Every neighborhood needs a neighborhood gathering spot, and for the people who live, work and go to school near King Street and Braddock Road, one such place is Capital Bagel Bakery in the Bradlee Shopping Center.
But the 28-year-old restaurant, with its heady aromas of baking bread and the friendly chatter of staff and customers, is losing its lease Friday. The surrounding Alexandria neighborhood is up in arms.
In a conflict that played out on the shopping center’s Facebook page, neighborhood e-mail lists, an online petition and old-fashioned hand-lettered protest signs, the neighbors accuse the Washington Real Estate Investment Trust, the center’s owner and manager, of forcing out a small, independent tenant in favor of chain stores and restaurants.
“They’ve been a neighborhood institution for [almost] 30 years,” said Marilyn McKeown, one of a handful of customers who were making protest signs between cups of coffee Tuesday morning. Morning commuters, high school students from T.C. Williams and Episcopal, Sunday brunchers and families flock to the place daily, she said. “We’re trying to hang on to a place that makes us unique. Not just McDonald’s and Starbucks — it’s nice to have them, but they’re boring — but that’s why we got our hackles up.”
WRIT, in a statement posted on the shopping center’s Facebook page, said that the store “struggled to meet its obligations as a tenant. In response, WRIT made concerted efforts to be supportive and to provide Bagel Bakery with financial leeway. Unfortunately, despite the sincere and best efforts of all involved, this is no longer possible for us as the owner of the center.”
A spokeswoman declined to expand on the statement.
Kyung Paik, the store’s owner, said in an interview Tuesday that when the economy went south five years ago, she lost several big wholesale customers, some of whom bought 3,000 bagels each day. She attempted to renegotiate her $12,500 monthly rent, but the shopping center’s management told her to pay what she could. She has paid a little more than $9,000 since then. Last July, she paid a lump sum settlement, and WRIT had her sign an addendum to her lease, which doesn’t expire for another 13 months. The addendum allowed the landlord to revoke the lease with a month’s notice.
Paik and Gonzalo Escamilla, the store’s manager, said the 12-employee store has paid its rent on time every month. But when the grocery store Fresh Market moved into the center a month ago, Paik said the center’s management told her that the grocery did not want the competition.
“What they told us was, in consideration of Fresh Market, they want us out in 30 days — and 30 days finishes Friday,” Escamilla said. “The only thing we are asking for is more time.”
WRIT said in its statement that its actions are “entirely unrelated” to Fresh Market’s arrival or to any other tenant.
Paik has not rented a new space. But even if she had, she said, the specialists who relocate commercial ovens can’t move hers until the first week of March.
“I’m caught in between,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”