When owner Chuck Curcio shuttered the Tortilla Factory, a Herndon restaurant, in late February, he left behind another vacant storefront within the aging Pines Shopping Center.
The center now has nearly as many vacancies as it does tenants.
Owned by Maryland-based and privately held Richmond Corp., which was established in 1959 according to state records, the shopping center is nearly the same age. It also has been the subject of redevelopment talks by the Herndon Town Council for more than a decade.
The Tortilla Factory now has joined the ranks of vacated space, which include Comics Etc., JK Art and Framing, Viking Cleaners, Pro Styl’n Barber Shop and others that have been bereft of tenants for years.
In 2009, with the help of Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates, the Herndon Town Council developed a downtown master plan that included redevelopment scenarios for the Pines Shopping Center property.
But Richmond Corp. spokesman Skip Kriss said the center is not up for sale.
“We have received multiple redevelopment offers but it is our intention to maintain that property as a neighborhood shopping center,” he said. “There will be no redevelopment in the near future.”
However, the center’s upkeep and general appearance continue to be questioned by council officials, residents and former tenants.
One of Curcio’s reasons for shutting down the Tortilla Factory was that the restaurant space’s deterioration raised the prospect of expensive restorations that, out of necessity, would have come out of his own pocket, he said.
“I decided it wasn’t going to be worth it,” Curcio said.
Kriss offered a different possibility.
“The last couple of years have been difficult for many midlevel restaurants,” he said.
The Canine Carousel pet salon and boutique has been located in the shopping center since 1995. Co-owner Lil Lewis said the Tortilla Factory brought lots of business into the center, which will be sorely missed by the handful of remaining tenants.
“The parking lot is dead now that it is gone,” she said.
Lewis said she and her husband, Lee, remain at the Pines because of its reasonable rates.
“We have been in business since 1977,” she said. “We moved into this shopping center 17 years ago and we stay here because the rent is reasonable. They don’t do anything for the place, but the rent is stable.”
Asked about the growing vacancies within the center, Kriss said Richmond intends to lease them.
“We are taking our time,” he said. “We are looking for just the right tenant mix. If we were allowed to have all restaurants, we could turn the center into an ‘eatery,’ but Herndon’s parking regulations for restaurants make that impossible.”
Herndon Zoning Administrator Mark R. Holland said all restaurants within Herndon’s town limits are required to provide one parking space for every four seats in the establishment, as well as one space for every two employees on duty. Retail establishments are required only to provide one space for every 200 square feet of floor space.
“That goes for everyone within Herndon,” Holland said. “There is no special requirement for the Pines Shopping Center, and there is no special exception process available for any restaurant.”
Kriss said the “eatery” concept aside, Richmond currently is “talking to a number of people” about becoming prospective tenants within the center. But Holland said the town has not received any applications for new tenants there.
“As I said, we are taking our time and looking for the right mix,” Kriss said. “As we progress, hopefully any negative perceptions of the center will change. At this point, we will continue as a community shopping center … any talk about our plans to sell if and when Metro arrives is purely speculation.”
A Metro station is expected to open in Herndon in 2017.
Should that speculation begin to materialize, however, many Herndon officials will remain at the ready to help make redevelopment of the shopping center a reality.
“As a long-standing centerpiece in the Herndon community, the Pines Shopping Center has the unique opportunity to be the catalyst for revitalization in Herndon's downtown,” said Vice Mayor Lisa Merkel, a mayoral candidate in the town’s upcoming May election. “As we plan for Metro’s arrival and our downtown master plan becomes a reality, I would welcome the opportunity to meet and work with the owners to create a thriving center of activity at the Pines once again. With its prominent location, the Pines has the potential to become a gateway into our historic downtown, setting the tone for a vibrant downtown experience in the heart of Herndon.”