Time is almost up for the Eastham’s Auto Servicenter on Wisconsin Avenue.
But even as the gas stations of downtown Bethesda vanish under the weight of sky-high property values and ambitious redevelopment projects, the landmark auto repair shop will live on for at least another year — albeit at a new, temporary location also up for redevelopment.
Eastham’s will move from 7100 Wisconsin Ave., where it has been since 1929, to 4990 Fairmont Ave. by the second week of April, general manager Steven Embrey said.
Work on a 12-story, 145-unit apartment building is set to begin soon at 7100 Wisconsin Ave., a former Exxon station that in late 2012 was retrofitted to allow Eastham’s another 18 months.
Embrey said Eastham’s, still owned by the Eastham family, started an intensive search for another auto repair shop in downtown Bethesda, since Bethesda and Chevy Chase supplies the vast majority of the shop’s client base.
They found the Fairmont Avenue spot, another former gas station at the corner of Old Georgetown Road that is on its way to approval for a 17-story, 70-unit luxury condominium.
“They want to keep the business going,” Embrey said of the Eastham family. “The problem, obviously, is our base is right here and you kind of have to stay in this area. There’s less and less property to have a service station. The property is just too expensive.”
The Wisconsin Avenue Exxon station is long gone. So is another Exxon station at 7340 Wisconsin Ave., which developers hope to soon turn into a 14-story, 225-unit apartment a stone’s throw from the Bethesda Metro station. Construction is underway on a low-rise bank building on the site of a former BP Station at Wisconsin and Highland Avenues.
There are plans for a one-story TD Bank building at 7628 Old Georgetown Rd., the site of a still operational Shell station. There are also approved, but apparently less imminent plans for a six-story office building at 8280 Wisconsin Ave., now the site of a still operational gas station, carwash and repair shop.
“The only way to really make money off these properties is to build them up, unfortunately,” Embrey said.
Eastham’s will have a year-long lease on the Fairmont and Old Georgetown location. It will not also serve as a place to fill up. Gas tanks and pumps were removed from the site in August.
The property owner flirted with the idea of having the site serve as a temporary staging location for food trucks, including the popular Corned Beef King out of Olney. But that never happened.