Thursday, December 10, 2009

mayorga coffee in south silver spring closing december 31

Mayorga in 2006. Photo by Katmere on Flickr using Creative Commons.

I'm sure you've already heard that Mayorga Coffee Roasters in South Silver Spring will be closing December 31. It's a disappointment to those who remember when the beloved coffeehouse at Georgia and Blair Mill Road was one of the few places to go Downtown - and to those who appreciated the ability of a local business to truly compete with national chains.

I remember being invited on a study date to Mayorga in high school by a girl I had a nasty crush on. For a few hours, we became city kids: riding the Metro down from Glenmont, poring through old records at the CD & Game Exchange, taking "artsy" photos of lampposts and street signs; and finally curling up and sipping coffees in beat-up chairs at a cafe that felt far more authentic than any place in our own neighborhoods. I don't think we had our books out for more than a half-hour.

In the Gazette, company owner Martin Mayorga and his landlord Barry Soorenko aren't reluctant to blame the Veridian, the newly built apartment building next door, for the cafe's closing. A portion of Blair Mill Road between Georgia and East-West Highway was abandoned to make way for the building, taking potential passers-by away from the store.

And construction has hurt business for years, tying up surrounding streets and removing both on-street and surface parking. As a result, "many people left and never came back," Soorenko is quoted as saying. Impact Assistance Funds given by the county to help cover overhead costs wouldn't be enough if people weren't coming through the door.

Plantings, Veridian Plaza
Mayorga's owners blame construction of the Veridian next door for hurting their business.

Common sense would dictate that hundreds of new residents (and cut-outs of Elvis and Miley Cyrus) would provide the necessary foot traffic to keep a coffeehouse alive. But it's not just about putting lots of people in a given place. There's also an issue about accessibility, both by foot and car.

Parking for Mayorga customers is once again available inside the Veridian's garage, but spaces are limited; with rates well above those of County-owned garages throughout the CBD, shoppers may be reluctant to pay more to park there, especially just to grab a cup of coffee.

Not only that, but Mayorga and much of South Silver Spring's businesses are a fairly long walk from Metro and the core of Downtown Silver Spring, about a half-mile each way. Few people are willing to venture that far without knowing what's at the other end or any guarantee of a major destination. If you're coming down Georgia Avenue, the sidewalks are narrow, crosswalks are rare if nonexistent, and you have to walk under the dimly-lit Red Line overpass.

With no fewer than three coffee shops outside the south entrance of the Metro station, there's no reason for thirsty people to walk three long blocks - with almost no retail in between - to reach Mayorga. The recently-completed Pedestrian Linkages (warning! PDF file.) program will make it easier to walk around, but it won't create more places worth walking to.

Veridian Market & Wine
While new development has brought more residents to South Silver Spring, a lack of retail discourages people from outside the neighborhood to go there.

Ironically, the Veridian could've saved Mayorga. 2004 plans for the complex, then called Silver Spring Gateway, had over 52,000 square feet of retail space, including a Harris Teeter supermarket, giving people more of a reason to shop in South Silver Spring. But a major design revision reduced the amount of shopping to about 13,000 square feet.

A brochure (warning! PDF file.) for potential retailers mentions the site's proximity to Mayorga. But today, there's just one store in the building, a small grocery and wine shop that caters mainly to people within the neighborhood.

It's a shame that Mayorga had to close what was their flagship store, especially because of its significance to the community. Whether you were camping out for the day with your laptop and a single latte or meeting friends for live music and a livelier meal, Mayorga was a place where anyone could feel comfortable. To me, it embodied the character of Silver Spring: multicultural, socially aware, but down-to-earth. It'll be hard to replace.

Here's hoping that Martin Mayorga finds success with his other stores, but also that South Silver Spring can find a new place to call its own. In the meantime, though, we might've gotten yet another reason to visit National Harbor.


Silver Spring Skaters said...

I had completely forgotten until you reminded me what a big draw that place was for young people. I'm remembering now how many pictures showed up on my son's Facebook, of him and his friends hanging out there during his high school days. It was great for them -- no one was breathing down their necks to spend money, and it was one of few places where kids could see live music without the parents.

But speaking of the music, I think it's fine for a venue to feature music of different genres. But there needs to be some consistency in scheduling so people know what to expect. They had that for a while but at some point they lost that, and I don't feel they ever established an identity in terms of their musical programming.

retgroclk said...

One more example of planners atking into acount disabled people who have mobility problems.

With the reduction of street parking those of us with lung problems had to walk further . it just wasn't worth it.

This applies to many areas of Silver Spring and Wheaton, pedestrian friendly areas are leaving out room for the walking disabled.

Bob Fustero

Casey A said...

This is a HUGE setback for efforts to reinvigorate the Georgia Avenue corridor south of Wayne. There are a lot of things about the Mayorga location that were problematic -- too many square feet, too much construction craziness going on for too long around it, too little retail/residential development in the immediate vicinity that could have helped drive foot traffic. I hope someone will take a shot at putting another restaurant/coffee house/bar etc. at or near this location. When, if ever, is Hook and Ladder going to get it together and open? The area south of the Fenton/Ellsworth development really needs a push to get some momentum going. This could be a really cool place to live and hang out.