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Community Rallies To Keep Bruce Variety On Arlington Road

Owners of the Bethesda fixture say they'll need to move because of a rent increase.

 

The Bethesda community is rallying to keep Bruce Variety operating in its longtime location in the Bradley Boulevard Shopping Center, but store representatives say they will need to move because of a rent increase.

The store is coming to the end of a 10-year lease, and owners say the new rent will make it unaffordable for the community fixture to stay on.

“We have made many adjustments to make sure we stay profitable, and when we’re faced with our lease that’s just going to spiral out of reasonable affordability, we have to make a business decision to move,” said Linda Ridenour, wife of owner Richard Dimock.

For 60 years, the store has been a one-stop-shop for Bethesda residents in need of items ranging from clothing and kitchenware to crafts, toys and novelty gifts. Loyal customers have started an online petition asking Sam Barrow Jr., who is one of the Bradley Boulevard Shopping Center’s trustees, to renegotiate the terms of Bruce Variety’s lease. Wednesday afternoon, the petition had nearly 1,600 signatures.

Barrow did not return a call and an e-mail from Patch seeking comment.

Owners say a down economy and the opening of the Montgomery Mall Home Depot have contributed to a decline in customers at the shop in recent years.

“We used to have people getting in fights out front over parking spots. Now, on any given day, you drive by the center and the parking lot’s half empty,” Ridenour said.

The store is already struggling to meet its current rent -- $22,000 monthly – and owners have made adjustments to worker hours and reduced inventory to stay profitable.

“If you’re selling $400 shoes, you can make that rent,” Ridenour said.  “We’re selling erasers and spools of thread and your basic variety items.”

What Bruce's hasn’t done, Ridenour said, is raise its prices.

“We could probably triple our prices, but we can’t do that to our customers. If we come by some inventory at a special rate, we pass that right on to our customers. That’s always been our business philosophy.”

Some shoppers have been loyally patronizing Bruce Variety for 40 or 50 years, Ridenour said. The outpouring of community support, she said, has been “amazing.”

“We’ve always felt the community has been like family to us,” Ridenour said. "People are teary-eyed and hugging us and telling us how they remember coming in here when they were a young child. If you work here on a daily basis, you see the same faces all the time, and you can’t help but have a relationship.”

Many loyal shoppers are expressing dismay through comments and letters to the editor on Patch.

“From kazoos to hairnets to darning eggs and modeling clay, from collar extenders to wallet inserts to wax lips and more, we may as well get used to not being able to find things like this anymore,” commented Patch user Anna Tyce.

“If the community isn't completely outraged, then they are not paying attention......this is an end of an era, and the beginning of a nightmare for the rest of us as we will now be faced with making half a dozen stops, to find the handful of items that we need.” 

Others are addressing Barrow directly.

In an email sent to Barrow and shared with Patch, longtime Bethesda resident Ruth Handelsman wrote: “Bruce Variety is a community-beloved institution. Often, a needed errand to Bruce’s is what draws me to the shopping center, where, once there, I visit other stores. Please consider making its survival possible.”

Ridenour said that while the store hopes to move, the owners haven’t found a new location. While they’re hoping to remain in Bethesda, they’ve considered Kensington, Silver Spring and even Northern Virginia.

“We’d hate to have to leave our customer base,” Ridenour said. “The name recognition and all of that takes awhile to build up.”

Will you be sad to see Bruce Variety go? What are your memories of the shop? Tell us in the comments.

