco/Art Moderne shopping center, so really this is not what the future of America looks like, but in fact it is part of its past.

Sure, there are some national chains (maybe 1/2 of the stores) there, but what this does is bring people into the area and allows lots of independent places to open up in the surrounding blocks. In the last five years, there have been great restaurants opening up in Silver Spring, including Jackie's and Mandalay, BOTH of which made Washington's top 100 restaurants list this year. Now there is Ray's: The Classics, which is supposed to be fantastic.

As far as the theater goes, have you been inside or seen a movie there? It is amazing... definitely one of the most beautiful theaters I have ever been inside. Without AFI, it might have been lost forever to the wrecking ball. Now I can regularly go see classics like Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen.

Your assessment of Silver Spring is like basing your opinion of New York City on the Mall of Manhattan. Oh, and the astroturf is temporary, BTW. There will be a civic center and ice skating rink built at that location.

 
At 8:35 AM, Blogger thecourtyard said...

I concur. And while you're in Chevy Chase, can you tell us about your neighbor Bethesda Row? Please. At least the crowd in Downtown Silver Spring isn't vanilla.

 
At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding if you think the AFI facility at the Kennedy Center even approached the level of class and state-of-the-art projection and facilities available at the AFI Silver. It is a world class facility, though I would agree it is not drawing enough customers from what I can tell.

 
At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely agree with Sligo. I've lived in Silver Spring, about 10 minutes up Colesville Road from the new development, for the last 21 years. Downtown used to be utterly deserted, a haven for vagrants and dealers. There are a lot of chains, yes, but at at least now people here have a fun place to eat and shop. Also, you think the Mayorga is "dim and grungy"? I've been going since it opened and I think it's great (and clean) with awesome live performances, much better than all the other area locations. Finally, to the poster above. AFI is worth the metro ride to Silver Spring - it's a fantastic space and the actor/director series they show are inspired. An amazing facility.

 
At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Media Concepts said...

Wow, thanks for that range of opinions. I wouldn't expect everyone to agree, nor would I try to convince anyone that my opinion was better than theirs. I respect yours.
Sligo and anonymous #2: I agree that SS was dingy before the redevelopment, but surely dingy or pre-fab are not the only two choices. Also, note that I didn't say anything about the AFI theater, or anything along Colesville Road. AFI is a fine theater. They screened the movie I wrote, "Brushed Aside" (see post from several months ago). And I agree that I could write a similar post about Times Square, but unfortunately my Tour de Montgomery did not take me there. Ditto for Bethesda Row, as Courtyard notes. Again, note that I did not compare SS to Bethesda and say one was better or more genuine than the other. Nevertheless, I stand by my opinions about Ellsworth Drive, Fenton Street, and Mayorga #1. Thanks for your thoughts.

 
At 12:44 PM, Blogger Twoste said...

Sligo, et al are right. You've got to spend more time in Silver Spring to really understand it.
Don't condemn us without first REALLY exploring.

 
At 2:10 PM, Blogger Sligo said...

My comment about the AFI was directed at the poster who "loathes" Silver Spring and believes the AFI would be better off in the Kennedy Center basement.

 
At 10:09 PM, Blogger Silver Springer said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7:28 AM, Blogger WashingtonGardener said...

Next time you are in SS - explore outside the one block and check out our unique businesses like Roadhouse Oldies, the Gallery, Alchemy, Kefa Cafe, etc. Just starting walking up Georgia Ave and its side streets.

 
At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't diss the turf. The first time I walked by I stopped and thought - "wow - this is really cool!" The fact is that this random decision by someone to cover the field instead of fencing it off (or leaving it gravel, or paving it) has made it a cool gathering place - unexpected result, and the opposite of bland.

Tell me, what's the last time you saw a random astroturf park? I almost wish they wouldn't put in whatever it is that's going in the space.

 
At 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Until recently we used to go to Weaton frequently for dinner. Now we don't. We stay in SS. That alone says something. But the larger point I want to make is this. When we went to Weaton went to independenlty owned restaurants and local chains that were supported in part by the Mall. We rarely went to Weaton Plaza, to dine or for any other reason. But we didn't think any less of Weaton because it had a mall with national chains. If Borders and the Majestic and Red Lobster help support Ceviche, Ray's and Mandalay, then what's the probem?

 
At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Media Concepts said...

Anonymous #4: Careful, or you might inadvertently start a war with the folks in Wheaton. Apparently, there are some very proud and very sensitive Marylanders out there!

 
At 8:33 PM, Blogger barnes said...

It doesn't have anything to do with being "overly sensitive." Non-Silver Spring-resident opinions carry virtually no weight, particularly when they're negative, and particularly when the opinion is based on something rediculous and superficial.

Outsiders come in and can only ever see the chain stores because that's what they're used to seeing. They hear things about all of the redevelopment and they think "but this just looks like my crappy mall/neighborhood." The kids from College Park, on the other hand, seem to love the chain stores, because it saves them a trip to Montgomery Mall.

SS residents, on the other hand, remember what the place was like (and are rightfully proud of the improvements), but know of all the great places that ARE STILL THERE. Unlike most urban redevelopments, our diversity remains. Most of the mom-and-pop places are still there. We still have more ethnic food than Adams Morgan. And pretty soon will have a pirate bar.

Will Chevy Chase ever have a Pirate Bar? Probably not.

 
At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The list of chain restaurants used by the original poster to represent Ellsworth exposes their bias. Lebanese Taverna, Thai at Silver Spring, Ceviche, and Eggspectations are some of my favorites on a long list of unique offerings on Ellsworth.

 
At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Media Concepts said...

I'm flattered that this is still generating any interest six days later, an eternity in blog time! The last commenter called it bias. All observation is subjective. I can only relate what I was hit with visually and overwhelmingly, and I think I gave a good represenation of that. Perhaps this commenter, and others, have biases of their own.

 
At 6:19 AM, Anonymous serena said...

WOW this is a thought-provoking post here. LOL I have to say that I lived in SS for some time before and during the renovation and even though I have moved to Germantown, the upgrades at SS still call me to that section of maryland. My favorite is the AFI theater and now there is a second CAKE LOVE, now there's a local business for you. And there is an interesting irish pub connected to the once dingy CITYPLACE mall that has great live music on the weekends, which I highly recommend. Moreover, there is local camera store, RITZ Camera, in that same vacinity. What the place is missing is an Olsson's to rival the bigbox Borders...I do like the new Muvico theater as well. Nevermind the wonderful whole foods over on that side of the world and the hardware store.

I am also wondering why there is so much anger over bigbox stores and retail chains because they often have enough variety to please everyone and are reasonably priced.

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

The only anger I see here is from the Silver Springers.

 

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