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Gordmans, we hardly knew ye…

May 7, 2021, 10:03 AM

Recently, while working through my very large backlog of photos, I processed the various photos that I took of the Gordmans store in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.  For those not familiar, Gordmans, in the form that I experienced it, was an off-price retailer owned by Stage Stores.  Stage was in the process of implementing a major strategic move, repositioning itself away from department stores and going all-in on the off-price model (like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Ross).  With that, the company had begun to convert all of its department store nameplates, i.e. Stage, Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, and Peebles, to Gordmans.  The goal was to have all of its 738 stores in 42 states converted to the off-price format under the Gordmans name by the end of 2020.  The Waynesboro store was originally a Peebles, and was an early conversion to Gordmans.

As you probably guessed based on my wording, world events caused a change in Stage’s plans.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, the various “lockdown” orders issued meant that all of Stage’s stores, considered “non-essential” businesses, were shuttered for several months.  With the stores closed and the resulting lack of sales for an extended period, this pushed Stage off of a cliff, financially speaking, which lead to their filing for bankruptcy.  It was ultimately determined that the best course of action was to wind-up operations, and as such, when the stores reopened, they immediately began going-out-of-business sales.

My first experience with Gordmans was on June 1, 2020.  Elyse and I were out doing some photography in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro areas, and happened upon the Gordmans store in the Wayne Heights Mall shopping center, at an hour when it should have been in operation, if not for government orders requiring that it be closed.

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Going behind the pylons…

November 19, 2020, 11:31 AM

Back on November 6, Elyse and I took the drone out for a spin again, and I did some photography.  This time, we went out to Leesburg, and took a late afternoon golden-hour flight around a familiar landmark: the former Walmart off of Route 15.  This is a typical 1990s-era pylon-style store, and it closed in May 2019 when a new Supercenter opened elsewhere in the Leesburg area.  Because of the proximity of the location to Leesburg airport, I had to notify the airport of our activity using their online form, and then, whirlybirds away.  I flew up and around the building, and even investigated the roof a little bit.

A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.
A pre-flight capture, with the HR-V at right.

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Flying over the Shenandoah Valley with a drone…

October 25, 2020, 10:45 PM

Elyse and I recently made a trip down to Augusta County to see my parents, and we both photographed a bunch of stuff with my drone while we were down there.  So all in all, we had a pretty productive time.  I have gotten pretty proficient in flying my drone around things, and I’ve gotten some nice photos.  The goal of the drone photography this time was to duplicate a lot of what I did in my earlier entry about the area in Microsoft Flight Simulator, but in real life.  All in all, I had a good time, and I liked the results, as I flew around Staunton, Waynesboro, Afton Mountain, and Stuarts Draft.

In Staunton, I first got aerials of the old DeJarnette Center, which is an abandoned children’s mental hospital that closed around 1996 in favor of a newer, more modern facility nearby.  If this place sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve photographed it before.  So here it is:

DeJarnette, viewed from the air

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Some sad looking retail…

August 9, 2020, 11:44 AM

On Saturday, Elyse, Aaron and Evan Stone, and I went out and visited the Kmart store in Aspen Hill, and the Sears store in White Oak.  The last time that I had been to either of these stores was in 2017, well before the Sears bankruptcy.  I had heard on social media about the way that the remaining non-closing Sears and Kmart stores were being merchandised, and I felt like it was time to see it for myself.  What I saw was what I more or less expected based on what I saw online, but definitely not what someone might expect for a retail business that is still a going concern.

We first visited the Kmart on Connecticut Avenue, which is located less than a mile away from my old apartment on Hewitt Avenue.  I knew this Kmart well enough, though I was never a regular there by any means.  This is also the last Kmart in Maryland to remain a going concern, as the store in Edgewater is currently conducting a store-closing sale, and all of the other Kmart stores in Maryland are gone.

This is the state that the Aspen Hill store was in:

The exterior of the store.
The exterior of the store.