Bastante January 03, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Susan - you are partly right. I don't get how a store that sells sewing supplies in a day and age when almost no one ever sews except perhaps to put a button back on can survive. And if I did sew, I'd be going to G Street Fabrics, where the selection is enormous. Were I a crafter, the small assortment of pipe cleaners and water colors wouldn't do the trick. I'd be going to Michaels or buying online. A store that sells a random selection of kitchen wares - most of them of low quality - can survive in a town where most people buys very expensive kitchen ware for the $100,000 kitchens that are rarely used. As for those old-fashioned geegaws like collar stays, I am not going to drive in this horrible traffic, battle for parking ... when I can just go online and have them delivered to my home. But the fact remains that Strosniders is going gang-busters; the check-out lines seem longer and longer every time I go there. So I seriously doubt that Strosniders has lost so much business to Home Depot that it has affected the spill-over traffic to Bruce Variety.
Kenny Fried January 03, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Home Depot and Expo were two different stores with different products. I used to shop at Hechingers untill it closed and then went mostly to Strossniders and then did sometimes go to the Breads Unlimmited or Bruce Variety while in the same trip. When home depot opened recently I did all of my shopping there unless I was going to the bakery as Home Depots prices are much lower. Many, many others have done the same and I do find it easier to get a space in the lot than I did before Home Depot opened. Here is a description of Expo and you will see that they are 2 different stores. EXPOs average 90,000 square feet and employ approximately 200 associates. They feature "lifestyle vignettes" in eight categories--kitchens; baths; carpets and rugs; lighting; patio furniture and grills; tiles and wood flooring; custom window treatments and upholstery; and appliances. Each EXPO store, for example, has 25 to 30 kitchen displays, 50 bathroom displays and 10 to 12 lighting galleries. Although Home Depot carries some of the same product categories, EXPOs carry higher-end products such as German-made Allmilm� kitchen cabinetry and Viking stoves. "These are brands you normally find at a design center or an independent store," said Steve Smith, EXPO's merchandising vice president. EXPO targets "buy-it-yourself" customers who purchase products to be installed by others and have household incomes of $60,000 and higher.
Bastante January 03, 2013 at 03:16 PM
You are correct. I was thinking of Hechinger's. I had forgotten that it was Hechinger's in that space prior to Expo, and not Home Depot. But actually, that raises the question of how Bruce Variety was able to survive the fact that Hechinger's competed with Strosniders. If that is what Ms. Ridenour is trying to say, then Hechinger's must have been taking business from Strosniders and thus the other businesses in Bradley Shopping Center would have lost business as a result. And yet they survived just fine all that time. I really don't think Home Depot is the problem. I happen to hate Home Depot. I can walk into Strosniders and say "I need the thingy..." and practically before I describe the thingy or what it does, a guy in a red vest is telling me exactly where it is. Whereas most of the Home Depot employees are totally useless, no matter how accurately you describe what you need. I've even had them tell me they don't carry the thingy and then I find it on the shelf! I avoid Home Depot. But that's a digression, I know.
Corbin Dallas Multipass January 03, 2013 at 03:45 PM
Home Depot took business away from Strosniders and that affected Bruce's. Just because in your anecdotal visits you haven't noticed it doesn't mean the business doesn't experience it. What I do agree with is the pricing. How can the owner argues she doesn't want to raise prices but admits she could, and jumps to triple them instead of doubling them or raising by half? Does the owner have another business lined up to replace Bruce's? If not, would some rent at a lower price be better than no rent at all? My guess is there must be something lined up. Driving to G Street or Michaels up the Pike is a pain. As someone who lives in Bethesda, I try to drive up the Pike as little as possible because it makes my life better. Bruce's makes that slightly easier. It'd be nice if they could stick around.
Julia Andrews January 03, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Bruce Variety and Strosniders are the anchor stores for this strip mall. I live within 3 blocks and go there at least once a week because of I need something form one those two stores. Sometimes I end up buying things at the other stores just because they are next door. Without Bruce's, I will only be shopping there when I need something from Strosniders--i.e., about half of my usual visits. I agree that the strip mall could use a real coffee shop, but kicking out Bruce's is nuts. They should kick out the gift store, which is pretty useless, or the drug store, since there are two other pharmacies within spitting distance.
Jane Carroll January 03, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Stop it! This is a wonderful, magical store that has served the community well for years. I shopped there regularly as a child in the sixties; it was a big deal to go to Bruce Variety for school supplies. So, when I needed a part-time job in the seventies, it was the only place I applied to. Now I live in Silver Spring and don't shop there as often, and I don't get the same feel of the place as when I was younger. I don't know if it is me or the store, but the magic is gone. It is certainly true that almost everything can be purchased elsewhere at a cheaper price, but sometimes Bruce's is the only place in town to get something you need. I do feel it fulfills a function, but perhaps not in that prime location. It breaks my heart to see it end.
