Owners of several longtime businesses on Wilson Boulevard are planning to move to make way for Arlington's ambitious revitalization of the courthouse area. But not everyone is ready to pack up and go.
Nick and Mike Atalla, the owners of Rossi's, an Italian restaurant across from the Court House Metro station, continue to serve sausage sandwiches and pizzas to their customers and negotiate for the next supply of flour with a salesman. The brothers claim they won't leave without a fight.
"We would like to go to court to get what we deserve. We would want to get what our business deserves," Mike Atalla said. "If the county gives us an adequate amount, then we could relocate. To put a down payment on a good spot, you have to have a lot of money."
Nick Atalla said that Rossi's equipment is useless anywhere else because of stricter restaurant codes for new buildings.
"They're putting us out of business," Atalla said.
Last year the Atallas turned down the county's offer to buy out the remaining term on their lease of the one-story, ochre-colored restaurant that sits next to an excavation site for office towers going up on Wilson Boulevard.
The building's owner, John Spanos, who rents it to the Atallas, also rejected Arlington's bid to buy the property.
In a few weeks the county will make a final offer to Spanos, and possibly to the Atallas, said Paul Senk, a realty specialist in Arlington's office of real property. If neither party accepts the offer, the county will start condemnation proceedings against the property, he said.
"There's no doubt that the county will acquire the property," Senk said.
The county doesn't need the property immediately and could build a temporary detour around it; but after Wilson Boulevard is realigned in the next year and a half, its sidewalk will run right through the front half of Rossi's, Senk said.
Assistant county attorney Ara Tramblian said that the county has a strong case for condemning Rossi's because of the right of eminent domain, which allows the state to acquire property for building roadways.
Five other businesses, with storefronts familiar to office workers and local residents, will depart from several county-owned buildings along Wilson Boulevard by the March 31 date set by the county. Included are Thursday's, Pizza Nostra, Groom Inc. Realtor, the Professional Bartending School and Stone Photo Graphics.
Most of the businesses' owners said they've known for six years that eventually they would have to move out.
Joe Saour, the proprietor for 11 years of Thursday's, a bar and restaurant at the corner of North Veitch Street, said the development was inevitable after the opening of the Metro subway.
"The building just started along the corridor," Saour said as he jerked his thumb toward Rosslyn. "Every year a new building was popping up toward this way. In five years you're going to see a big difference."
"I think it'll be better for the county," Saour said of the new development for the Court House area. "Something brand new beats this around here."
Saour will be moving Thursday's a block and a half west on Wilson Boulevard. He said he doesn't know how the move will affect business, although the new place will be smaller. Mainly, it is inconvenient, he said.
"I've got to rebuild a whole brand-new joint," Saour said.
Across the street, Jose Santa Cruz, who with his wife Rita and children Daniel and Monica, opened Pizza Nostra a year ago, has not yet found a new place for his restaurant. Santa Cruz said that when he leased the building, he got the impression from its owner that there would be at least two years in which to build up a clientele. The owner sold the building to Arlington last October.
Sitting in a corner of his restaurant at a table covered with a red-checkered cloth, Santa Cruz, who came to the United States from Bolivia 14 years ago, explained his worries.
"We would like to be in this area, but it's not easy to find a place. It will be difficult because Colonial Place an office tower now under construction won't be finished for another year," he said.
Santa Cruz also said he does not think he is plugged into the informal network of local businesses, which helps when looking for new places, but that he eventually hopes to return to the Court House area.
Another relative newcomer to the area is Terry Byers, who moved from Buffalo four months ago to operate the Professional Bartending School, which in two weeks can teach a client how to run a bar, mix 80 different alcoholic drinks and tactfully cut off a customer who's had a few too many.
Behind an old-fashioned wood and glass door on Wilson Boulevard, a short flight of stairs leads up to Byers' classroom containing five small bars. Above the reception desk, a plastic Tiffany-style lamp advertises Early Times bourbon.
Bottles of Smirnoff, Canadian Club and Jack Daniels line the shelves behind each of the bars, and some their amber-colored liquid catches a gleam from a skylight. For a bar, it is brightly lit.
"I don't think the Board of Education would like it if I used real alcohol. And the expense would be so great, I'd be out of business," Byers explained about the bar set-up.
"It's all dyed with a combination of food coloring in water," she said.
Although Byers had a hard time finding a relocation place close by, she said she soon may close a deal near Clarendon's Metro station.
"Most places don't want a bartending business because our school's open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends. Most buildings shut down at 5 or 6 p.m.," Byers said.
The senior business among those relocating is Groom Inc., Arlington's second oldest active real estate firm, run by Robert L. Groom. His father founded the firm in 1945, and the company has been at its present site since 1956.
"We used to have the most agents and houses in Arlington back in the 50s, but we still maintain a small active firm," Groom said.
More recently, the realty has been acting as a broker by putting together pieces of property in the Court House area for prospective developers, Groom said.
Groom is not worried about the impending move to another office. "For businesses of our type, you don't have to have a storefront location. People will come wherever we are," he said.
Next door to Groom Inc. is Stone Photo Graphics, which has been at its Wilson Boulevard location since 1967. The county, which owns the building, has replaced some shattered plate glass with plywood because it the building soon be demolished, explained Steve Marcey, a partner with Jim Petreas in the photo reproduction business.
Marcey, a native Arlingtonian, recalled the Court House neighborhood of 18 years before.
"When we came here, it was a really down-and-out area. There were very few people walking around, less traffic and no new buildings. It was lower middle class, mostly frame houses," Marcey said.
Marcey and Petreas already have planned to take Stone Photo Graphics to their T-shirt and silkscreening shop in Crystal City, but they joked that they might try and stay.
"We'll be putting our bodies in front of the bulldozers," Marcey said. "We're the last traces of the old neighborhood."