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If this turns out to be the end, I think that they had a good run…

June 13, 2020, 11:43 PM

Some of the news that has come out of the various retail groups that I’m in on Facebook has centered around the rather dire financial situation that CEC Entertainment, the company that owns Chuck E. Cheese, has found itself in lately.  In short, with the coronavirus pandemic and related closures, that has put the company in a bad financial situation.  The articles that I’ve read have indicated that bankruptcy and liquidation are probably in the company’s near future.  And really, if that is how it ends, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

First of all, though, I find the moves that the company has made since pandemic-related restrictions put the kibosh on their normal business to be rather curious, because it has tended to lay bare certain aspects of the business that they would probably rather not have everyone realize.  One thing that I’ve seen posted online is that the company is selling the prizes outright, whereas normally, they are only available by redeeming prize tickets from the games.  The asking prices show what the company thinks that those prizes are really worth, including a profit margin, rather than having the games and tickets as a middleman to obscure the actual value of these things.  It makes me think of the mug that I won at ShowBiz Pizza for around 100 tickets, mostly via an arcade version of Bozo the Clown’s Grand Prize Game, played for tickets.  I remember that the game was relatively generous with tickets, giving out one ticket per bucket successfully hit.  That’s why I played it, because this game gave up to six tickets per play, while most games only gave out one or two tickets per play.  Thus if I wanted something good, this was the machine to do it with.  So assuming a perfect play every time, to get 100 tickets would have required 17 plays, or $4.25.  But it probably ended up costing us a bit more than that because at around eight years old, I was not capable of doing a perfect play every time, and even getting to the sixth bucket at all, let alone making it, was pretty rare for me.  A more realistic estimate for my size and skill at that time would be three tickets per play, which would require 34 plays and cost $8.50.  And this was not an $8.50 mug, by any means, especially not in 1989 dollars (around $18 in today’s money).  The thing was probably only worth a dollar, even back then.  We paid a lot more for it because you had to redeem tickets from the games for it.  I imagine that if they sold the mug today for cash rather than tickets, it would probably reveal that we paid way more than we should have for that mug.  But for the time, I accomplished what I was trying to do, and left with the mug, the satisfaction of having gotten a good prize, for once, as well as a massive headache.  I did some major hurling that night, too.  Totally worth it.

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Categories: Companies

These photos could have been taken anywhere…

February 28, 2020, 8:30 AM

While on an outing on Thursday, I stopped to photograph the former Walmart store in Leesburg, Virginia.  I had been planning a photo shoot here ever since the store closed in May 2019, upon the opening of a new Supercenter store elsewhere in the Leesburg area.  I was drawn to this location because, unlike a lot of former Walmart stores, this one left a massive labelscar on the building due to repaintings over the years, as revealed in photos taken by Aaron Stone.  Other Walmarts that closed have had lesser labelscars, and Walmart has also been known to paint out their labelscars.  But this one had “WAL★MART” still easily readable in blue.  I felt something of a sense of urgency in getting down to this location, because who knows how long a former Walmart will sit idle.  Other former Walmart stores in the DC area have been scooped up relatively quickly, such as the former Manassas Walmart, which was quickly converted to other uses.  So who knew how long this might remain in this form.

Arriving on site, I couldn’t have gotten better shooting conditions.  The skies were partly cloudy, with only a small amount of cloud cover, which worked to my benefit.  Completely clear skies make for slightly bluish photos that need to be color corrected in post-production, while partly cloudy skies tend to lend to more accurate colors that require less work at the computer.  My only complaint about the conditions was that it was cold and windy, which was not fun to shoot in.  By the time I finished this shoot, which took about 25 minutes to do, I was quite cold.  It took me some time to warm back up once I got back in the car.

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Categories: Loudoun County, Walmart

The remodeling of a Walmart store…

February 19, 2020, 4:33 PM

Back in 2005, I was living in my parents’ house and working for Walmart.  I tended to go out a bit after work in order to unwind, and when I did, I would usually do a circuit that took me from my store in Waynesboro up Afton Mountain, down the Blue Ridge Parkway as far south as Route 60, go west on Route 60 to Lexington, and then head back home via I-81.  When I did this, the Walmart in Lexington tended to be one of my stops, as it was a logical place to get up, walk around, and shop if I needed to (I didn’t like shopping at my own store because I didn’t feel like a customer there, nor was I treated like a real customer).  For a few months that year, Walmart remodeled that store from the late-1990s design that it was given when it was expanded to a Supercenter to the then-current store design, which was the mid-2000s black signage with brown walls.  For some reason, I documented this remodel throughout the process via cell phone photos.  So here it is.  Forgive the quality, because cell phone cameras at the time didn’t take much better photos than a potato, and using Big Mavica would have been too obvious.

Prior to the remodel, the Walmart in Lexington was a typical 1990s pylon-style Supercenter, with a gray and blue color scheme, and late 1990s signage.

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Categories: Virginia, Walmart

So now what do I do?

