Why Pollo Campero Chose Hyattsville

Pollo Campero Hyattsville Guatemalan chicken University Town Center

Guatemalan chicken chain Pollo Campero opened a restaurant in Hyattsville earlier this year as part of a major effort to expand in the United States.

The Dallas-based chain, which also operates in several Central American countries, is considered the world’s largest Latin chicken restaurant chain, but it’s poised to break out in the U.S. market thanks to changing national demographics.

With 73 stores mostly in California, Texas and New York, Pollo Campero set out to open 14 more this year, including one in Silver Spring. (Other D.C. area locations: Takoma Park, Laurel, Falls Church and Alexandria.)

But Hyattsville makes particular sense. About one-third of the city’s population is Hispanic, according to the 2010 Census, with the majority listing a family origin in Central American countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where Pollo Campero already is popular.

Pollo Campero (the name means “rural chicken”) focuses on grilled and fried chicken that’s been marinated served with dipping sauces and plantains or yucca fries. Fresh fruit drinks like tamarindo and guava outsell Pepsi, and dulce de leche empanadas and flan are on the dessert menu.

The area has also proven to be popular with international chains. BonChon, a South Korean fried chicken chain, is also in University Town Center, while Nando’s, a South African chicken chain, is in College Park. El Comalito, a Salvadoran restaurant along Baltimore Avenue in Riverdale Park, is always packed.

For a family-owned chain that’s looking to attract new customers, those are all good clues that Hyattsville is safe enough to attract its base but also adventurous enough to bring in new folks.

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Brentwood Apartment Construction Underway

A Brentwood apartment project will transform a section of Route 1.

Construction is underway at Studio 3807, located kitty-cornered from the volunteer fire department on Rhode Island Avenue, with apartments slated to be available to rent in spring of 2018.

The mixed-use building is part of a $36 million development funded in part by the city and the state. It will include 147 apartments, 6,322 square feet of retail space and 3,000 square feet of artist studios.

A second phase, called Artisan at 4100, will include 84 more apartments and 5,000 more square feet of retail. It is scheduled to open in late 2018.

The Brentwood apartments include some interesting touches. The buildings will have solar panels on the roof that will reduce energy consumption by almost 80 percent, and will be built to LEED Gold Standards, the second-highest rating for energy efficiency.

Brentwood apartment Studio 3807 Landex Development Maryland Gateway Arts District

Brentwood apartment project Studio 3807 rendering courtesy of Landex Development

The buildings’ interiors will also feature work commissioned from local artists that will rotate on a regular basis, as well as free WiFi throughout the building and electric car charging stations in the garage.

Overall, the development so far seems like a good example of the kind of big-scale effort that can be done along Route 1, similar to Arts District Hyattsville, Riverdale Park Station and the upcoming project in College Park.

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Hyattsville Wire Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Hyattsville Wire fifth anniversary celebration Route 1 news

This month, the Hyattsville Wire celebrates its fifth anniversary.

In May of 2012, we started this website because we felt communities along Route 1 weren’t being covered well, especially online, where coverage tended to focus on politics and crime. We wanted to change that.

Our mission in starting the Hyattsville Wire was to highlight the arts, architecturehistory and development of communities like Hyattsville, University Park, Riverdale Park and College Park, as well as Mount Rainier and Brentwood.

And things have definitely changed over the years. One of our early pieces was a call for a local coffee shop that pretty much described what Vigilante Coffee would become. Another was an argument for Hyattsville to join Capital Bikeshare, which will happen next year.

Along the way, we’ve interviewed everyone from crime author George Pelecanos to Jim Henson biographer Brian Jay Jones, to noted poet Kay Lindsey and duct tape artist Rachel Aughenbaugh, to Busboys & Poets founder Andy Shallal.

We’ve told you that the Firehouse Lofts were being developed, Art Works Now was moving to Hyattsville and BonChon was coming to University Town Center, among other things. We’ve explained mysterious wheatpaste art, tipped you off about secret menu items and even mapped out Sears homes in Hyattsville’s Historic District.

As we hoped, we’ve also spurred better coverage about the area, with our posts leading to stories in D.C. area news outlets, inspiring other websites to crop up and keeping existing news sites on their toes. We’ve added more than 3,000 fans on social media and picked up 10,000 page views last month alone.

