Spiropoulos and his family, who have had businesses in Riverdale Park since 1988, invested $1.2 million to move their small convenience store from an adjacent old building into the building that had been vacant for about eight years.
When the business reopened last year, it brought popular wine and beer tastings and a spot where locals stop by for an afternoon coffee.
“I like to think that we started the change,” said Spiropoulos. “You look at this and say, ‘Hey, if they got it done, why can’t we get it done as well?’ ”
Foot traffic, rare here in years past, has picked up. The farmers market draws about 700 people to the town every Thursday afternoon. Neighbors who had never set foot in the Spiropoulos store are now frequent patrons.
Abdon Luna,74, a daily customer at the store, said the investment has made the town center area more inviting to local residents.
“This place was empty for years, and nobody had come up with an idea for a business like this one,” Luna said as he and his wife enjoyed a cup of coffee there on a recent afternoon. “This is a sign of progress. It is a pleasant place to be.”
The county and town are now putting resources into building on that change and attracting start-ups and small family businesses.
As part of the effort, the county, the town and the Washington-based Douglas Development have launched a contest in which businesses can compete for discounted rental space at 6220 Rhode Island Ave., a building that town leaders said has been vacant for most of the past quarter-century.
After recent renovations in the building, the developer has signed the first tenant, who will open a hot yoga studio there in the fall.
Chuck Rendelman, founder of Fro-Zen-Yo yogurt shops, said he is interested in opening a coffee shop there. And Donnell Long, owner and chef of the Old Town Inn in Upper Marlboro, is interested in the first-level space for a restaurant.
Mayor Vernon Archer said Riverdale Park hopes to build a vibrant downtown with restaurants, a coffee shop and maybe a gift shop at the railroad station.
“It is exciting to see some movement after so many years,” Archer said as he walked in front of the empty storefronts.