Just 10 minutes from the Villages of Urbana and even closer to southern portions of Old Urbana is the Hyatt Center, an open-air shopping mall that was built some 26 years ago. Countless commuters pass by each day on their way “down the road” on Route 355. If Interstate 270 is backed up, the number of these vehicles climb.
The commute isn’t getting any better, but the Hyatt Center has been a welcome bright spot. After the sturm und drang of the Great Recession, this shopping mall is bouncing back with new food stops, boutiques and even a Montessori school owned by Urbana residents.
Over the years, locals may have stopped here in a rush to get somewhere else, diving into the 6-12 for that last-minute ingredient or bottle of wine. Kamal Chowdhury and his wife have owned and run the convenience store, which also features a delicatessen, for more than 21 years.
“We have everything from bread to medicine and safety pins,” Chowdhury said. Beyond the staples, he has a large selection of beverages, beer and wine. His deli serves breakfast sandwiches, and lunch and dinner items like the cheeseburger with bacon, fried chicken and hot dogs are also very popular. Locals hang out in his dining nook. The recession was hard on everyone, but he weathered it. “I know everybody here,” Chowdhury said. “Our neighborhood is excellent.”
For a long time the 6-12, Rocco’s Barber Shop and Damascus Community Bank generated most of the traffic in the parking lot.
When the recession hit, some of the tenants couldn’t hold on. The daycare experienced a more than 50 percent enrollment drop, and by 2009 it was gone. A kitchen and cabinet store that sold only high-end products went the way of the housing market. Damascus Community Bank, which also has branches in Green Valley and Clarksburg, decided it didn’t need three locations in such close proximity.
The owner of Hyatt Center, who preferred not to be named, said the shopping mall has gone through lots of changes, and recently these have amounted to a “retail rebound.” He and his brother have owned the center for 12 years, and they credit their recent $600,000 investment in improvements and the talent of leasing agent Chad Tyler of Tyler-Donegan with its rebirth.
Green Valley Montessori, owned by Urbana residents Sangi Krishnaswamy and husband Deva Narayanasamy, opened in 2012. They’re doing so well, they soon may need to expand. Inklings Books opened in 2010 and beyond an inventory of more than 14,500 used and new volumes (with more in storage), the shop offers free game nights Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday (start times vary, so call the store before setting out). Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins opened in April 2013 in the former Damascus Community Bank space. Money passed through the drive-through window now results in coffee, donuts and ice cream instead of a deposit slip.
Dunkin Donuts corporate had to approve the franchise location, the center owner explained. Knowing that 70 percent of business there occurs before 7 a.m., corporate was crazy about the location on the right side of the road, for easy access for morning commuters. The Hyattstown Dunkin Donuts has a 30-year lease.
Spring 2013 also brought beauty to the center. County Line Jewelry, owned by Clarksburg resident Jason Wade, opened with 100 percent original pieces. Wade established the business and ran it for eight years on the Internet before opening his brick-and-mortar store. “We wanted to service the Clarksburg community and Urbana,” Wade said. “I’m very happy here. I live in the community, and I’m very invested in it.” County Line Jewelry, named for the center’s location right on the dividing line between Frederick and Montgomery counties, also does a lot of jewelry and watch repair work.
But what really made this center bounce beyond the well-rounded variety of tenants is Laurienzo Brick Oven Café and Pizzeria, which opened in September.
“We wanted the center to be more family friendly,” the owner of Hyatt Center explained. “There’s no sports bar here. We wanted a place where no tipping was necessary, a relaxed atmosphere.” He and his brother turned down at least two restaurants interested in the space.
Laurienzo, a family-owned Mount Airy restaurant, approached them. They pitched an order-and – sit-down or take-out pizzeria concept. “We liked the idea,” the owner of Hyatt Center said, “plus we tried the pizza at their Mount Airy restaurant and loved it.”
Manager Angela Laurienzo explained that her father and uncle, Jay and Bruce Laurienzo, loved the location between Urbana and Clarksburg. Plus, the restaurant sits right at the corner of MD 355 and Fire Tower Road. Laurienzo’s pizza is wood-fired, she explained, and involves a “fire tower” drawing smoke and delicious smells out of the oven.
The brothers planned their new café/pizzeria as a cozy, family place. That the restaurant has a good dose of sophistication with high and low seating, a stunning phoenix mural painted by Angela and a full bar is just a bonus. In addition to wood-fired pizza that is also available gluten free, Laurienzo serves rainbow trout, cannellini, sandwiches and a big Caesar salad.
When asked about future plans for the center, its owner said, “We want all the merchants here to thrive. We want it always looking as good as possible.”