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Small Businesses Strive to Survive in Franchise-Filled College Park

The city is promoting a locally-owned business week and offering special grants—but some say it isn't enough.

College Park’s is a favorite among students and local residents alike—it’s a rare Sunday morning when the breakfast eatery doesn’t have a line to the door. 

Located on Baltimore Avenue near the University of Maryland, Bagel Place has been around for about 30 years.

But owner Bobby Karanovich, who has run the restaurant for the past 14 years, says long-standing, locally-owned businesses like his are diminishing every year. 

“It is dwindling,” he said, referring to the number of local businesses in the area. “We still have a few, and we all work together to make things work as best as we can.”

According to Michael Stiefzater, College Park’s economic development coordinator, the city currently has 45 local, independently-owned businesses, which he says means the businesses are located in the Baltimore-DC area and have no more than 10 outlets. 

Stiefzater says the growing number of chain or franchise establishments in the city has contributed to driving out some of the local businesses. 

“Our rents are not cheap on Route 1 by any stretch of the imagination, which can lend itself to the landlord renting to a chain that has financial backing and solid credit,” he said.

About 45 percent of the restaurants in College Park are part of a national chain or franchise, Stiefzater said. 

But the city hasn’t forgotten about its small businesses.

The mayor and council proclaimed next week—Sunday, Aug. 12 through Saturday, Aug. 18—"."

The event is meant to encourage residents to eat and shop at locally-owned businesses. Residents can download a certificate at shopcollegepark.org to receive deals at participating locations.

Stiefzater says the city has done similar things in the past, but this year, he has changed things up and planned more promotion for the event. 

Additionally, the city offers sign grants for local businesses to do some redecorating and improve their outdoor appearance, which councilmember Patrick Wojahn says quite a few businesses have taken advantage of. Bagel Place was one of them.

Karanovich says the restaurant used money from the roughly $2,500 grant to redo their signage. But when a new sign can cost nearly $10,000, he added, that money isn't necessarily a game-changer.

“It helps out some, but it doesn’t necessarily make you want to change your sign unless you need to,” he said, adding that there is only so much the city can do to help small businesses.

Wojahn says the city is also looking into applying for grant funds from the state's Department of Housing and Community Development to start a commercial tenant improvement program as a way to help bring new business to College Park.

He added that having a number of chains in the area doesn’t necessarily hurt local businesses.

“Our goal is to bring in people to College Park in general, and having a more vibrant downtown area with a number of businesses to choose from increases the likelihood people will go to College Park,” Wojahn said. “That helps local businesses as well.”

Sharon Galanakos, owner of the long-standing Greek eatery , says the city should be doing more.

She was not aware of the “Shop Local and Independent Week” and said the city is “getting to be one big food court” with the continual additions of franchise restaurants.

Marathon Deli has been in College Park since 1972, and Galanakos has been the owner for the past 15 years. 

For her, despite the growth of chains in the area, the success of the mom and pop deli is simple: “You’ve got to be good to the people, and of course, gotta have good food.”

Adelphi Sky August 10, 2012 at 08:00 PM
I always thought College Park had a healthy mix of local and national chains. Approving Denny's to locate here doesn't help. I will always be a Plato's Diner customer!
Danny August 10, 2012 at 09:28 PM
what do you mean by "approving Denny's"? you're referring to a legal agreement -- a lease -- between a private corporation (denny's) and a private property owner. why would, or should, the city have to approve the lease?
Ken Montville August 11, 2012 at 03:18 PM
It's a damn shame. Locally owned businesses add character and a different level of customer service to the area. Of course, you don't have to go that far down Route 1 (old Hyattsville) to see what the changes bring. Money is a big consideration, though. The chains can afford the costs. I can't count the number of locally owned places that have gone by the wayside in College Park. Sad. But, if you can't make a profit you have to close down.

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