June 27, 2018, 8:30 AM

This exercise thing sucks.  I recently came to the realization that I’m never going back to Planet Fitness, and therefore I’m cancelling my membership.  No sense in spending $20 per month on something that I’m not going to use.

I can’t say that I didn’t try, though.  I signed up, and I went as I planned, i.e. after work, during the overnight hours.  I tried all of the equipment, and while the elliptical and the recumbent stair climber seemed like possible winners, the whole Planet Fitness environment intimidated me too much.  How ironic for a company that markets itself with a slogan of “No Gymtimidation”.  I got the specific feeling that they were more interested in their “No Gymtimidation” and “Judgement [sic] Free Zone” image than they were about fitness (and a few people seem to agree with me).  The presence of that stupid “lunk alarm” gimmick also sent off the wrong vibe, and I never even touched the free weights, nor did I have any intention to ever use them.  It’s allegedly the judgment free zone, but they’re constantly watching and judging everything that you do, and that made me feel less at ease with it than I preferred.  I just want to go in, do my thing, and leave.  Too much emphasis on individual conduct makes me uncomfortable because it makes me feel somewhat on edge, and that creates a sense of hostility, like I’m being micromanaged.  Perception is reality here, and that perception negatively affected my enjoyment of the club.

Additionally, I couldn’t find a location that I liked.  I found out that some locations were de facto closed on Sunday nights because they dismantled the entire facility to clean it on those nights.  However, because one of Planet Fitness’s big selling points was being open 24 hours, they couldn’t actually close the facility to clean it.  They had to remain open, even though none of the equipment was available.  So on more than one occasion, Elyse and I got dressed and went out, only to be turned away because all of the equipment was offline for cleaning.  That just speaks of poor planning on the facility’s part, since they could easily split the work and clean in sections over the course of a week in order to maintain full access at all times.  Other locations were better, but too far from my house.  I halfway liked the downtown Silver Spring location, but it was just too far away to be practical.

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When you just hate recognition that much…

May 15, 2018, 11:05 PM

People are always amazed when I tell them that I hate receiving recognition.  I just don’t like it.  I don’t find it enjoyable.  In fact, I find it incredibly awkward all around.  I don’t know what it is, but it just isn’t a fun thing.  This came to mind recently because of two discussions that I had with colleagues in the last few weeks.  One was about an operator competition that my employer was having, and another was about an employee of the month program that my specific division has.

In the case of the former, where train operators go out and demonstrate their skills for judges, I couldn’t see any way to get a satisfactory result for myself as a participant.  If I don’t place, I’m kicking myself for not doing better.  If I place, then I have to deal with a whole bunch of unwanted recognition.  Not participating at all seems to take care of both concerns, and I have no problem attending as a non-competitor and watching others compete.  I’ve done that before at a similar event for the bus, where I was there but didn’t compete, and I had a blast.  Besides, I have the most fun just being myself while operating the service.

In the case of the latter, a coworker brought up the idea of it, and how I would possibly be a good candidate for the employee of the month award.  I was honest about it: if I ever were to get the award, I believe that my response would be, “Thank you very much, but please give it to someone else.”  In other words, I would probably decline it.  I just want to do my job and call it a day, and a whole bunch of unnecessary attention just gets in the way of my being awesome.

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Categories: Birthdays, JMU, LPCM, Myself, Walmart, Work

Looking back on ten years at Hewitt Gardens…

March 3, 2018, 4:54 PM

When I moved to Montgomery County in 2007, I never imagined that I’d stay in the same apartment for a decade.  But I did.  Hewitt Gardens Apartments, on Hewitt Avenue in Aspen Hill, was my home from May 10, 2007 to November 16, 2017, i.e. ten years and six months.  In the intervening decade, the apartment served its purpose, but I eventually outgrew it, and it eventually became very clear that it was time to move on.