Kenny Fried January 03, 2013 at 07:23 PM
When I first moved to Bethesda, I was doing a lot of fixing up my house and was spending alot of time at Hechingers there. Then Home Depot opened its first loaction in the area in Glen Burnie. I distintcly remember the price differences between Hechs and HD for a vinyl blind for $15 at Hech and $5 at HD for the same product and for a plastic light switch plate for $1.29 at Hech and 19 cents at HD. Hechs prices were so much higher than HD and very comperable to Strosniders at the time.
Michael Shapiro January 03, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Having been in the retail business, both here and in another city, I can certainly sympathize with both the owners and customers of Bruce's. I can remember Joe's Variety store, on Albamarle St., just east of Wisconsin Ave. The demographics change and so do the needs of customers. That having been said, neither a retail establishment is likely to survive selling a limited selection of a variety of small, relatively low priced items, in a high traffic, expensive area, because its owners have been there for a long time and the customers are often loyal and infrequent. How many of those who signed the petition did most of their school supply shopping at Staples or CVS, with a significantly larger selection and, often, better prices or frequent sales? Also, just for a point of reference, the oldest continually operating bakery in Paris, France (THAT IS THE OLDEST BAKERY IN PARIS), having been open since just after the French Revolution, is closing its doors, for the exact same reasons that Bruce Variety is closing.
Bastante January 03, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Are you telling me/everyone to stop expressing their views? Really? Your comment is telling. You were a child in the 60s so you are now in your late 50s/early 60s. Think about people in their 20s, 30s, 40s. How often will they go to a store like this? To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season...
Bastante January 03, 2013 at 09:10 PM
They should kick out the drug store since there are two other pharmacies within spitting distance. Well, most/all of the gardening stuff you can buy at BV can be bought next door at Strosniders. Most of the school supplies can be bought at Staples at the corner of Bradley and Wisconsin. Admittedly, there is no other store in the area with sewing supplies and I certainly agree with the idea that driving on Rockville Pike is painful. But the point is - how many people sew anymore? And if they do, wouldn't they usually want the much vaster collection of supplies available at G St.? Ditto with crafts. I would find it frustrating to go to a tiny store with a tiny selection. I'd much rather bite the bullet and go to Michael's or just buy online.
Bastante January 03, 2013 at 10:09 PM
Corbin - you asked "Does the owner have another business lined up to replace Bruce's?" Lord knows that Strosniders could use the extra space! That would be great - if Strosniders could expand and we wouldn't have to stand in line to walk down the aisles. I know you think my experience about Strosnider's business is anecdotal. OK, what is your source of data that business at Strosnider's has declined since Home Depot opened? Now remember, that's not necessarily causal, just correlative, but a strong enough correlation might be convincing.
canalDreams January 03, 2013 at 10:15 PM
The fact is, the new residents of Bethesda have their household employees do all their shopping for them. They tell them to go to the big name stores that they know are in the D.C. area. The new transient upwardly mobile population who live here for a few years, rebuild the house into a McMansion, then go to the next small town suburb of a big city and do the same thing again, just to have something to do with their oodles of money has forever changed the meaning of U.S. suburbs. Goodbye old B-Town as we know it, if Bruce's leaves.
Lindaridenour January 04, 2013 at 01:59 AM
We have operated successfully, WITHOUT gouging our customers.Volume is the source of our success, NOT unreasonable markups.We have a business philosophy that never goes out of style, regardless of "turn, turn, turn", and that is: offering variety in one location, fair prices and personal service to our lovely customers.As far as garden supplies, you are right, they can be found next door. It is probably the one area of inventory that we dedicate very little space to and the items could be counted on one hand......watering cans, gardening gloves and seeds. Again, it is also true that, many of the items can be found at other stores, Target, beauty supply and office supply stores, craft shops, etc. However, the operative word here happens to be plural, and the beauty of Bruce's is that all of these things can be readily purchased in ONE place. Customers prefer the "one stop shop" of Bruce Variety. The over 2000 signatures on the petition and 60 yrs in business cannot be diluted by critical remarks. To the contrary, the signatories have motivated us further to continue to serve our loyal customers. Comments regarding the reduction in customer count in the strip are based on fact. Every employee in the shopping center will attest to that fact. Maybe Home Depot isn't the reason, but we were told by upper management at HD that the Mont Mall location is in their top 5 producers in the eastern U.S. So, where were those customers buying their hardware prior to 2010? Linda Ridenour
Lindaridenour January 04, 2013 at 02:12 AM
additionally....the sewing items in our store are the number one turned items. We sell over 40,000 buttons annually. Yarn, tatting thread, crochet supplies, embroidery floss, quilting supplies, upholstery supplies, sewing baskets, notions of every conceivable description make up a selection that is nonpareil.
