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Community pushes back on renovations for new restaurant at former Green Valley Pharmacy

Green Valley Pharmacy (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

The new restaurant at the former Green Valley Pharmacy won’t be opening until later this year due to some pushback from the community.

The local Arlington landmark at 2415 Shirlington Road is currently undergoing extensive renovations to transform it from a seven-decade-old pharmacy that served the Green Valley neighborhood into a kabob and burger eatery called “Halal Spot.”

However, those renovations are on hold as the Green Valley Civic Association and the county continue to review architecture plans for the new restaurant, a number of people involved in the project tell ARLnow.

The Green Valley Pharmacy opened in 1952 as the only lunch counter and pharmacy to serve Arlington’s Black community during the Jim Crow era. It was owned and operated by Dr. Leonard “Doc” Muse, a graduate of the Howard University School of Pharmacy.

The property was designated by the county as a local historic landmark and district in 2013, with a historic marker placed there in 2014.

But in late 2017, Muse died and the pharmacy has been closed since.

In August 2019, Muse’s daughter agreed to allow Arlington resident Nasir Ahmad, who also owns restaurants in Sterling and Fredericksburg, to rent the building and open a new eatery there.

It took more than 18 months for a buildout permit to be submitted in March 2021. In August of that year, it was approved by the county (the permit notes the restaurant’s name as “Time Square Grill,” but Ahmad told ARLnow in September that was simply a placeholder).

Months later, the project and renovations are still in limbo.

Last week, the Green Valley Civic Association held a meeting with members during which Ahmad provided an update on the proposed renovations.

Coming out of the meeting, the community’s concerns remained, civic association president Portia Clark tells ARLnow. Those are related to parking, signage and renovations that could impact the historical integrity of the building.

A catching point seems to be a walk-in cooler that is to be built at the back of the building with a pass-thru or doorway to it. Constructing the cooler would require knocking out a wall and removing a chimney, both historic components of the building, says Clark.

Parking is also an issue. Clark argues there aren’t enough spots available in the parking lot to accommodate the number of seats in the restaurant, in accordance with county code.

Additionally, the historic “Green Valley Pharmacy” signage has been removed. Clark says the civic association would like the restaurant’s name to include “Green Valley Pharmacy.”

“One of the only things left was the name,” says Clark. “Now, there’s no reflection of that.”

Despite these concerns, Clark remains okay with the restaurant moving in and hopes the owner continues to work with the community.

The project’s architect, Pat Snyder, believes there are places for compromise and working together. Learning about the history of Doc Muse and the pharmacy made her realize how important the building is to the community.

“We want the building to reflect that history,” Snyder says.

The current plan is to have pharmacy and Doc Muse-related artifacts and memorabilia on display in the restaurant, notes Snyder.

“There are a lot of things left [in the pharmacy],” she says. “We can collect it and display it to the public.”

She also thinks the idea of painting murals on the side of the building, an idea that was brought up at the civic association meeting, would be “wonderful.”

“We could draw in all of the historic elements and brighten up an otherwise gray, block building,” Snyder says.

Of course, most of these renovations or elements can not happen without county approval.

Since the pharmacy building is protected in the Arlington County local historic district, any proposed exterior alterations must be approved by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board’s (HALRB) design review process.

In 2018, the board did approve three alterations, including a removal of a tree, changes to the roof, and installation of an air conditioning condenser on the roof.

The current application, Historic Preservation Program coordinator Cynthia Liccese-Torres tells us, now includes asking to install an exterior walk-in cooler, removing the rear chimney, and improving ADA accessibility.

The HALRB is considering the application at its next (virtual) public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 19. Members of the public are allowed to sign up to speak at the meeting.

Clark says while the Green Valley Civic Association has a say on how the renovations could look, ultimately it’s the HALRB’s choice to approve or not.

Ahmad remains optimistic that everything will be in order sooner than later. He told ARLnow back in September that the initial plan was to open the restaurant prior to 2022. Now, he says he’d like to line it up with the unveiling of John Robinson Jr. Town Square across the street. That could happen in the spring.

Whatever or whenever it happens, the hope that Green Valley Pharmacy’s transformation into a restaurant appeases all.

“This is our history,” says Clark. “We just want this done right.”

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