Barely a year has passed since Heidi Kallett opened the Dandelion Patch in the Shops at Georgetown Park. Yet the stationery store is getting ready to close.
And it’s not alone. At least 10 retailers at the District mall say property manager Vornado Realty Trust has asked them to leave as owner Angelo, Gordon & Co. prepares for a redevelopment.
Some tenants claim they were given as little as 24 hours to pack their things. Others say they have until the end of the year. All are wondering why the New York-based companies are in such a hurry to kick them out, when the renovation plan has yet to clear the proper local channels.
“Why vacate the mall when there’s not an approved plan? They could still be collecting rent,” said Kallett, who has three other locations in Virginia.
Though the timing of the eviction took her by surprise, Kallett always knew her stay at the mall would be temporary. The owner, she said, made no secret of its desire to overhaul the lifeless 316,822-square-foot mall and put a clause in her lease allowing for removal with a 30-day notice.
“I knew going in that it would be a short-term solution; I just didn’t think it would be so soon,” she said. “It was a good opportunity to get a reduced rent and build my market in Georgetown.”
Kallet learned of Vornado’s plans in August, while David Silverman, founder of the National Pinball Museum, found out three months earlier — that didn’t make it any better.
When Silverman opened the museum in December, he thought his lease, signed under the previous owner Western Development Corp., was good for two years. Vornado, however, exercised a clause that allows them to terminate the agreement with a 60-day notice.
“We hadn’t even been open for five months,” said Silverman, who is hoping to relocate to Baltimore. He invested $300,000 of his own money into the space, which took six months to build out. The museum, which was supposed to close in July, received an extension to Sep. 15.
There was no extension for Syed Jafri. The owner of Washington Wireless, an electronics store, said he was given 24 hours to leave on Aug. 30, despite being up to date on his rent. Two other mom-and-pop shops, Lee Nails and clothing store Affairs, are making the same claim.
“None of us have the money to get a lawyer and fight this,” said Jafri, who has been at the mall for almost five years. “They just made us all jobless.”
Vornado would not discuss any of the individual agreements. A spokesperson for the firm, Mark Semer, said, “Contracts were expiring and notices were sent to affected tenants as a courtesy reminder.”
Not everyone has to go.
Most of the mall’s national retailers with store fronts on M Street, including Dean & Delucca and Intermix, say they will remain on site. Clothier Express, however, said its one of two locations in the District will shutter by early February.
Express is one of 11 national tenants left at the property, which opened to great fanfare in 1981 only to see a steady exodus of retailers in the past decade.
Past owners pledged to reposition the property, but nothing ever materialized. Herbert Miller’s Western Development, for instance, struck a deal in 2006 to make Bloomingdale’s the centerpiece of its redevelopment. The agreement fell through. The owners eventually defaulted and the property wound up at auction last summer.
Angelo Gordon, which nabbed the mall for $61 million in July 2010, hired Vornado to manage the repositioning. Sources close to the matter who would only speak on background because negotiations are in flux say Vornado is close to signing Target and Bloomingdale’s to anchor the mall. Neither Vornado, Bloomingdale’s or Target would comment.