Glover Parkers have begun a frenzied effort to save the shop of beloved ice cream icon Mahmood “Max” Keshani, who last week received written notice that his lease for Max’s Best Ice Cream (2416 Wisconsin Ave.) would end on June 30. Neighbors have called for pickets of the landlord and boycotts of next door neighbor Rocklands Barbeque (2418 Wisconsin Ave.), which has announced that it will expand into the vacated Max’s space. There’s a Facebook page, a Twitter hashtag (#SaveMaxs), and a torrent of impassioned posts on two neighborhood Yahoo newsgroups. At the center of the frenzy is Keshani himself, who openly blames Rocklands owner John Snedden for his troubles. But the case for Rocklands’ culpability is not at all clear.
According to Keshani, the property manager earlier offered him a 33 percent rent increase that he declined. Keshani wanted to negotiate, but the landlords, sisters Gail and Barbara Bassin—who also own the Rocklands property—evidently did not. Property manager Raymond Ruppert, Jr., told us that Keshani was informed verbally last fall that his lease would not be renewed. Keshani, however, did not get that message, and laid in supplies for an entire summer ice cream season, expecting to eventually strike a bargain on a lower rent. Last week’s notice to vacate came as a shock, Keshani says. (Although we do not know the exact details of Keshani’s lease, we do know that he assumed it shortly after it was negotiated by his predecessor in the space, an ice cream shop called Bob’s. Retail leases often run for 10 years, with two five-year renewal options. If the Bob’s lease is typical, it could be ending now without any built-in option to renew.)
During the past year, Snedden kept up a 20-year habit of expressing interest in leasing the Max’s space, should it ever come open. Snedden told us on Monday that the property manager approached him this spring with a lease opportunity, and he accepted. Until last weekend’s brouhaha, he says, he thought Max was retiring voluntarily. (Rocklands, another locally owned business, started in its Glover Park location 22 years ago and has since added three other stores in the area.) Critics say that Snedden’s willingness to rent the Max’s space empowered the landlords to break ties with Keshani. But at Tuesday’s Glover Park Citizens’ Association Meeting it was revealed that the landlords had also lined up a backup tenant for the space in case Rocklands didn’t rent it, according to a woman who attended the meeting.
Snedden, for his part, says that he is sorry to see Max’s go, but he has a signed lease on 2416 Wisconsin that he cannot back out of without cost. Nor does his lease allow him to sublet to anyone else. Snedden says he has told the property manager that he is willing to delay the start date of his lease, should the landlords choose to allow Keshani to remain in the building. But Snedden adds that he doesn’t know whether the landlords will want to forge such a deal.
Due to media coverage of the lost lease, Keshani has heard from landlords all over town with offers of vacant space, he says. Remy Esquenet, who owns 2319 Wisconsin Ave., confirmed to us that he had reached out to Keshani as a possible second tenant for that building, which currently houses Tennis Zone. Some supporters have expressed willingness to contribute to a Kickstarter campaign to help Keshani with the expenses of relocating, but Keshani says he will either stay put or close. He bought the ice cream business with wife Marsha 20 years ago, and after Marsha’s death from cancer in 2011, he has no interest in moving out of the building they shared, even if only across the street. “This was my birthplace to begin with, and it will be my last grave,” he says. “My wife dedicated her life here. I don’t want to go anyplace else. If this is not going to work out, hey, God meant a different life for me.”