I found Hewitt Gardens in a second round of apartment hunting, in May 2007.  I originally wasn’t supposed to live at Hewitt Gardens at all.  If things had gone as originally planned, I would have lived in Oakfield (now split into two properties, with the other called Glenmont Crossing), i.e. closer to Wheaton, across Shorefield Road from H-Mart.  But what happened is that after I filled out their pages-long application and sent in a deposit, I was informed that there were no one-bedroom apartments available, and that they could “upgrade” me to a more expensive unit with a den, and give me two months’ free rent, allegedly to compensate for the change.  However, even that would not be deliverable in the timeframe that I needed, plus what they tried to pull with me was a bait-and-switch, which is a really dishonest thing to do.  Nothing like starting a relationship with mistrust of the management’s business practices, right?  So Oakfield was out, I got my deposit back, and I conducted a new search.  In the new search, I had Hewitt Gardens, Peppertree Farm (off of Bel Pre Road), and Montgomery White Oak (off of Lockwood Drive) on my shortlist.  Hewitt Gardens was first, and it was perfect.  It had a lot of space, it was close to the Metro, it didn’t have a lot of unnecessary amenities, and at $920/month, the price was right.  Plus, unlike Oakfield, they showed me my actual apartment, and not a model.  We ended up putting a deposit in with Hewitt Gardens on the spot, with the idea that no matter what else happened, I would have a place to live when my new job started in a couple of weeks.  Peppertree Farm was more money and had a bunch of amenities that I didn’t need, and then Montgomery White Oak was a five-minute visit, since the apartment was just not very good, as well as more expensive than I would have liked.  So Hewitt Gardens it was.

It took Hewitt Gardens a few days to complete all of the processing on my application, and by Wednesday, May 9, 2007, they were ready to go.  I was up the next day to sign my lease and move in.  So far, everything was good.  I got my stuff moved in, I got the Internet turned on, I got my parking permit, etc.  Additionally, the new job, where I was an underappreciated office monkey at a nonprofit, was going well.

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I suppose that this is why you buy a Kia…

December 4, 2017, 2:59 PM

I suppose that what happened to me recently is exactly why you buy a Kia.  My car had been making some funny noises for a while, but since the check engine light had not come on yet, I figured that I had time to deal with it, and put it off until later.  This past Monday, the noises got noticeably worse, and the “check engine” light finally came on.  That’s when I scheduled a repair with a Kia dealer (since I suspected it might be covered by the warranty) and booked a rental car for the upcoming repair.  Then the car finally quit on me on the way to work, i.e. it just cut off in the middle of Georgia Avenue in Olney.  Thankfully, I was able to coast to a safe location to call for a tow truck.

The car ended up riding on the back of a tow truck from Olney directly to the dealer, and then I took the bus the rest of the way to work.  Then the next day, Elyse and I took a bus down to Rockville to pick up the rental car and talk to the people working on my real car.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone on that one, because I had planned a trip to IKEA during that time anyway, so I rented a truck.  So for a few days, I went from a Kia Soul – a compact – to a Ram 1500 pickup truck.  That thing was massive:

My rented Ram 1500 pickup truck

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Categories: Furniture, House, IKEA, Kia Soul

Renting out eight rooms…

September 30, 2017, 12:29 AM

So apparently, I spoke too soon when it came to the closure of The Inn at Afton.  You may recall that last month, I announced the closure of The Inn at Afton, based on a sign that said that the lobby and hotel were closed.  Elyse and I went down that way again on Wednesday, and one of our stops was to see how The Inn at Afton looked in the daylight after finally going out of business for good.  Much to our surprise, we found that the place was open again.  We stopped into room 211, which was being used as the lobby, and had a chat with the lady working inside.  As it turns out, the hotel is barely operational, with only eight rooms, all on the parking lot side, in service.  None of the rooms on the other side, which has a tremendous view of the piedmont, are in service.  I’m told that the remaining rooms have been stripped, and a walk past some of the first-floor rooms that are not in service seems to confirm this.  That means that out of 118 total rooms, 110 of them are out of service, presumably for being uninhabitable.  That’s an availability of 6.7%.  For that few rooms, it hardly seems worthwhile to remain open, but apparently, they do, likely out of habit.

Meanwhile, the room being used as the lobby smelled strongly of mold, and had visible mold and water damage.  Definitely an unhealthy environment.  We might have stuck around for longer and chatted with the very nice lady working there, but the mold smell was too much.  I imagine that the rooms that are still in service are just as bad, if they are willing to let the room that they’re using as a lobby become so bad.  Thank heavens for Orbit “Bubblemint” gum.  It got the mold taste out of my mouth.

So apparently, and much to my surprise, just when we thought that the book had closed on the operational history of the vintage businesses on Afton Mountain, there’s more to the Afton story to be told.

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Saying goodbye to that unique combination of mediocre pizza and animatronic animals…

September 9, 2017, 1:32 PM

The recent news out of CEC Entertainment, the company that operates the Chuck E. Cheese’s chain of restaurants, was that they were redesigning their restaurants to include the elimination of the animatronic band.  The new concept certainly looks lovely, as they give the dated Chuck E. Cheese theme a modern appearance.  However, I have mixed feelings about the elimination of the animatronics.

