Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Car buffs will be looking for another place to ‘worship’

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Photo courtesy of Ken Visser
Anywhere between a handful of faithful enthusiasts in winter and as many as 200 hot rod and classic car owners in the summer flock to the Sunday morning gathering known as The Church of the Holy Donut.
When construction crews start work on the Burtonsville Shopping Center this summer, a group of car enthusiasts who have gathered religiously at the site for nearly a decade will have to find somewhere else to congregate.

‘‘We’re going to try and find another place,” said Rick Hackley, a White Oak resident who started the early Sunday morning gathering, known as The Church of the Holy Donut, about eight years ago in the parking lot of the shopping center at the corner of routes 198 and 29.

Since then, anywhere between a handful of faithful enthusiasts in the winters and as many as 200 hot rod and classic car owners in the summer have flocked to the lot early as 7:30 a.m. to kick the tires and shoot the breeze over coffee and doughnuts.

The unofficial ‘‘church” never formally advertised the gatherings and never received permission to congregate in the lot. Attendance grew by word of mouth and the space seemed to accommodate the numbers, since the Dutch Country Farmers Market, which has occupied the anchor spot in the shopping center for 20 years, was not open on Sundays.

But with construction scheduled to start this summer and a new grocery store with Sunday hours serving as anchor of the new shopping center, the group will have to shift gears.

‘‘They won’t be able to do that anymore,” said Christopher Jones, president of the Bethesda-based BMC Property Group that owns the shopping center. ‘‘We’ve allowed it to a point ... but it’s not anything we’ll be able to permit in the future.”

Jones said Sundays at the shopping center are quiet now and the group does bring business to the stores in the center, notably the Dunkin’ Donuts⁄Baskin Robbins shop. But, he said, when construction is complete ‘‘we will have an active center with restaurants and a grocery store” that will need the parking.

Members of the Holy Donut say they saw it coming and have been talking about finding a new site ever since they heard the Dutch Country Farmers Market was moving and a new center would be built.

‘‘I think we were basically resolved to that,” said Silver Spring resident Ken Visser, who has been attending the gathering for about four years. ‘‘If you look at the business he wants to put in there, it is not compatible with our sort of ... group.”

Hackley said members are looking for a spot nearby that wouldn’t be used on Sunday mornings and would welcome the gathering of what he and other members call a group of mostly respectful older guys.

Cloverly resident Rob Sunde said he’s been taking his 1932 Ford, a three-window coupe, to the gathering since its inception.

‘‘The reason I like going to the Donut is it’s like going to a car show but it’s free and only a couple of hours,” said Sunde, who has a hot rod shop and gets business from the weekly gatherings. ‘‘You’re there and you’re out.”

Sunde thinks the group should follow the Dutch Country Farmers Market to its new location in Laurel. But Hackley says he doesn’t think that site, located off Fort Meade Road, would work.

He’s considered other locations but said it’s important to keep the gathering in the Burtonsville area.

‘‘When you start moving things and try to get people to other places, it starts to fall apart,” he said.

Sunde said he’d drive as far as 15 to 20 miles to attend and Visser said he believes the group will survive, whether it’s in a shopping center parking lot or other location.

‘‘We’ll have to change with the times,” Visser said.