And just recently, we’ve added new features including an events calendar that you can post your own events for free, more regular news coverage and a redesigned website, with some behind-the-scenes plugins to help the site run smoother. We also redesigned our mobile version to be more user-friendly, allowing you to easily read and share our news while you’re on the go.

If you’ve enjoyed the Hyattsville Wire, consider becoming one of our advertisers, or just show your appreciation with a small donation to help defray the costs of running this site, including web design and hosting and the general upkeep of the site at our GoFundMe page.

Thank you for reading and sharing our stories. Keep sending us your story ideas!

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An Interview With Children’s Author Mary Amato

Mary Amato children's book author YA young adult fiction novels Hyattsville

Photo courtesy Mary Amato

Hyattsville author Mary Amato knows what makes kids tick.

An award-winning children’s and young adult book author, Amato started writing at the age of seven when her mother gave her a journal to keep notes on a family trip.

She has two children’s book series: The Riot Brothers, about two elementary-school-aged pranksters, and Good Crooks, about a brother and sister who try to stop their parents’ crimes, as well as YA books such as The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, about a 12-year-old girl upset by her father’s new relationship.

She also writes plays, plays the ukelele, writes songs and puts shadow theater plays on YouTube.

If you’d like to see her in action, you can find her performing at the Riverdale Park Farmer’s Market on May 25, teaching a workshop in journal writing at the Riversdale Historical Society in June or teaching a workshop on the writer’s notebook at Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in August.

The Hyattsville Wire caught up with Amato recently by email.

You’ve written for children and young adults. Which is harder?

Mary Amato children's book author YA young adult fiction novels Hyattsville

Photo courtesy Mary Amato

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Lots of people think that writing for kids is easy because they naively believe that a lower number of pages will mean less effort. Would it take less effort for a violin maker to make an excellent quality half-size violin that does everything a full size violin does? Nope. When you’re writing for kids you still have to nail everything that goes into a book: character, voice, plot, theme, symbolism, word choice, etc. The process takes many revisions, much determination, much chocolate.

Oh. Then there’s this little reality: sometimes the books that are the easiest to write aren’t the easiest to publish. I can write a picture book in a week, but picture books are very hard to sell to a publisher. I have way better results for my novels, which can take 1-2 years to write.

Which of your own books is your favorite?

No offense, but I hate the question about favorite books. Many authors say their books are like babies … favoritism is verboten! That said, some of my books are more like romps and some have more deep, personal meaning. If you want to discover the juicier bits of my heart and mind through my fiction, read The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, Guitar Notes and Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook. The Naked Mole-Rat Letters is about a seventh-grade girl who discovers that her widowed father is falling in love. Although the main character is not me, I did go through that traumatic experience at that age. Guitar Notes is about the way music makes the soul thrum, something that feeds me every day. Edgar Allan’s Official Crime Investigation Notebook is about an awkward and rather pathetic fifth grader with a huge heart and a penchant for writing poetry.

How have kids’ reading habits changed? Is technology affecting how they read?

Children’s literature has been the least affected by the introduction of ebooks. Most parents still want their kids to have books in their hands. School and public libraries—if they haven’t been ravaged by spending cuts—are vibrant and hip and hopping places to hang out. Schools are using more laptops for writing and do subscribe to these online reservoirs of texts that students can read online. Still, walk into a school and you’ll see lots and lots of well-loved, worn-out paperbacks on kids’s desks and in their hands.

Whenever I see anybody—kid or adult—with a book in his or her hands, my soul does a little happy dance. I’ve always wanted to do a blog where I just post pictures of people I see reading, but I think it would be a little creepy to actually take the pictures.

Some of your books have dark undercurrents: Two kids whose parents are thieves, a girl considering revenge on her classmates, a girl sabotaging her father’s long-distance romance. Why is that? How do kids respond to these types of stories? Why do you think some authors shy away from that?

One of the best things about writing for kids and teens is the fact that the stuff they wrestle with is HUGE. Adults spend a lot of time dealing with the minutiae of life: paying bills, making appointments, flossing. Kids and teens spend most of their time dealing with firsts; every day they’re discovering things about themselves, about the world, about society, about life that are brand new to them. Think about it. At around the age of ten it hits you for the first time that everyone you love will die one day. Does it get bigger? I like to wrestle with some of these big questions in my more serious books in a way that genuinely respects the intelligence and sensitivity of kids and teens.

