By Hayley Peterson
Examiner Staff Writer
The Montgomery County Council is considering a $4 million deal to bring Costco to Wheaton.
The Westfield-Wheaton Shopping Mall wants to plant the bulk retail giant in a vacant space that was formerly a Hecht's department store, near Wheaton's struggling business district.
Small-business owners in Wheaton have been scraping by for years, waiting for the day when the County Council would swoop in and save their imperiled neighborhoodwith some elaborate plan for revitalization.But this is not the heroic effort some were envisioning.
"We've been over here 54 years and I can testify for so many businesses who are trying to make ends meet with this economy today," said Filippo Leo, owner of Marchone'sItalian Deli. "If Costco comes here, we will not survive. It's like Wal-Mart. Wherever these big chains go -- mom and pop stores, they die off."
Council members will not discussthe deal, but Steven Silverman, director of the Department of Economic Development, confirmed County Executive Ike Leggett's support of the investment.
"This will bring 475 new jobs to Wheaton," Silverman said. "The county executive supports bringing Costco to Wheaton as part of our efforts for job creation in Montgomery County."
Leggett's support could be in the form of a $4 million subsidy to help Westfield pay for the $50 million project, according to initial negotiations.
Leggett's support could be in the form of a $4 million subsidy to help Westfield pay for the $50 million project, according to initial negotiations.Bulking up
Costco starting pay: $10 to $10.50 an hour
Top pay: $16.17 an hourThe recession has taken its toll on Wheaton's prided "mom and pop" shops. Empty storefronts along the business district's main drags -- University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue -- seem to outnumber the businesses still operating, and on weekdays, the only life on the streets is usually limited to huddles around bus stops.
Eddie Velasquez, vice president of the Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce, said he welcomes the prospect of bringing more life into the area with a Costco.
"I feel great about it," said Velasquez, who also owns a local coffee shop, DeJaBel Cafe. "The more people come here and the more they see what's going on in Wheaton, the better."
Velasquez' cafe may suffer the same fate as so many other Wheaton businesses. He is four months behind on his rent and sayshis landlord has given him until Feb. 11 to come up with $24,000. His has $3,000 saved.
That situation led Leo to suggest: "Why doesn't the County Council give the $4 million to us? To the people who created jobs and paid taxes here all these years? Why don't they be loyal to the county? We are Wheaton-loyal people. Wheaton is my home."
To that, Silverman says, "These investments are moneymakers, not money takers. This produces income and property tax revenue for us."