Bryans Road residents were surprised Sunday to find that the Pizza Hut at the Bryans Road Shopping Center had closed without prior announcement, the latest high-profile departure from the struggling retail hub just south of the Prince George’s County line.
A call to the phone number listed for the restaurant provided no details, only a statement that the particular location had “permanently closed.”
Residents spread the word via social media, generating comments ranging from surprise to sadness.
The news caught not only the community off guard, but also the shopping center’s operator, S2 Capital Partners.
“Their lease was up at the end of the month,” S2’s principal, George Stewart, told the Maryland Independent. “I heard on Sunday that they closed, when everyone else did.”
Stewart said that in early January he approached ADFP Management, which operated the Pizza Hut franchise, with an offer to reduce the rent by half as an inducement to stay. Stewart said ADFP did not reply to his offer prior to closing the store unexpectedly.
It is not immediately known how many jobs were lost as a result of the closing of the store.
Pizza Hut’s corporate communications office did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but copies of email correspondence provided to the Maryland Independent revealed that the day after the closure, an ADFP representative wrote Stewart saying that the proposed rent reduction would not have “made us positive.”
“With the increase in minimum wage, it has taken stores that were previously break even or positive to being not profitable and not worth operating,” lease administrator Doreen Heasman wrote to Stewart. “Last year we lost [$50,000] and with the reduction in rent would still make the store [$30,000] loss [sic].”
“It is with a sad heart that we have to leave,” Heasman wrote. “We have enjoyed our working relationship.”
Stewart said that despite this most recent loss and last year’s closure of the Safeway and the subsequent decision by the College of Southern Maryland not to pursue the establishment of a culinary training institute in the grocery store space, he pointed to a number of new and prospective tenants as reasons for optimism.
In November, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office recently opened a fully staffed office at the shopping center, one of three substations operated by CCSO throughout the county. Within the month, a SuperScholars Enrichment Program facility will be opening as well, offering test preparation and tutoring services to students and families.
S2 has signed a letter of intent with Marie’s Diner, a staple of La Plata’s restaurant scene, to open a second location at the shopping center. The 5,000-square-foot space would be more than double the size of its current restaurant. Another letter of intent has been signed with a southern cuisine and seafood restaurant, according to Stewart.
Stewart said that he is also in discussions with an international grocer, a soft-goods retailer that operates 400 stores nationwide, and an entertainment-themed group. Because of the fluid nature of the discussions, Stewart was unable to divulge names at present.
Even with those prospects, Stewart said that it has been a challenge attracting new tenants to the Bryans Road Shopping Center.
“This has been my livelihood for 38 years,” said Stewart, who also owns the Market Square Shopping Center in Prince Frederick among other retail centers in the Metro D.C. region. “Bryans Road is the hardest assignment I’ve ever had, and I’m having to look my friends in the eye [who] gave us the equity to do it and say, ‘I’m struggling here. This is hard.’”
“I have interests in 20-some properties. I spend 60 percent of my day on this property, and look what I have to show for it,” Stewart said in evident frustration. “Not much.”
Stewart said that the challenges facing the Bryans Road Shopping Center are low population density and demographics.
The way retailers perceive Bryans Road, Stewart said, is that “people don’t make any money, and there aren’t any people there.”
S2 Capital Partners has owned and operated the shopping center since April 2015 and has spent almost $4 million on renovations. It also invested $60,000 into security renovations and $180,000 on new lighting in the Safeway space.
Last October, the Charles County Board of Commissioners voted to approve changes to the county zoning code to allow self-storage units to be constructed in the shopping center, a move that Stewart had argued was necessary to keep the retail hub in business.
Stewart had offered to provide $600,000 to convert the Safeway space into a culinary arts training center for CSM that would allow students to practice a variety of skills using actual store equipment, but in a closed-session vote last month the CSM Board of Trustees voted not to pursue the proposal.
Commissioner Thomasina Coates (D) said that, like everyone else, she first learned about the Pizza Hut closure “through the rumor mill.”
Despite this latest closure, Coates said she, too, remains optimistic about the shopping center’s prospects.
“Mr. Stewart ... has some really great tenants that are going to be coming in there,” Coates told the Maryland Independent. “It was really good to hear that. He’s also continuously looking for tenants to occupy the other spaces that he has, and it was good to hear that too.”
County economic development director “Mr. Darrell Brown and his staff are working with Mr. Stewart on these initiatives, and they are keeping me abreast and informed,” Coates said. “I’m excited about these opportunities and what else Mr. Stewart is going to bring to the table.”