When you’re writing for young people, you quickly learn that they don’t just read your books. They chew, chomp, devour, and suck out every ounce of marrow. They write you letters and tell you that they’ve read your books 17 times each. They know more about your characters than you do. They tell you what resonated and how grateful they are to find a kindred spirit in your character and how some aspect of their life was changed by what you wrote.

How did you come to live in Hyattsville?

My husband and I moved here from Silver Spring in July because we heard great things about Hyattsville, and we are glad we made the decision. The place has a relaxed, warm vibe and is crawling with characters—lots of artists, writers, musicians—and I’m within walking distance to downtown. I teach private lessons in creative writing, songwriting and uke, and love my new local students.

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Lidl Grocery Store Headed to College Park

Lidl College Park grocery store chain German Route 1 Prince George's County Maryland

A prototype Lidl grocery store in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Lidl.

Discount grocery Lidl will make College Park one of its first U.S. locations.

The German chain (pronounced leedle) is planning to open 100 stores along the East Coast by 2018, with the first stores opening in the Mid Atlantic and Southeast. In Prince George’s County, other stores are planned for Bowie and Suitland.

The College Park store would be built at the site of the Clarion Inn at the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Berwyn Road. The site plan was approved by the Prince George’s County Planning Board in October.

The 36,000-square-foot store would be just slightly smaller than the recently opened 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods in Riverdale Park.

Unlike that store, the high-end Safeway at University Town Center or the Yes! Organic Market at Arts District Hyattsville, Lidl is aiming for more of a discount audience. Its main competitor in the area is rival German chain Aldi, which already has stores in Hyattsville, Takoma Park and Beltsville.

The general concept at Lidl is sort of a cross between Trader Joe’s and Walmart: Lots of store-brand private labels, low prices, not as much selection as a traditional grocery store. (You want mustard? They have one kind, instead of 16.) Some foodies are excited about the U.S. expansion, and it’s considered a potential threat to Whole Foods.

The grocery should help with parts of College Park’s designation as a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—an area with low-income residents (mostly college students) and little access to food.

One other thing that should help with access: Developers may be required to add a bikesharing station. This is a smart and cost-effective way to expand the Zagster system in College Park, especially for new projects like a grocery store.

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Hyattsville Wire’s New Events Calendar

The Hyattsville Wire recently added an events calendar where you can add your own local events for free including ones from Hyattsville, University Park, Riverdale Park, College Park, Mount Rainier and other nearby communities.

As part of some recent upgrades to the site, we’ve added this new feature and we’ll be regularly adding to the calendar, but we hope you’ll also help us keep it up-to-date by adding your event too.

If you go to the form here you can add your event and we’ll approve it within a day or so of the submission. You can also access the form on the right-hand column of any page of the Hyattsville Wire.

There are lots of events happening along the Route 1 corridor every day, but it can be hard to keep track of them all. We hope our new calendar will be your go-to source for local events and happenings.

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College Park Named Top Rental Investment

College Park rentals housing apartments investment University MarylandCollege Park rentals are a good investment, according to an analysis by Redfin.

The online real estate services firm studied college towns associated with the 310 schools listed in the most recent U.S. News & World Report national ranking. They then cross-referenced tuition costs, median list price for nearby homes and the Walk Score.

The home of the University of Maryland, College Park, came in 15th nationally, with a median list price of $289,900, and tuition and fees of $32,045, a ranking of 60th on the U.S. News list and a Walk Score of 69.

That was competitive with Nashville, home of Vanderbilt University; and Madison, Wisconsin, home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Redfin’s argument was that college towns are good for investment properties because of the regular influx of new students.

“The pool of potential tenants is also stable with new students coming in every year, so a property owner really doesn’t have to worry about where they will find the next tenant,” said Redfin agent Rory Haigler.

College towns are also good investments because they have a stable local economy and lots of good options for music and dining. For College Park rentals, that’s only going to improve.

Already, the area has seen the opening of MilkBoy ArtHouse; a $110 million apartment, retail and dining project on Guilford Drive; a $115 million hotel and conference center; new apartments proposed near the College Park Metro; and the Purple Line potentially coming right through town.

