The closing of Crush restaurant is not a reflection on the health of business at Belvedere Square shopping center, say merchants, a property manager, city councilman and city planner.
In fact, they say, despite the sudden shuttering of the white-tablecloth restaurant in the old Hess Shoes store last week, the shopping center at York Road and Belvedere Avenue is expanding with a new oyster bar and wurst stand, plus expanded offerings by Atwater's — which specializes in soups and breads — Neopol Savory Smokery and Loyola University Maryland.
As Belvedere Square prepares for its holiday open house on Dec. 15, the shopping center's occupancy rate is 94 percent, even with Crush closed and part of the old Daedalus bookstore space still vacant, according to property manager Stacey Pack.
Plans now are to reopen the Crush space as a restaurant "as soon as possible," said Pack, who represents Cross Street Partners, Belvedere Square's management company.
Crush is the third upscale restaurant in the space to close in the past four years, after Taste and Demi. But the shopping center is still committed to providing "a great neighborhood restaurant," Pack said.
She said she expects no problems in finding a new restaurant tenant for the space, although management is discussing whether it should still be white tablecloth or something at a lower price point.
"We're talking to so many people right now," she said. "We've already had several restaurateurs come through and a lot of people are calling us."
"It's been a very successful shopping center," said Katie Rose Imbriano, a Baltimore City north/northeast district planner. "Really, I don't think they're going to have any trouble filling that (restaurant) space."
"I think Belvedere Square is doing great," said City Councilman Bill Henry, of Radnor-Winston, who represents the York Road corridor. "Crush (closing) is a little bit of a mystery to me."
Pack also said she was nonplused, because Crush appeared to be successful "for a long time."
Crush owner Daniel Chaustit could not be reached for comment.
Spike in interest
The biggest buzz last week surrounded plans by well-known area restaurateur Spike Gjerde, who runs Woodberry Kitchen in the Hampden area, to open an oyster bar in Belvedere Square. Pack said Gjerde has signed a lease, but when and exactly where the oyster bar would open is still undecided. Merchants in the center also confirmed that an oyster bar was planned.
Gjerde told a reporter in an email he was "working on it."
Meanwhile, Nelson Carey, co-owner of the Grand Cru wine bar in the shopping center, said he is planning to open an eatery in the market area specializing in wursts and charcuterie.
Carey said he has also received city approval to expand his beer and wine license into the market, so that people can order drinks at the new eatery.
Atwater's, which takes up about half of the market area, has recently reconfigured its space and added cheeses and coffee offerings, said owner Ned Atwater and general manager Caitlin Whitney-Gallagher. Last week at Belvedere Square, one of the baristas was making espresso and other coffees for customers at a special coffee bar with seating, as part of Atwater's new "pour-over service."
"Business is great," Whitney-Gallagher said. "We're as steady as ever."
There are also plans to bump out a wall of the market to build storage space and administrative offices for Atwater's, she and Atwater confirmed.
Neopol, another longtime tenant of the market, is adding a lunch market in February 2013, said Dorian Brown, co-owner of Neopol with his mother, Barbara Lahnstein. They're also opening a second Neopol in northeast Washington, Brown said.
"The market is doing very well," he said. "Sales are strong. I think Crush's problems were Crush's problems, not Belvedere Square's."
In the past year, a Sprint phone store and Sophie's Crepes have opened in part of the former Daedalus space, and Loyola University Maryland has expanded its Loyola Clinical Centers headquarters, signing a 10-year lease and adding nearly 5,000 square feet of space, improving its footprint in Belvedere Square by 50 percent, according to a press release in April.
Longtime merchants seem perfectly happy.
"I love Belvedere Square," said Paula Dobbe-Maher, who has run Dutch Flora Garden store for about seven years and who ran a stand in the market before that.
All eyes on Senator Theatre
Merchants are also optimistic that the center will have even more foot traffic once Senator Theatre owners James "Buzz" Cusack and his daughter, Kathleen, complete planned renovation and expansion of the nearby historic theater as a multiplex.
Said Grand Cru's Carey, "I think it's going to be a big lift" for merchants.
The reopening of the Senator is still planned for spring, Buzz Cusack said, showing the Baltimore Messenger a largely stripped auditorium where the single-screen theater used to be.
Dobbe-Maher, whose own flower business began on Canterbury Road in 1999, is unconcerned with the shifting nature of Belvedere Square, which was moribund for many years before it underwent in 2002 a $21 million redevelopment by Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse and several partners with city support.
"These things evolve all the time," Dobbe-Maher said.
Belvedere Square's free holiday open house on Dec. 15, called Holiday at the Square, will feature free cooking and floral decorating demonstrations, wine pairings, holiday story readings, visits and free photos with Santa Claus, cookie decorating and live music. For more information, go to http://www.belvederesquare.com.