Mort Golbadi, manager of the Rainbow Ice Cream Shop in the Sugarland Run Shopping Center, is folding up his display shelves, emptying out the ice cream freezer and moving a month of extra grocery stock he knows not where.
His lease in the small neighborhood shopping center is up, and after the 7-Eleven Store at the other end of the shopping center complained that Golbadi was selling competitive grocery items, Golbadi's landlord decided not to extend the lease.
For the kids who hang out at the Rainbow shop, playing the video games and buying hand-dipped ice cream cones, shutting down Golbadi's shop will mean there's just one less place to go. And for the adults of Sugarland Run's 9,000-resident community in eastern Loudoun who shop at the center, it will mean having to buy cigarettes, milk, eggs and bread only at the 7-Eleven.
For the 7-Eleven and the owners of the shopping center, on the other hand, limiting a shop to the business that was approved in the original lease agreement is a normal business practice and one that shopping center developers say is essential to keep anchor stores--the stores that attract customers on a daily basis--from going out of business.
"We feel badly about it," said one person involved in the decision not to renew Golbadi's lease but who asked not to be named. "We have to protect our anchor stores in these small shopping centers, however, and cannot let a store with a lease agreement to run an ice cream store sell grocery items."
The issue of whether small neighborhood shopping centers can accommodate competition among their own stores has already affected many of Fairfax County's and Loudoun's planned communities where neighborhood shopping centers are often planned as a focus of community activity.
Loudoun's chief of land development, Jeffrey Nein, said that county planners there are hoping there will be enough local convenience stores and a few large groceries within a reasonable distance from most of their planned developments so that lack of competition won't be a problem.
"Hopefully, when the whole road network is completed in eastern Loudoun, there will be a large grocery readily accessible to the people in Sugarland Run and the other developments, possibly on the Cameron Glen site," said Nein.
William Keefe, acting planning director for Loudoun County, said the purpose of designing neighborhood shopping centers is to provide a focal point for the neighborhood as well as to keep people from using main highways everytime they need a carton of milk.
"We try to limit the number of trips on arterial roads," said Keefe. " Neighborhood shopping centers keep the majority of commercial trips within neighborhoods."
Michael Was, vice president for marketing with the Reston Land Corporation, the Mobile Oil subsidiary that is completing the build-out of Reston, said that it can be difficult to support even one grocery store in small communities like Sugarland Run and that landlords often make lease agreements with anchor stores to shelter them from competition.
"Certainly this kind of thing is done quite often," said Was. "To entice a tenant, they give them some control over their competition."
Michael Vanderpool, a Fairfax zoning attorney who represents the Sugarland Run 7-Eleven and its parent company, the Southland Corporation, said the 7-Eleven at Sugarland had such a lease agreement and that Golbadi violated it by selling grocery items in his ice cream shop.
"He rented the space as an ice cream store but was selling a large variety of items, such as cigarettes, bread and baked goods, items that are not normally sold in ice cream stores," said Vanderpool. "We do have a lease provision that prevents other tenants from selling grocery items."
Golbadi says his lease did not say he could not sell certain items, though he acknowledges his lease was for an ice cream store rather than a grocery. He said he does not plan to challenge the owner of the shopping center.
"Now that my lease is up, there really isn't anything I can do about it," said Golbadi.
Robert Rust, vice president of Weissberg Development Corp., which manages the storefront that houses the Rainbow ice cream store, said that Golbadi's lease allowed him to run an ice cream restaurant and therefore was only allowed to sell items that could be viewed as "accessory" to the main purpose of the business, primarily foods that would be consumed on the premises.
Rust also said that the purpose of writing leases for special uses was to not only protect anchor stores, but also protect all shopping center tenants and provide a mix of stores.
Vanderpool said that the Lake Anne shopping center in Reston and the Fair City Mall in Fairfax are examples of shopping centers that have had trouble keeping tenants in the available commercial space because a strong anchor store could not be found.
"Above all, local shopping centers need to be a commercial success," said Was. "If they aren't they can't provide the community with a balance of stores and nobody likes to see boarded up retail space. That does the community no service."
Rust, whose company owns five local shopping centers and manages space in others, said that they have always found it difficult to keep an anchor store in a small center.
"Ideally, a neighborhood shopping center would have a food store as an anchor, a hair cutter, possibly a drug store, and a cleaners," said Rust. "If it serves a small population, there probably couldn't be much more."
Was said the industry experts estimate it takes a population of 15,000 to support a large grocery store, such as a big-sized Giant or Safeway. Sugarland Run is smaller with few other communities nearby, limiting the pool of customers from which the local stores can draw.
But for many of the Sugarland residents, Sugarland Run won't be the same without the Rainbow Ice Cream Store. More than 700 people, including 500 adults, signed a petition asking that Golbadi be allowed to stay.
"Mort sells things cheaper than the 7-Eleven, and that helps out a lot when you are living off a few dollars," said Tracy Baggette, a Sugarland resident who said she always checked to see if Golbadi carried an item before going into the 7-Eleven. "We would like to help him but we don't know what we can do. It's just unfair."
Officials with Weissberg Development said they would have considered renewing Golbadi's lease if he had agreed to sell only ice cream and related items, but Golbadi would not agree to a regular review of the items he chose to sell.