First, for those of you who aren’t familiar, here is a brief history of the concept: Chuck E. Cheese was introduced as the mascot of Pizza Time Theatre in 1977, a company founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, which was a pizzeria and arcade with an animatronic show.  Then entrepreneur Bob Brock founded ShowBiz Pizza Place in 1980, which was the same basic concept, but outsourced the show to Aaron Fechter‘s Creative Engineering.  The two were in competition with each other until Pizza Time Theatre declared bankruptcy, and ShowBiz bought them out.  They ran the two brands in parallel for a while, but considering that the ShowBiz show and characters were outsourced, while the Chuck E. Cheese characters were owned outright, that came to its logical conclusion in the early 1990s, where all of the ShowBiz restaurants were converted to the Chuck E. Cheese theme and show.  Then in the late 1990s, they started doing stages with only one animatronic rather than five. Then in the early part of this decade, they began opening restaurants with no animatronics at all, leaving the stage empty so that an employee in a rat suit could dance around.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I loved going to ShowBiz, in part because I loved seeing the animatronic band, The Rock-afire Explosion, perform.  I was extremely disappointed when I went into ShowBiz and found my Rock-afire characters gone, having been replaced by a new show called “Munch’s Make Believe Band”.  As soon as I saw it, I remember thinking, The Rock-afire Explosion was a real band, not a pretend one.  I’m pretty sure that we only went to ShowBiz one or two more times after this.  It wasn’t the restaurant that I knew and loved anymore without the Rock-afire.  That was a quality show that was enjoyable for any age.  I enjoyed those shows as a child, and I also enjoyed watching them when I found a bunch of the shows online a few years ago.

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Categories: Companies

I definitely didn’t expect to go to New York City on Wednesday…

August 25, 2017, 12:30 PM

Wednesday, August 23 had been planned as a road trip day for quite some time.  Elyse turned 21 two days prior, and this was my birthday present to her, going on a trip up to Asbury Park, New Jersey to visit the Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade on the boardwalk.  We previously visited this facility in May.  Then the plan was to go up to Menlo Park Mall in Edison to go to Rainforest Cafe, where we were having dinner, and I was buying Elyse a drink.  The day that we ended up having was a lot of fun, but definitely more expansive than I had originally planned.

We left the house around 11:00, with Asbury Park as our destination.  We made a quick stop at Maryland House, and then a White Castle in Howell Township:

White Castle in Howell Township

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Sometimes you have to vote with your feet…

June 15, 2017, 9:18 PM

Sometimes, the fact that the telecommunications market is extremely cutthroat has its advantages from a customer standpoint.  It means that there is no room for loyalty, and also that the big players are more than happy to poach customers from each other.  It also means that if I’m no longer happy with my service, I can bounce at a moment’s notice to someone else who will make me satisfied with their service.

I’ve done that twice in the last five years.  Back in late 2013, I finally took Candice Bergen’s advice and switched to Sprint, replacing Verizon as my cell phone carrier.  The reason for switching at that time was related to my unlimited data plan.  I had an unlimited data plan with Verizon when I got my first smartphone back in early 2010, and kept it with my second smartphone in late 2011.  However, about a year after I got my second smartphone, Verizon announced that they were doing away with unlimited data plans, and that while people on existing unlimited plans were grandfathered in, they could not upgrade to a new phone at the subsidized rate and still keep their unlimited data plans.  In other words, if you wanted to keep your unlimited plan, you had to pay full retail for your device.  I considered that to be unacceptable, so I did my research, and settled on Sprint.  They offered unlimited data plans, and had all of the other features that I was looking for.  So I switched.  Other than a very slight loss of voice quality (Verizon had clearer sound by a hair), I continued to be pleased with Sprint two years later when I upgraded to a new phone, and also when I adjusted my plan a few months ago to a cheaper one that had everything that I already had, plus 10 GB of hotspot service.

Now fast forward to about a week or so ago.  The USB charging port on my Galaxy Note 5 stopped working.  Not good.  That meant that the only way that I could charge my phone was via the wireless charger.  Clearly, this was not a sustainable proposition, since I couldn’t use a wireless charger in a lot of places that I typically charged my phone, like in the car or in a bag.  Plus if I took any photos with my phone, I had to transfer them via the cloud.  I couldn’t just plug in and transfer stuff directly.

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Categories: Cell phone, Companies