The county licensing board on Thursday , clearing a hurdle that had foiled previous attempts to open a grocery store in Rockville Town Square.
The sworn testimony of the hearing revealed details about the proposed market and the hurdles that still lie in its path as its owners work to finalize a lease agreement with Federal Realty Investment Trust.
The following are some basic—and some unresolved—questions about the proposed market, along with answers found in Thursday's hearing.
This is the second of two parts. .
Who wants Ellwood Thompson’s in Rockville Town Square?
City officials, Town Square landlord Federal Realty Investment Trust and at least 25 merchants and 160 residents who signed a petition in support of the beer and wine license application, are in favor of the market.
“The city has a substantial financial interest in the Town Square development,” City Manager Scott Ullery testified on Thursday. “It is impossible to overstate the importance of that development in the interest of Town Center redevelopment.”
Ullery added that he lives three blocks from the proposed market site, which is at 225 N. Washington St., and has heard “a lot of enthusiasm and support” for the market.
Robin McBride, vice president and Mid-Atlantic region chief operating officer for Federal Realty Investment Trust, told the board that Ellwood Thompson’s “is absolutely the right grocery store for Rockville Town Square and very important for the overall success of the project.”
Who doesn’t want Ellwood Thompson’s in Rockville Town Square?
Some beer and wine storeowners in Rockville Town Center oppose the market—at least as long as it will carry beer and wine.
“We’re really worried about the unfair competition of this supermarket,” Paul Mugge, who owns with his wife, told the board. “We understand the loophole where they’re not calling themselves a chain store, but we don’t understand.”
Mugge told the board that granting a beer and wine license to the market “is skirting the rule of the state of Maryland. It is going to be an extreme hardship for our business and could put us under.”
Added competition from the market would come at a time when retail store owners are dealing with a new state tax increase on alcohol sales and retailers are preparing for , Mugge said.
“The approval of this license very well could put us out of business,” he said.
“Is it a fact you don’t welcome competiton?” asked Murray Kivitz, an attorney representing Ellwood Thompson’s.
“No, I welcome competition. I’m here with the other store owners,” Mugge said.
owner Isa Saleh and Steve Wise, a lobbyist with the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association who represented Tiger Beer Wine & Deli, also testified in opposition to the license.
“I just don’t think this is a legal or fair competition,” Mugge said.
Will customers abandon small beer and wine stores for the new market?
Patrick Clancy testified that in the 19 years that he has lived on Upton Street he has patronized different beer and wine stores in Town Center for different reasons.
“They all have their place,” Clancy said. “They’re all different. is different from Tiger Deli.”
Clancy said he expects to continue to patronize the different stores.
“They’re certainly competitors, but they’re not directly opposed to each other,” he said.
Are there any remaining hurdles for Ellwood Thompson’s?
The market still must finalize its lease agreement with Federal Realty.
“We should be close,” McBride said after Thursday’s hearing. “There are still issues to iron out with signage. The application today was the major hurdle and we’re happy with the decision.”
In April, the City Council approved a plan clearing the way for signs for the market to be placed on the store and on the Town Square garage, including on the garage’s façade on Hungerford Drive, which will require relocating the “Crossroads” neon sculpture.
“The signage has been a big issue from the beginning,” Hood said.
Ellwood Thompson’s, Federal Realty and Town Square condominium owners are working out some remaining issues with signage, McBride and Hood both said. Both declined to elaborate further.
“There are some minor issues that have to be agreed on and then [the lease] gets signed,” Hood said.
A February opening “is the earliest reasonably we could expect,” Hood said. “It takes time to get everything built.”