What residents of Columbia find remarkable about the Second Chance Saloon in Oakland Mills is not obvious to the casual observer.
The space is not particularly big or small, and it's decor, menu and drink selections are not extraordinary for a local watering hole.
It's not until you spend some time talking to the patrons of Second Chance, which is in danger of permanently closing its doors Feb. 28, that you realize it is different.
"This is the anchor store for this village center. If you look at the other stores we have, they don't draw customers from the wider community in Columbia," said Bill Gray, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board. "It's really important to us that they stay."
On Dec. 5, Wendy Binder and Declan Wood, owners of Second Chance, were notified by Cedar Realty Trust, which owns the village center, that their lease would not be renewed. According to Binder, Cedar Realty cited "many variables" for not renewing the lease, almost all of which she said are beyond Second Chance's control. Binder said Second Chance has no outstanding debt with Cedar Realty, and that the relationship between the two has been good.
"It was a surprise to us. They've been a really good business partner and supportive of our growth," Binder said.
Officials from Cedar Realty declined to comment.
While no long-term offer was extended, Cedar Realty did offer Second Chance, which opened in 2008, a two-month extension, delaying a potential closing date to late February, Binder said.
Binder said she and Wood want to negotiate a new five-year lease or a shorter one with Cedar Realty.
They certainly have many community members supporting their cause.
After the possibility of Second Chance closing was announced by Gray in an email to residents last week, the community rallied behind the owners.
A letter-writing campaign addressed to officials at Cedar Realty was launched and an online petition on Change.org lobbying Cedar Realty to extend the lease with Second Chance exceeded 1,000 signatures in less than a week.
On Saturday, Dec. 21, Second Chance is hosting a rally from 5 to 7 p.m. to continue drumming up support for its cause.
Among the supporters is Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who is urging Cedar Realty to "give every consideration" to keeping Second Chance open.
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"I believe that the loss of Second Chance would be a significant blow to a commercial area and a community that appreciates this popular establishment," Ulman wrote to Cedar Realty.
County Council member Calvin Ball, who represents Oakland Mills, also wrote a letter of support for Second Chance.
"We consider Second Chance Saloon the Cheers of Columbia. You're always greeted with a warm welcome and smile when connecting with neighbors, family and friends," Ball wrote. "I patronize the shops in Oakland Mills regularly and I'm confident that any loss would be a negative backlash on our community."
The campaign has caught the attention of Cedar Realty, which has agreed to meet with Gray, Ball and village manager Sandy Cederbaum to discuss the future of the center, according to Gray. A date has not been scheduled.
"We are not sure why this is happening. We'd like to be able to talk that through and get a better idea of what the issues are," Gray said. "We are interested to know if Second Chance leaves, what do they see as the future?"
Laura Kimmel, director of membership and marketing for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said that should a place like Second Chance — an independently-owned restaurant with a strong local following — close, it would be "scary" for other neighborhood restaurants across the state.
"This restaurant and bar doesn't look like an establishment that should close its doors," Kimmel said. "They are a walking example of what a Maryland restaurant should be. ... [Second Chance closing] is not good for Maryland restaurants."