Stores cry foul over new stadium Landover Mall sellers, other firms say 'Skins games scare off trade

October 27, 1997|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

In his short time in the restaurant business, Bill Leslie has learned this: His barbecued pork ribs don't stand a chance against the high-octane pigskin down the road.

Each Sunday the Redskins play at their new 80,000-seat stadium in Prince George's County, Leslie loses 30 percent of his business because his regular customers won't fight football traffic.

Yesterday, when the Ravens beat the Redskins 20-17, it was no different.

The story was the same at Landover Mall, where full parking lots belie the nearly empty shops inside. Mall management has a contract with the Redskins to supply parking for stadium employees and fans.

"I always knew the Redskins weren't going to bring me more business," said Leslie, who opened Chips Rotisserie Plus in June 1996. "I didn't expect this kind of drop-off."

Leslie, a former computer software designer and salesman, has built his restaurant on the foundation of chicken and ribs, greens and sweet potato pie. His Central Avenue restaurant draws a lunch crowd from nearby office parks, take-home dinner customers on their way to Mitchellville and Capitol Heights, and families after church Sunday.

Business is so good that he'll open a second Chips in January and a third -- possibly in the Baltimore area -- a year later.

The only dark cloud, Leslie said, is any fall Sunday when the Redskins play at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium less than a mile away.

"My local customers stay away and I don't blame them," he said.

Management at Landover Mall has written to Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, pleading with him to do something before the holiday shopping season starts.

On Sept. 14, the inaugural game at the stadium, sales were down an average of 47 percent compared to previous Sundays, mall manager Maria L. Stephenson wrote.

Sears saw sales fall off 50 percent; Ritz Camera, 72 percent; Kay Jewelers, 95 percent. Only one of the 42 stores reporting noted an increase in sales.

"Landover Mall cannot and will not survive in this scenario unless Prince George's County intervenes and establishes a pro-active trafficking program which will enable customers to access Landover Mall on game days," Stephenson wrote. "As the holidays approach, you can imagine the overall devastation which will follow."

County officials said they are addressing traffic problems, but merchants should stop blaming the Redskins for all of their woes.

"The mall and all of the businesses on the stadium routes have opportunities with thousands of people passing by. The question is, how do you do a better job of marketing to people who have been at the game?" said William D. Miller II, senior policy adviser to Curry.

Miller said the mall should research whether its customers are staying away or simply altering their shopping schedule to avoid stadium traffic.

"Many aspects of this new stadium will need [adjusting] over time," Miller acknowledged. "As people are getting comfortable getting to and from the stadium and the neighborhoods, residents and shoppers are going to become more comfortable with their shopping patterns."

A visit to Landover Mall yesterday indicated that comfort level is still months away.

In several stores, clerks read books. Two employees at a sporting goods store tossed a football around. At least one store didn't open at all.

Dennis C. Murphy, president of Prince George's County Economic Development Corp., said the trouble being experienced by businessmen like Leslie "hasn't gotten on our radar screen," and that he had heard nothing but success stories.

"Some businesses -- hotels and restaurants -- have been very creative in taking advantage of the situation. It's one thing to complain about it. It's another to try and capitalize on it," said Murphy, who is the newest member of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Leslie said members of the business community are drafting a petition to let Curry, who stands for re-election next year, know how upset they are.

"I don't think there's anything I can do but ride it out," said Leslie. "Long-term I believe my business will come back once people understand the traffic patterns. But that's a year off."

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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