From the Ground Up
Longed-For Store Arrives in Tenleytown
Monday, June 19, 2006
The sign for the new Tenleytown Ace Hardware store in the District hasn't gone up yet. But owner Gina Schaefer said she hasn't needed it.
Residents have flocked to the store after waiting seven years for one to set up shop at the former Hechinger Co. site at 4500 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Wearing a red Nationals cap, Ken Faulstich filled a bucket with home goods during the store's grand opening sale Friday.
"So you're the owner," he said as he approached Schaefer. "Thank you for coming to the neighborhood. We've always wanted one."
Tenleytown has been without a hardware store since homegrown chain Hechinger Co. went out of business in 1999. The retailer was unable to compete with behemoths such as Home Depot Inc., which battered the chain with its lower prices, larger stores and knowledgeable customer service.
A partnership of Paris-based Capital Guidance Corp., Madison Marquette of Cincinnati and District-based Roadside Development bought the Tenleytown store at Hechinger's bankruptcy auction for $17 million in 1999. In summer 2000, Hechinger rival Home Depot signed a lease to rent the 160,000-square-foot space.
But the deal unraveled by the fall because Home Depot was worried about operating a store in the two-story building, said Richard Lake, managing principal for Madison Retail Group, which handled the leasing. Lake also is a principal at Roadside.
Developers were back at square one. Neighborhood residents had lobbied for a hardware store to replace Hechinger, and Lake promised to give it to them. Madison Retail met with Strosniders Hardware, which has three stores in Maryland, Do It Best Corp. and other small chains to no avail, he said.
In the meantime, Best Buy and the Container Store moved into the street level of the historic building, which was built in 1941. Developers left the roughly 12,000-square-foot basement level empty as they continued to seek a hardware store.
Other retailers were interested in the site. Plans for a car dealership, a data center, a discount department store and a Toys R Us were floated and then discarded. Lake estimated that Madison Retail turned down eight retailers, including two national chains, because of the promise.
Schaefer said she and her husband, Marc Friedman, began talking with Madison Retail about two years ago. They operate two other Ace Hardware franchises, in Logan Circle and Glover Park, and were looking for a third location.
"It's hard to find space this big in the District -- space this big that we can afford," Schaefer said.
Rent for the basement location is about $20 per square foot, she said. That's about half the rent of the street-level retailers and less than the cost of sites in downtown Washington, she said.