Since Kimco Realty purchased Kentlands Market Square in August 2016, a renewed sense of promise and excitement has been building. A publicly traded company with significant stature and dominance in the arena of open air shopping centers, Kimco’s $171 million investment demonstrated a confidence in Market Square’s potential. In the past two years, Kimco has unveiled plans for a multi-year revitalization of the commercial space, and the local community has been engaged in discussions with Kimco, Saul Centers (owners of Kentlands Square) and the City of Gaithersburg about next steps.
With all of these changes on the horizon, what is in store for the live/work buildings that pepper Main Street? This area, an important component of our community and one that sets us apart, faces a unique set of challenges, one which the One Main Street Initiative (OMSI) hopes to help address. Neil Harris, an owner of a live/work building on Main Street, explained the obstacles owners like him have faced in the past. “Before, it was every man for himself as a live/work owner. We just wanted to have the space filled and the check show up.” He added that this point of view led to a fragmented community, each owner fighting for his or her own interests.
One of OMSI’s recommendations is to hire an executive director to oversee a Downtown Kentlands Alliance. This alliance would bring together all interested parties as one cohesive and more powerful unit with an eye toward what is best for the community.
Harris added that another crucial benefit of having live/work owners together in a partnership is the power to make targeted choices and scout for opportunities. Main Street has quite a few absentee owners, who purchased live/work properties as investments. These owners can’t individually invest the time to find appropriate renters that match with the long-term vision of the community. A Main Street partnership could support and advise absentee owners.
In today’s competitive and changing retail market, our community needs direction going forward, Harris noted. “Thirty percent of the retail market in the U.S. is what you would normally consider ‘retail,’ meaning stores where you purchase goods. Amazon has cut into one-third of that 30 percent and that has upended retail,” so the target rentals should be entrepreneurs and niche store. Overall, Harris said he has a positive outlook about the future of the shopping district. “Saul and Kimco think Main Street is an asset for them. No other shopping center will have this small area of personalized shops, so we can build on what sets us apart from other shopping centers,” he said.
Joe Pritchard, along with his wife Becky, operates Pritchard Music Academy on Main Street. Their business offers both private music lessons and group, and serves as a full line music instrument retailer. In business for nine years and active in the local community, Pritchard has seen proposals and plans for revitalizing Main Street come and go. However, he is hopeful that this new effort will take root. “I love the initiative of people who want to get this done,” Pritchard said. However, he fears that this effort will lose momentum or prove to be unsustainable like other attempts at revitalization that fizzled out over time.
As an established business owner who has cultivated relationships with clients over the years, Pritchard hopes that these new groups and initiatives draw on the insight and experience of people who know the neighborhood well, and understand what works for businesses in Kentlands and what doesn’t. Pritchard noted that by sheer luck, Pritchard Music Academy has three picture windows that allow them to showcase the instruments they sell. Other establishments aren’t so lucky and don’t have the window space available to display products. Pritchard wonders if this lack of window space is a handicap in attracting new businesses. Even after some businesses close for the evening, diners being able to stroll and look at the stores and what they offer after a wonderful meal in Market Square would help make Main Street a more attractive destination.
Pritchard has seen first-hand the rewards that are reaped when relationships with residents in the community are developed. “The service and the relationship is what keeps people coming,” he said. Likewise, Pritchard stresses the importance of truly shopping locally and the benefits reaped for Kentland and Lakelands, as well as the City of Gaithersburg, if residents support the establishments in the neighborhood.
Author’s note: It’s evident that the emerging theme in this endeavor to make Market Square and Main Street the dining and shopping destination that was originally envisioned is teamwork. Whether that be partnering with a renowned real estate investment company, utilizing the resources of our city government, working in tandem with fellow businesses who want to see their community energized, or making a concerted effort to patronize establishments who commit to calling Main Street home, what will make or break this effort is the commitment of all the parties involved. If we focus on and keep returning to the principles of New Urbanism, all of which “taken together add to a high quality of life well worth living, and create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit,” it will hopefully motivate us all to do our part to make our neighborhood all it can be.
Author Nora Fitzpatrick has lived in Lakelands for almost 18 years.