If Hariloas Sporidis decided one day not to open his small jewelry and engraving shop at the Commons at Courthouse Square -- better known as Rockville Mall -- few people would notice.
On most days the 69-year-old merchant, who speaks with a thick Greek accent, has few, if any, customers. His store, The Olive Tree, is cluttered with merchandise he can't sell.
"It's like a cemetery here. Do you know many people who like to go to a cemetery -- and to shop yet?" he asks.
Sporidis had a dream. He wanted to sell jewelry and gifts from around the world, and to be successful.
Rockville leaders had a dream, too, when they razed much of downtown Rockville in the late 1960s to make way for what they envisioned as a profitable regional shopping center.
Neither the city nor Sporidis has realized those dreams. In fact, for both, they have become a nightmare. Rockville Mall, opened in 1972, is now a concrete monument to the failure of urban renewal. It deteriorates daily.
Only 20 of the mall's 55 retail spaces are rented, and that number is diminishing. Some merchants have fled their mall locations during the night, according to one remaining shopkeeper.
On Monday the city plans to shut off the escalators from the city-owned parking garage under the mall and to end free parking for shoppers. Customers stll can enter the mall through the front entrance, facing Courthouse Square, and through an elevator from the garage to the shopping level, but mall merchants say the loss of the escalators will mean even less business for their stores.
Mayor William E. Hanna Jr. said earlier this week the decision was made to "minimize the city's losses."
According to figures released by the city, the mall's owners, a New-based group known as Rockville Redevelopment Associates (RRA), have defaulted on payments to the city for the use of the garage.
"We warned them a year ago that unless they paid back rent, we'd close off the escalators," Hanna said.
The city notified RRA in April 1980 that it was more than $174,000 in arrears on the garage rent, not including a 1 percent monthly interest penalty for late payments.
The mall owners were also in default on a second mortgage the city holds on mall buildings.
The city, Hanna said, gave RRA an extended grace period in hopes the firm would take steps to turn the mall around.
But city officials convinced that efforts to sustain the were lacking and plans for its future weren't being made, so they notified mall owners and tenants of the city's intention to cut off service.
"The mall and its owners have been frustrating us for a very long time," Hanna said. "We're sick and tired of pouring money down the drain when nothing gets changed." Hanna said the city will save $33,400 a year by eliminating the escalator service and reducing other utility costs.
N. Anthony Rolfe, who heads the mall's management office and is a limited partner in RRA, was critical of the city's action.
"I've long since given up on understanding their (the city's) business approach to downtown Rockville," Rolfe said.
He charged that the city has been "indecisive" in shaping a plan for the mall's redevelopment. Since the city owns the mall parking garage, it must be party to any new agreement on redevelopment.
In addition to the money it owes the city, RRA is in default on an $8 million first mortgage held by the New York State Teachers Retirement System, Rolfe said. If also owes Montgomery County $238,000 in back taxes, he added.
A spokesman for the teachers' pension fund refused to comment on whether it plans to foreclose on the mall. Nathan Kullman said the group has held the first mortgage since April 1972.
One point on which both Hanna and Rolfe agree is that the mall has potential to become successful, either restructured into office space or as a combination of offices and retail shops.
"If I had the money I'd buy it myself," Hanna said. Metro service to the mall is scheduled to begin in 1983 and the opening of the country's office building complex will draw more people into downtown Rockville.
Rolfe said his group has no intention of selling the mall outright, but would be a part of a joint venture.
"Eight to 10 years down the road there'll be money in it," Rolfe said. "We're willing to wait."
Rolfe said he has been working since September with a Bethesda-based development company, Eisinger-Kildane, on plans to revamp the mall but fanincing has been a stumbling block.
With or without the mall, Hanna said, the city will go forward with its plan, developed in 1978 by architect Arthur Cotton Moore, for revitalizing downtown Rockville. To date, the city has spent almost $2 million on design plans and construction in the Courthouse Square area. CAPTION:
Picture 1, Rockville's downtown mall is expected to be quieter than ever with escalators and parking facilities shut down by the city in an effort to reduce losses on the failing project; Picture 2, Harilaos Sporidis in his mall jewelry shop. Photos by Vanessa Barnes Hillian -- The Washington Post