Fighting City Hall

August 27, 2006

Barry’s Magic Shop in Wheaton, MD, has been part of the Washington, D.C. scene since 1974, and it draws customers from all over the Washington metropolitan area not only because of its superb stock, but also because of the friendliness of its owners, Barry Taylor (also a professional magician) and Susie Kang (also a professional photographer).

Imagine the dismay of the owners, their customers, and Wheaton residents for whom Barry’s has been a landmark for more than 30 years, when Montgomery County forcibly acquired title to the building Barry’s occupies and threatened the business with eviction. As part of a large-scale redevelopment project, the country wants to demolish the building to improve the alley connecting Georgia Avenue (the main drag) to the parking lot behind the building.

Montgomery County claims to want to assist Barry’s in moving to another building, but the owners say relocation will be a financial hardship to this family-owned small business: “We are unlikely to quickly find any suitable alternative business site which has the space and commercial access for anywhere near the rent that we have been paying under our [current] lease,” they explain.

Customers and Wheaton residents have rallied and written to local officials, and one (otherwise very developer-friendly) City Council member up for re-election has offered support. If he’s re-elected, his good faith remains to be seen.

If I understood Susie correctly when I spoke with her last Friday, any reprieve for Barry’s is temporary. Six or seven years from now, the Wheaton Redevelopment Program will eventually bulldoze Barry’s and other small businesses, among which are an aquarium and tropical fish store, a store selling supplies for professional cake decorating, a store selling current and old comic books, an Italian grocery, and several others. In their place will be office buildings and chain stores like Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, and Target.

Such is progress.