Historically, College Park also had something of a reputation as a “commuter school,” a place where students might drive in from their parents’ homes nearby, but as its student body has become more national and even international, a lot more high-end student housing has sprung up along Route 1, which should only drive the investment rentals market even more.

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Rt. 1 Communities Promote Tolerance With Signs

Hyattsville lawn signs Black Lives Matter Welcome Your NeighborsThe national election was almost six months ago, but political lawn signs are still going strong in Hyattsville and other Route 1 communities like University Park.

In the months since the presidential election, signs have popped up all over the area promoting tolerance in many forms.

One particularly popular sign says in three languages: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” Signs featuring Spanish, Arabic and Amharic—all languages spoken by the diverse local immigrant community—have been spotted.

That sign comes from the Welcome Your Neighbors movement, a loosely affiliated group that started with a handmade sign at a Mennonite church in Harrisonburg, Va. Pastor Matthew Bucher told NPR that he painted the sign in frustration at the rhetoric on immigration of the presidential primary debates, and it grew from there:

As Mennonites visiting Harrisonburg brought signs back to their home communities, the message spread to other towns. Immanuel Mennonite printed another 300 signs, then another thousand. They posted the PDF of the sign on their website and encouraged anyone who is interested to download and print as many signs as they want, coordinating mass orders on a Facebook page called “Welcome your Neighbors.”

The University Park Church of the Brethren, one of the three major pacifist Christian denominations in the U.S. with the Mennonites and the Quakers, is a major local promoter of these signs, featuring a large one on its site along Route 1.

University Park welcome your neighbors lawn sign amharic arabic

The signs are in part a reaction to the election results in an area that went by heavily for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. (In Hyattsville alone, 81 percent of voters backed Clinton and just 12 percent backed Trump.)

But they are also a reflection of a diverse community—37 percent of residents were born in another country, nearly three times the national average—that has long been fairly socially liberal.

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Route 1’s Roots Run Deep

Route 1, King's Highway, Hyattsville, Baltimore Avenue, Prince George's County, College Park, University Park, Riverdale Park

Route 1 can trace its origins in part to the 17th century.

The U.S. highway that runs through this area was once part of a system of roads connecting the colonies called the King’s Highway.

Named for King Charles II of England, who ordered it be built, the 1,300-mile road was laid out from 1650 to 1735, stretching from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina. First started as a postal route, it later handled stagecoaches and wagons.

The highway had various names along the way, including the Boston Post Road, the Potomac Trail and the Virginia Path. South of Annapolis, the stretch of road was often called the Great Coastal Road.

The National Postal Museum in downtown D.C. has an exhibit which references the “King’s Best Highway,” known today as Route 1, and tells the story of how it was a popular mail route that was for many generations just a path wide enough for a few wagons.

The Hyattsville Wire couldn’t find a detailed map of the highway as it went through this area, but there are references to it passing through Bladensburg, just south of downtown Hyattsville.

Route 1 runs 2,369 miles, from Fort Kent, Maine, at the border of Canada to Key West, Florida.

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Singer Building Ready to Rent in Mount Rainier

Menkiti Group, Singer Building, Singer Flats, Mount Rainier apartments, Prince George's apartments, Gateway Arts District

Courtesy of the Menkiti Group

The historic Singer Building in Mount Rainier will be renovated by the end of summer.

Built in 1936, the three-story building in the 3300 block of Rhode Island Avenue is being redeveloped by the Brookland-based Menkiti Group, its first project in Prince George’s County.

Once the home of a sales shop for the Singer sewing machine company and the First National Bank of Mount Rainier, the brick structure will soon house 11 apartments and 10,000 square feet of commercial space.

Already planned for that space: a 1,360-square-foot cafe by D.C.’s “bar czar” Joe Englert, who helped create the Rock and Roll Hotel and Lucky Bar among a slew of others; Annie’s Ace Hardware, which already has locations in Brookland and Petworth; and arts incubator ReCreative Spaces.

The apartments, which are being marketed as Singer Flats, are now up for lease, with a promised finish date of late summer 2017.

Mount Rainier is quickly becoming a new hotspot along Route 1. (Owners of historic bungalows and Victorians often receive postcards with unsolicited offers from eager investors.) This project, which makes good use of a nice historic building, should only add fuel to that fire.

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