Quantico Town Council member Russell V. "Rusty" Kuhns says he knows what people are whispering in the small town.
"I'm the bad guy . . . I'm a horrible human being," he said.
Kuhns and business partner Gina DeSomma, the daughter of former mayor Howard Bolognese, are opening a new coffee shop and a grocery store -- the same types of businesses operated by former tenants of DeSomma whose leases recently ran out.
DeSomma, whose family owns eight of the 19 buildings on the town's main strip, did not renew the leases.
The replacement stores have become the gossip of Quantico, a hamlet of about 560 that is the only town in the United States surrounded by a military base, and a community that is beginning to see an economic revival. The town has embarked on a 10-year transformation plan that its supporters say could make it a destination riverfront town, attractive to tourists, office workers and Marines alike.
Quantico's train station reopened in April after 34 years and a $1 million renovation. The increased ridership -- about 500 commuters a day -- prompted Virginia Railway Express to reopen it and add a small shop that on a recent morning had sold out of everything but one white chocolate chip cookie and a bear claw pastry.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps, just north of the base and expected to draw at least 300,000 visitors annually, is slated to open its first phase, a $50 million wing, in November 2006. Plans are underway to give the town a makeover with new sidewalks, awnings, Victorian lampposts and a bicycle path.
Marines with crewcuts and some residents who are mourning the loss of General Java's Internet Cafe and Quantico Market say that the tenants were instrumental to the town's revival, and now they've been kicked out.
General Java's is now gutted, with a fresh coat of paint and a temporary vinyl banner that reads "Rusty's" in red letters.
"I certainly respect any property owner's right to do what they want with their property, but to think you are going to do a one-to-one swap with General Java's . . . you've got to ask what the motivation was. It's got to be money, right?" said Lt. Col. Frank Kelley, who works in Marine Corps Systems Command.
Like many small towns, Quantico's direction is strongly influenced by a very few property owners, many of whom sit on the Town Council or are related to current or former council members. The 2000 Census found that only12 percent of homes were owner-occupied. The town's leaders, including Mayor Mitchel P. Raftelis, defended DeSomma as someone who decided to invest in the town herself. "Did you know she's donating a clock for the downtown?" Raftelis asked.
And the bad feelings? Raftelis chalks them up to envy. "There's a lot of jealousy among the business owners and residents," he said. "There's a lot of street talk."
But patrons of General Java's said the coffeeshop, which opened about eight years ago, with its exposed brick walls and Internet hookups, gave Quantico a little flair. They fear that Rusty's, which is advertising itself as employing baristas, will not offer the same hip setting, patrons said.
Lisa and Matt Green, part owners of General Java's, said they tried to cater to Marines who were looking for a connection to home. With its wireless connections, four terminals and talkative baristas, General Java's was "their store," Matt Green said. "It wasn't our store."
Matt Green said he and his wife had no idea that DeSomma was not going to renew their lease, although they were leasing on a month-to-month basis.
"My landlord [DeSomma] never spoke to me once during the eviction," Lisa Green said. "I even wrote on a rent check in the memo, 'Please don't make us go. We don't want to leave.' "
Even after General Java's sold its last cup of coffee Sept. 27, Green still wanted to talk to DeSomma. "In my kind of business deal, you at least want to say thank you for the opportunity," she said.
They said they have "positive memories" and intend to reopen in Quantico or somewhere else.
When they packed up Sept. 28, they gave out "a few thousand" cups of coffee. "To say thank you," Matt Green said.
DeSomma did not return several phone calls or a message left at her store, Bolognese Marine Shop.
Kuhns said he was trying to persuade his business partner to talk. "We have nothing to hide," he said. "I told her, 'Let's be straightforward.' "
As far as General Java's is concerned, "Let me just say this, they knew the lease was month-to-month," Kuhns said.
Kuhns said he and DeSomma are interested in creating even finer businesses than General Java's and Quantico Market with more attractive facades. A couple of DeSomma's stores already have new Victorian-style signs.
"I love it. I love it," Town Clerk Mary Frazier-Booth said upon seeing the signs.
But after complimenting Kuhns and DeSomma's efforts, she lamented the loss of General Java's. "Well, I did like them. Probably with everybody, they liked the Internet. I don't even know how to use the Internet" she said with a laugh.
Kuhns said his shop would also offer Internet access. "I think it will be as nice, if not nicer, than any coffee shop you've seen," he said.
Patrons of downtown barbershops, restaurants and stores wondered which business will be the next to go and what could go in its place.
One of Raftelis's tenants, Larry Mino, the owner of City Barbershop, where photos of generals and presidents line the walls, said he is keeping quiet. "I've been on this corner 16 years. I don't get into anybody's business. That's the best way to be, because it's a small town," he said. "I lease a space, too. They can come out and tell you, you are gone."
Russell V. Kuhns, who will open a coffee shop in Quantico, talks about the town's economic revival with Town Clerk Mary Frazier-Booth.
Marine Corps 1st. Sgt. Christopher Sims, left, and Sgt. Clinton Tompkins at General Java's cyber cafe in June.