News & Politics

Landlords Plan to Make Statement In Max’s vs. Rocklands Lease Dispute

Last week, Rocklands had to call police when community tempers flared.

Max’s, in Glover Park, has lost its lease to neighbor Rocklands, which plans an expansion. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

UPDATE (May 21): Read about the landlords’ statement here.

In the scheme of things, barbecue and ice cream should be the best of friends, because
they go so well together. But that’s not how it’s gone down on Wisconsin Avenue in
Glover Park, where, at the beginning of May, Max’s Best Ice Cream lost its lease to
its next door neighbor, Rocklands Barbecue. Max’s owner blamed Rocklands’ owner, and ever since there’s been community turmoil that heated
up last week to a few angry incidents aimed at Rocklands—one a “projectile” thrown
at the store and separate acts of “harassment” inside the store. Now the landlords
plan to weigh in with a statement that, at best, could calm down the neighborhood.

“There will be a statement in the next 24 hours” from
Barbara and Gail Bassin, according to their lawyer,
Glenn Bonard. They had been out of town at a family wedding, he says. The Bassins are members
of an old Washington family who also own MacArthur Liquors and once owned an eponymous
restaurant at the corner of 14th and E—now the J. Willard Marriott hotel—where regulars
included members of Congress and journalists from the next door National Press Building.

In May, after negotiations were not productive, the Bassins, through their lawyer
and property manager, gave notice to ice cream store owner Max Keshani that they would
not be renewing his lease after 20 years as a tenant. Instead they offered it to
John Snedden, who owns Rocklands. Snedden accepted the offer, signed a lease, and announced plans
to expand his 23-year-old store to twice its size. Keshani publicly blamed Snedden
for his eviction, hinting that he had gone after it in bad faith, and a significant
number of Glover Park residents sided with Keshani, forming a Facebook page, rallying
behind him at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting, and organizing a pint-size
protest of fifth graders.
Snedden was dismayed by the public ire aimed at him and denied any inappropriate behavior
in acquiring the lease. That didn’t satisfy some members of the community.

Last week, according to Snedden, he noticed that someone had thrown “oatmeal or an
egg on our back window.” He also says a male customer entered the store and began
to argue with the counter employees and that it “escalated to cursing and harassing.”
When a similar incident happened with a woman who entered the store, Snedden reported
it to the police. They have a video of the incident. There was also an angry phone
call that came into the store. Through caller ID, Rocklands traced it to the neighborhood,
says Snedden.

We also talked on Monday with Keshani. He says his lawyer, whom he identified as
Lou Kolodner, was pursuing an extension of the lease. In a phone conversation we asked Bonard
whether there had been any talks about an extension for the ice cream store. Bonard
says no one has approached him. “We have not had any communications from Max that
he was seeking an extension,” he says. “There has been no request for anything since
he’s been told his lease is not being extended, which was the beginning of May.” Bonard
says that, like Snedden, the Bassins have received “a lot of negative e-mail.”

We tried to reach Kolodner, but the number Keshani gave us did not work.

We asked Keshani whether he had reconsidered offers from other Glover Park landlords
to move his store to their buildings. He wants to stay right where he is, he says.
“This is me.” What did he hope the Bassin sisters’ statement would say? “I’m hoping
for the best.”

Snedden is sympathetic and regrets that he didn’t approach Max earlier for a “face
to face” conversation, but says he was under the impression Keshani was retiring and
didn’t anticipate the harsh community blowback. He says, “I slapped myself in the
head” that he didn’t “calmly talk to him.” Max, when asked whether he’d like to talk
with Snedden, said, “He could have talked to me many times over. I love to make peace,
but how do you make peace with someone who doesn’t make sense of peace?” Snedden says
the Bassin statement will put the issue “back between the landlord and the tenant.”