Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Frustration with Downtown Hours (Or lack thereof)

I love to eat in downtown Frederick, but I often get the sense that the business owners take a somewhat lackadaisical approach to their hours.

For instance, we were looking for a lunch spot just this past Sunday – a gorgeous warm sunny afternoon. There were tons (Tons!) of people strolling through town. Yes, you could certainly see that Frederick definitely is a destination town on the weekend. There were locals and tourists alike – all shopping and dining.

What a perfect opportunity for a restaurant or sweet boutique to expand its customer base. But – what’s this? So many shops and restaurants were just plain closed. Closed to all the business that was passing by their doors. Why? Yeah, I know everybody likes a day off. But come on folks – this is Retail – no surprise that the hours are pretty miserable. But – not being open on a gorgeous touristy day? That's just plain unwise. My family worked retail for generations. And, there is a rule you have to heed: You need to be OPEN when your customers are around!

Wags? Closed. The Orchard? Closed. And the list goes on....

I expressed my frustration with the closings last October in a letter to the editor. In case you're interested, here's what I wrote back then:

I’m all in favor of keeping the historic flavor and independent flair of downtown Frederick in abundance. However, the merchants need to make some adjustments if they want our support in keeping the interlopers away.

This past Friday night, (it was Light the Night - the precursor celebration to In The Streets) downtown was teeming with music lovers enjoying Deanna Bogart in full boogie mode. Just a few blocks away, a sell-out crowd was streaming to the Weinberg Center to bask in the outrageous humor of David Sedaris. Lots of folks, us included, started the evening tapping our toes to the blues on the creek before heading over to the Weinberg.

I know there were lots of folks, because I saw them. Couples and small groups all pretty much following the same route. Wandering hopefully along Market and Patrick Streets trying to find a quick bite to eat before the Sedaris show began. A sandwich would have done the trick.

So, one after the other, in we went to the nearest bagel shop. “No sandwiches after 7”. Up to Patrick Street and into “Proof” where we were also told “No sandwiches after 7”. I can understand that philosophy on a Tuesday. But, on a wildly busy Friday night where thousands were celebrating the 25th anniversary of In the Streets? This wasn’t a surprise evening – this major event had been heavily promoted for months. And really, is 7 that unreasonable a dining hour on a weekend?

What were these food purveyors thinking? Surely they knew that there would be throngs of hungry roaming the streets in search of tasty treats more substantial than a cookie. I've heard much rumbling about the high cost of doing business in downtown. I can only imagine the cost they incurred by instituting a no real food after 7 policy in a restaurant located in the midst of the revelry.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that evening, we were actually wishing that our beautiful historic district had a Quizno’s or Subway. They would surely be open for business on a busy Friday night.

I'm not writing this to complain about being hungry(which I was). Rather, I am writing to suggest that a change in philosophy is in order if we want to maintain the character of our historic district.

If the local merchants Downtown Frederick Partnership want to keep Patrick & Market Street free of the dime-a-dozen chains and franchises, then they are going to have to do more than disparage the idea of their arrival. Instead, may I suggest that they vigorously encourage the local shops to make adjustments and quickly adapt to changing market conditions in order to better serve the public.

Monday, June 2, 2008

We need a REAL Food Critic in our Paper

I've been suggesting (complaining?) for quite some time about the dearth of true restaurant reviews in our town. Frederick News Post, Frederick Magazine - each of them seems petrified of the possibility of a non-glowing review impacting their bottom line.

Balderdash. I get the importance of watching the P&L statements - but they also have certain responsiblities to give their readers credible information.

In that light, here's a letter I sent to the newspaper a while back illuminating my opinion on this topic:

To the Editors:

Now that Frederick has become a more cosmopolitan city, I think that the moment has arrived for the Frederick News Post and Frederick Magazine to initiate a true Dining Review.

The time has passed when commentary on tablecloth colors and wall pictures are enough to enlighten your readers. It's really not important whether "Mary" came right over and handed us a menu. Or if her uniform was blue or red. We want to know more! We deserve to know more!

Here are just a few things we would like to know:

Are the offerings processed or fresh? Are they buying food at Costco and reheating? Is the fish fresh or frozen? Are the salad dressings bottled or home-made? Do they use canned or fresh mushrooms on the pizza? Is it really goat cheese or are they cutting it with cream cheese? Is the wait staff knowledgeable? Is service speedy or slow? Is the food any good?

With this information, we can make an informed choice on whether to spend our money at a particular restaurant.

Here are a few things we do NOT need to know - they add virtually nothing to our knowledge base: Who the reviewer ate with. How full they were before they started eating. How full they were when they finished. How many pages are in the menu. We don't need a review of Pizza Hut. We need to know whether we should spend our money at the new joint in town.

Please consider hiring a real foodie to give us the scoop on restaurants.

And, really - if someone is going to review an ethnic restaurant - make sure they know how the food SHOULD taste! Someone who isn't well versed in , say, Indian food, shouldn't be reviewing a new Indian establishment!

Find someone knowledgeable - and let them share the information with us!

Now… All together, Joan Rivers 3 favorite little words: Let’s Eat Out!