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Like any aggressive developer, Maurice Kreindler is driven by a singular obsession: to place area businesses in their dream locations as quickly as possible. In going about his business, Kreindler has mastered a lingo heavy on buzzwords like square footage, floor-to-area ratio, and zoning intensity, and myriad lease and contract technicalities. But residents of the Palisades neighborhood of Northwestwhere Kreindler is completing a deal to replace the Cineplex Odeon MacArthur movie theater with a CVS pharmacyhave discovered that his skill set lacks a quality critical to doing business in a tightknit community: the willingness to consult and negotiate.
In recent weeks, Palisades activists have mustered repeatedly in front of the theater to protest the closing of what they term a city landmark in favor of a bland chain store filled with mascara and cotton swabs. They circle out front with cleverly written signs and shower the local papers with rage-filled letters and op-eds. And they claim that all the fuss could have been prevented if one manKreindlerhad ever bothered to apprise them of his plans.
The Palisades rap sticks hard to Kreindler because he’s done this before. Last year, he arranged to bump the Biograph repertory movie house from its space on M Street in Georgetown to make room for another CVS outlet. Film lovers throughout the area bemoaned the loss of the city’s best source of independent films, but nothing could erase Kreindler’s signature on the pharmacy’s lease. Although Kreindler declines to discuss his relationship with CVS, District residents are bracing for a Kreindler-led expansion of CVS stores into other hallowed nooks of the city.
On Monday morning, neighbors of the MacArthur theater woke up to a sight they are loathe to accept. Taking a page out of the book of former Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay, workers in the dark of night tore down the theater’s posters and movie paraphernalia, leaving the marquee with a chilling message: “Closed.”
Roy and Susan Goldstone, who own and operate the MacArthur Care drugstore down the block from the site, have just lost something more than a place to catch a Saturday matinee. Notwithstanding the loyal base of customers it has built over the years, the Goldstone’s store lacks the financial muscle to compete with CVS. Their stake in the neighborhood has put the Goldstones in the vanguard of community protests against the takeover. For the Goldstones, Kreindler has become the face of unfettered chain expansion.
“We sent him a letter saying basically that all he had to do is work with the community and he’d be a hero, asking him how could he do this….But he hasn’t worked with us at all,” says Susan Goldstone as she draws a “Save the MacArthur Theatre” sign. “In fact, basically CVS said, ‘We’re coming and we don’t care what you think.’”
Roy Goldstone fairly bristles at the way Kreindler does business. “He has come to meetings with the community, yeah, but declined to comment at both meetings,” he says. Then he remembers: “Actually, at the last meeting, he got up because somebody mentioned the fact that he lives in Potomac, and he in a childish way said, ‘Well, Potomac’s in the United States, and I have a right to live there,’ which is ridiculous.”
Having butted heads with the CVS hydra once before, the Goldstones are veterans of film vs. pharmacy. They owned a pharmacy on Columbia Road and duked it out with a CVS store that opened next to themat the site of another former movie house, the Ontariofor two years before leaving it for the Palisades neighborhood. Still, even that tour of duty didn’t prepare them for what they see as sneakiness on Kreindler’s part.
“He snuck into the Palisades meeting [about the theater],” Susan Goldstone notes. “And he snuck out!” replies Roy. “He just was there to spy and see what the community was really thinking,” rejoins Susan.
“But of course, he didn’t realize what kind of a community he was getting involved with,” she continues.
That’s one point on which Kreindler, who is still reeling from the outrage of Palisades residents, would agree.
“I have no idea why they reacted so negatively to a CVS,” he says. “There are other chains in the neighborhood. There’s a Blockbusters coming, which is a chain. There’s a Starbucks coming, which is a chain. There’s Citibank and Crestar, which are chains. I never thought they’d object to a CVS because it’s a chain drugstore.”
Despite his repeated attempts, Kreindler has failed to convince Palisades activists that Cineplex Odeonnot himself or CVSis the real enemy. Cineplex Odeon, after all, closed the MacArthur by deciding not to renew its lease and by insisting upon a no-compete clause in the new lease, which bars another movie theater from opening at the site. Which, if you ask Kreindler, is just business as usual.
“People have good sentiment toward the MacArthur, but they never attended it,” he maintains. “If they had attended the theater, then clearly Cineplex Odeon would not have lost money for the last eight years, and clearly they would not have considered closing it down. You know, I didn’t force Cineplex to close down the theater. Cineplex said to me, ‘We’re losing money here. We’re interested in getting out of our lease….Would you be interested in acquiring it?’”
