Entrepreneur of the Year chased out by 117% rent increase

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Furry fans of the canine cannoli and doggie duds available at Barkley Square Gourmet Dog Bakery and Boutique will soon be howling at the news that a 117-percent increase in rent has forced the Old Town business to high-tail it to Del Ray.

Store owner Kristina Robertson announced the planned move Monday, spurred by a spike that drove her rent from $2,300 per month to $5,000. When her lease is up in October, Barkley Square will be dog-gone and the Old Town waterfront will lose the retailer the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce named 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year.

I hate it, Robertson said. I dont want to leave Old Town, its breaking my heart. But I literally would have the store open to pay my rent and that just doesnt make business sense.

Along with the surge in monthly rent, Robertson has been charged about $8,000 in additional retroactive fees for various administrative and operating expenses, according to representatives of Grosvenor, the company that has owned the building at the corner of Union and Wales since May 2006.

A Grosvenor spokesperson explained the lease is set with only an estimate for outside charges such as property taxes, and is adjusted when the tenant is either credited or charged for any difference in estimated and real costs.

Property taxes could indeed account for some of the increase. A January 2008 memorandum issued by the city stated the average net change in commercial property taxes was an increase of 20.1 percent. Grosvenor declined to specify other factors that drove the hike.

Robertson said she decided to move only after trying to negotiate some other arrangement with Cousins Properties, the management company that represents Grosvenor. The best offer was a three-month grace period followed by renegotiation.

If this had come up last year maybe we could have stayed. But with the recession, weve taken such a hit, Robertson said. Its like, Am I going to buy my dog food or a bling collar?

Shes especially disappointed at missing the opportunity to reap the benefits of increased traffic from National Harbor.

Ive definitely seen an increase with the tourists since the opening, Robertson said. And its just something weve been hearing about for so long, and just when its starting to pick up, I wont get to have the benefit from that. Maybe someday we can come back.

Robertson said she and her Chihuahuas, Cocoa and Gigi, will keep the store open until they sell most of the merchandise or until the last day of September, whichever comes first.

Barkley Square will have a grand re-opening at the Del Ray location at 2006 Mount Vernon Ave. on Sept. 5.

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