The touching sight of government officials and VIP’s surrounding the fountain dedicated to the memory of all Prince George’s County Law Enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty created a special moment for friends and family who gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Grand Re-Opening of the Hilltop Plaza Shopping Center in Bowie, Maryland .
In the event on October 27, 2011, the crowd gathered under a tent as light rain sprinkled across the skies. Mayor Fred Robinson joined the Prince George’s County Council members, Bowie City officials, Prince George’s County Law Enforcement Officers and the family of the man who had the original vision of creating a shopping center in the sleepy bedroom community of Bowie in 1967. Bob Mills, the first property manager of the shopping center remembered “I got a call form Leo Storch in 1967 asking me to take a ride with him to see a piece of property. When I got there I saw a hole and I said what you want me to do with this?” the first property manager remembers. “I want you to turn it into a shopping center when I let you loose.” Storch said.
The first tenant was 7-11. Frank Storch of M. Leo Storch Management , Inc, gave plaques and flowers to the property manager and his wife for 27 years of service to the shopping center. Mrs. Shelby Mills mentioned that the florist that the Storch family has arranged to have flowers sent to her home in Florida will be coming from the Flamingo Flower Shop down the street from her house. Amazingly the owner of the Flamingo Flower Shop in Florida once had a flower shop in the in the very same Hilltop Plaza in Bowie when it was managed by her husband Bob Mills. Storch also recognized his longest serving tenants and the staff of the Hilltop Plaza and those who assisted him in making the Grand Re-Opening event a success. “My father, M.Leo Storch, would be proud today to see the diversity and makeup of the Hilltop Plaza Shopping Center. We have a unique make up of tenants,” Storch said.
Prince George’s County Council Chairwoman, Ingrid M. Turner, said that the Grand Re-Opening was a testament to the hard work of the Storch family but added it was also the tenants that had made the center a success, “You can not survive without tenants,” the council member said. Mayor Robinson reminded the crowd that Bowie has grown tremendously over the years. “Obviously, the Storch family has been part of Bowie for years, I just want to say, Frank, of all the great things that you do to sit here and take a moment to recognize your mom with flowers and recognize for her contributions speaks volumns about you and your family,” Robinson said. The Mayor said the key to the success in Bowie was bringing people together. “If you look back at Bowie in the 60’s it was a small bedroom community somewhere between DC and Annapolis. We have grown somewhat and you have been a serious part of that growth. We have been able to develop together to bring people together,” Mayor Robinson said.
Laura Leventhal welcomed the guests and thanked the M.Leo Storch Management Company for hiring her company Consider it Done By Laura as the event planner for the week long event. She turned the ceremony over to Frank Storch who served as master of ceremonies for the rest of the program. After recognizing his mother and thanking her for the years of hard work and support that she had given to the family Storch paid tribute to his father, M. Leo Storch, who had the vision to create the Hilltop Shopping Center 16,237 days earlier on May 15, 1967 when his father signed the lease for 7-11.
7-11 is the only original tenants in the Hilltop Plaza Shopping Center 44 years later. “My father would be very proud to know these people he built with many decades ago are still here providing great service to the customers patronizing all of our places and doing such wonderful business.” Storch said. He also recognized the construction companies who had worked to remodel the shopping center. He recognized the hard work of the men and women who had made the dream a reality. But one of the most touching scenes of the day took place when the police officers climbed up on the stage to be recognized and to take a role in the dedication of the fountain that would honor the police officers who had fallen in the line of duty.
“This memorial is not complete, there will be additional changes made, but we wanted to have the dedication today and recognize the contribution of those who gave their lives in service to their fellow citizens,” Storch said. As the Prince George’s County police officers gathered around the fountain a mother and daughter wiped away their tears as they remembered their loved one who died in the line of duty. As the officials gathered to cut the large red ribbon, the mother took a piece in memory of Tommy.
Frank Storch said they had to get festivities underway because he only prayed for an hour of clear skies from the rain. The people who gathered under the big tent did not mind the rain; in fact, the success of the Grand Re-Opening over shadowed the weather. We had thousands of people to come out on Sunday. The reason we had the Grand Re-Opening events on Sunday and today was because there were so many people that we wanted to thank for the role that they played in making all of this possible.” Storch said.
The miracle of the Hilltop Plaza Shopping Center, as it sits like a shining city on the hill, is that it now joins the other major shopping centers in Bowie such as the Bowie Town Center, the Free State Mall, and the Wal-Mart Store, as a new and attractive place to shop. Councilwoman Turner said it was a testament to the hard work that made all of Prince George’s County proud. “What a beautiful day in the city of Bowie and a wonderful day for Mr. Storch and his family. I want to thank you and your family for having the commitment and dedication to continue to put your time and energy in this economic development and this redevelopment in our community to help our community. You care about the community,” Turner said.
The 37 small businesses in the center each has an owner or manager who is responsible for the day to day operation of their respective small businesses;; however, as Frank Storch told the audience, it was the faith of his father and the support of his mother that saw the Hilltop Plaza Shopping Center grow from an idea of his father 44 years ago to the massive 37 business site that sits on the property today. “When you look back over the 44 years since my father first had the vision to develop this property to the grand re-opening today it is a great achievement,” Storch said.
The weeklong celebration that began on Sunday October 23rd and ends on Saturday October 29th takes place as the Dow surges and the European markets completed a debt deal that could mean a real chance for a recovery. With a record high number on bankruptcies and homeowner foreclosures over the past four years it would be great if the rest of the nation could see an economic upturn. The successful grand re-opening at the Hilltop Plaza Shopping Center this week has been a cause for hope in a very dim national picture. If it can be done in Bowie, it can be done all over the nation. Let’s Get Back to Work, America,” the president has said.