Just as he disavows responsibility for orchestrating the MacArthur’s demise, Kreindler insists the Biograph fell to forces beyond his control. “The problem was that [the owners of the Biograph] had an old lease and were paying next to nothing for the space even though the rents in Georgetown had escalated dramatically over the years. And ultimately, people were attempting to buy the building all the time for uses other than the Biograph’s. A couple of people, for instance, were trying to buy it for uses like an amusement arcade or a resturaunt. It was just a matter of the economic realities of the marketplace outstripping the Biograph’s ability to pay higher rent.”
That’s not to say, however, that Kreindler wasn’t fully aware what sort of backlash the Biograph’s death would generate. “Maurice didn’t want to be in the spotlight,” says Biograph owner Alan Rubin of his negotiations with Kreindler. “He asked me to keep his name out of it as much as possible.”
The low-profile thing isn’t working, though: City residents with any sense of nostalgia now view Kreindler as a movie-theater serial killer.
“It’s just a coincidence that they’re both movie theaters,” responds Kreindler. “What attracted me to them is that there were opportunities to replace tenants who were moving out with tenants who had an interest in moving into that working space,” Kreindler says. “Developers are always looking for opportunities, and drugstores need larger spaces, so these kinds of buildingsbecause they’re largetend to attract drugstores. I mean, a Starbucks is not going to go into a 10,000-square-foot property. A Boston Chicken is not going into a 10,000-square-foot property.”
Satisfying space needs may not be the only reason Kreindler is clearing the aisles for CVS outlets. According to Roy Goldstone, the developer has close ties with the drugstore juggernaut. “Kreindler owns CVS stock,” Goldstone asserts. “He used to work for them. He’s got some personal dealings with CVS. I don’t know if he still does.”
By now, Kreindler is familiar with CVS’s acquisitivenesshe worked for People’s Drug in 1990 right before CVS took it over, and then worked for CVS for a time, but he wouldn’t be specific about what he did for either chain or how long he worked for them. He also declined to comment on whether he is working with the chain to find more locations in the District. Fred McGrail, CVS’s director of corporate communications in Woonsocket, R.I., did not return phone calls for this story.
Which isn’t at all surprising, since some people think CVS’s M.O. borders on the unspeakable. The chain grows like kudzu, opening multiple stores not only in the same neighborhood but often separated by only a few blocks, choking the life out of all competitors by making deals with HMOs so CVS can get the best pricesand sometimes exclusive rightsfor filling prescriptions. In the District alone, there are 47 CVS stores, and a high concentration of those are in the northwest quadrant. Then again, if the neighborhoods are all up in arms about CVS’s voracious appetite for market share and real estate, they might want to look in the mirror and think about where they have been buying toothpaste.
Although Kreindler has spent the last few weeks dodging the rocks thrown by the Goldstones and other locals, he has earned a sympathetic ear from at least one prominent activist.
“I think [Kreindler] feels very much caught in the middle,” says Penny Pagano, president of the Palisades Citizens Association, which has led the fight against the closing. “He doesn’t want to be left here with a lease signed by Cineplex Odeon that he’s responsible for.”
If anyone is guilty in this saga, Pagano says, it’s the Toronto-based movie-theater chain. The crime is mismanagement. “The reason they will say they’re closing the MacArthur is because the community didn’t support it. But what we want to ask them is why didn’t they make an effort to try and run the theater more creatively,” Pagano says. “In the case of the MacArthur, why did they show first-run movies there after they’d shown other places?”
Blamebe it Kreindler’s, Cineplex Odeon’s, CVS’s, or the neighborhood’sis beside the point now. Pagano is looking forward and wants to reach some kind of understanding with Kreindler. “We don’t want this to be an adversarial situation with the developer. We want to work with him. We want to find something that will make it a good deal for him and a good deal for the community. That’s really what our goal is. It’s not to leave him hanging and to make his life miserable.”
Despite this well-wishing, however, Paganoand the citizens backing her upare prepared to fight. “CVS said that their stores get anywhere from 250 to 1,250 customers a day. Since this would be about a 10,000-square-foot store, it would get a lot of customers, and we wonder where they’d all park,” Pagano says, laying out the neighborhood’s strategy to fight back. “So we’re watching all the zoning and legal issues that we can and trying to make sure they don’t go in there. We’re going to ask the District not [to] grant CVS their certificate of occupancy until all these parking, loading, and
zoning issues are straightened out.”
Ultimately, though, CVS does have a legal contractwith no intention, it seems, of backing out. And Cineplex Odeon has completely washed its hands of the MacArthur. “Members of the community have appealed to us to reconsider closing the theater, but there is nothing at this point that we can do,” says Marci Davies, a Cineplex Odeon vice president. “The lease has expired, we have opted out of the lease, and we’ve announced we will be closing the theater. Now it’s between the landlord and the developer.”
Kreindler, for his part, has said his piece on the matter. “I think it’s unfortunate, all that’s taken place,” he says. “We’ll see what happens. We’ll just see what develops.”CP