Wheaton Considers Welcoming Costco

Mom-and-pop shop owners worry they won't survive

A big, giant Costco is exactly what some officials on the Montgomery County Council believe will save Wheaton's struggling business district.

But it's not exactly what some of the smaller business owners in the struggling neighborhood were hoping for.

"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," Filippo Leo, owner of Marchone's Italian Deli, told the Washington Examiner. "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 discuss the 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."

The number of jobs a Costco could offer is large, but not so its salaries. Starting pay at Costco is typically $10 to $10.50 an hour.

But the Leggett administration is so enamored of the prospect, it's considering a $4 million subsidy to lure the giant membership warehouse to Westfield Wheaton, Maryland Politics Watch reports.

The details have not been made public, but according to initial negotiations, the subsidy would help Westfield pay the $50 million cost of putting Costco in the now empty space that was once a Hecht's department store.

How does this mesh with the Montgomery County Planning Department's vision of Wheaton as a "a compact, mixed-use residential and retail community with an ethnic flavor and significant retail, entertainment and services?"

According to Maryland Politics Watch, it doesn't.

A Costco complex is totally antithetical to this vision of Wheaton. Costco customers drive in, sometimes from areas many miles away, to buy in bulk and leave. They do not travel by Metro or bus. They require a giant parking lot. They do not walk from the Costco site to engage in nearby pedestrian activities. The Costco on Route 1 in Beltsville is a perfect example of the company’s business model: a giant big-box on an auto-dominated strip.

Got something to say about it? Leggett will be holding a "virtual" Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20 at noon. You can ask him questions via the county's website. For more information, call 240-777-6507.

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