Bella January 04, 2013 at 02:44 AM
Magical? Really? This place is like digging through the junk drawer everyone has in their kitchen...then double the price. I don't have the warm childhood memories of this store. I never found the employees particularly friendly or helpful. So, this is what happens..businesses that don't stay current and offer no services to customers in the Bethesda area, will not be able to withstand the current economic environment. Dry your tears and take the wonderous trip to AC Moore.
Corbin Dallas Multipass January 04, 2013 at 03:03 PM
My source is the store owner who reports that business has declined across the board for the shopping center. If you want to go get a signed affidavit from Strosniders, feel free, we're both just throwing out words. I trust the owner of a Business next door to Strosnider's to have a better sense of what's going on there then a customer though.
Corbin Dallas Multipass January 04, 2013 at 03:24 PM
Linda, thanks for commenting. In the article you say you could triple your prices. What if you ended up just raising your prices by 50% or some other amount? Have you gotten word from the Landlord on any other establishments that would take your place should you end up leaving?
Chris January 04, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Bastante must work for the realtor. Anyway, it would be sad to see one of the few remaining Bethesda institutions close its doors. Anachronistic or not, stores like this give a neighborhood character - chains like Staples or Home Depot just strip it away. I don't live close enough to shop there very often these days, but it used to be the go to place for school supplies and Halloween costumes. The cluttered randomness always keeps it entertaining.
Bastante January 04, 2013 at 08:34 PM
No, I do NOT work for the realtor! I am just an ordinary person who shops at Strosnider's, occasionally at the bakery, and I've dropped into Bruce Variety - out of curiousity - a couple of times. I have never purchased anything. And the one time I did go in their deliberately to find something (wish I could remember what it was but it was a few years ago), they didn't have it.
mary knight January 05, 2013 at 02:14 PM
I don't think your original comment was deleted because I see two back to back postings by you.
mary knight January 05, 2013 at 02:20 PM
The drug store and the gift shop have been there a very very long time. As they are small businesses, I would like to see them flourish.
mary knight January 05, 2013 at 02:25 PM
I had the same experience. Some of those employees were like family friends - remember the lady at the fabric counter? It's not the same anymore. I went in recently and it just is not the same. The current employees I encountered there have no memory of how it was and my expectation. Yet I'd do anything to avoid driving up Rockville Pike. My neighborhood is marooned by traffic. Kensington has Hardware City for household items, so that is competition in Kensington, if they are scouting a new location.
mary knight January 05, 2013 at 02:29 PM
So true. My uncle had to close his original store in Bethesda about 10 years ago because of economic realities.
mary knight January 05, 2013 at 02:35 PM
You ask how many people sew these days. Lots! I mended two pair of Columbia sportswear pants and created a Redskins banner just in the past week. A neighbor sews clothing for her young daughter. Bruce encourages the life of this skill by offering sewing materials right here. And their sewing notions have always been amazing.
Gail Weiss January 05, 2013 at 09:43 PM
Chris hits the nail on the head - Bruce's is about the only old store left in downtown Bethesda that distinguishes it from all the corporate chain store cookie-cutter "town centers". Without both Bruce's and Pines of Rome there will be no 'there' there in Bethesda.
Gail Weiss January 05, 2013 at 09:50 PM
Linda, I don't know you personally but my hats off to you and your husband for leaning into the economic headwinds with the ownership of thiis wonderful store. I hope you will be able to share with us news that the landlord has agreed to renegotiate your lease, or at least extend your current lease for another few years to see if anything can be tweaked so that you can increase your profitability to cover a higher rent so that everyone will be happy - owners, loyal customers and landlord !
JUDY SCOLNIC January 05, 2013 at 11:08 PM
We moved to Bethesda, in 1956. Except for 2 yrs, in Roockville, I have always lived here. I buy EVERYTHING at Bruce's. I agree it could you a new floor and some "sbrucing" up, but there are always customers. Who wants to go to Rockvlle Pike when we can go to Bruce's and Strosniders. I raised four children with stuff from Bruce's. "Don't take it away from me". Judy Scolnic
Jeff Grolig January 05, 2013 at 11:31 PM
How about a River Falls Market in the space?
Sammi January 06, 2013 at 12:03 AM
Why would any sane person have something bad to say about Bruce's Variety. I can't believe it will soon be gone.
lena January 07, 2013 at 10:22 PM
It is lamentable the amount of businesses like Bruce's Variety that are disappearing from our communities. Ben Franklin's in Adams Morgan disappeared years ago, along with flower shop, and hardware store, the beginning of the end for that neighborhood, now just filled with bars and restaurants (sound familiar Bethesda?) and not really a place where you can walk around and run errands or do shopping. Certainly not kid friendly casual shopping. I am not always looking for a new $200+ Le Creucet pot..But all that aside, we in Silver Spring would WELCOME Bruce's Variety Store, and there are many areas that might be very appropriate for such a store. We have not become completely chained and choked by the large chain stores yet. And we still have plenty character and charm ;-) Bruce, Silver Spring is a great area!

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