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Staff photo by JAY FRIESSMaria Perrygo, owner of Leonardtown's Do Dah Deli, is moving her restaurant out of the town after it closed a second time.
Leonardtown's Do Dah Deli was named after a Grateful Dead song, "Truckin," a tune about traveling. And, on Saturday, the iconic restaurant rolled out of town.
Owner Maria Perrygo fought back emotion as she watched a crew of employees, customers, and fellow business owners pack the restaurant's furniture and kitchen equipment into moving trucks, but her voice was still full of her native Northern California optimism.
"There's a lot of sadness, but it's time for me to go back to my roots," Perrygo said. "I don't think people should give up on their dreams."
This is the second business reboot for Perrygo, whose original deli helped lead the renaissance of the Leonardtown square in 1999. Perrygo served as the president of the Leonardtown Business Association between 2000 and 2002.
"It lasted five wonderful years," she said of the original deli. "I have a vested interest in this town."
In 2004, Perrygo's landlord sold the building to an owner who brought his own deli concept to the square. The Do Dah Deli shut down, but came back in 2007 as a fixture of the newly renovated Breton Marketplace on Route 5 in space formerly occupied by Mattingly's grocery.
However, this time, the closure the Doo Dah Deli was not the fault of Perrygo's landlord.
"It was an economic thing," she said. "St. Mary's County had held its own for a long time. The fall of the economy was slow for us."
With customers dropping off, Perrygo said the restaurant struggled to maintain its more expensive rent.
"I went too big," Perrygo said. "We didn't need all this space, all this overhead. … I have no one to blame. My idea didn't work. … I can't blame the economy. I can't blame the president."
She credited her landlord, Wayne Davis, for releasing the restaurant from its lease with no obligation, and she said the town government has been aware of and concerned about her situation.
Perrygo's plight set a solemn tone for the Leonardtown Council's budget work session Thursday as Mayor J. Harry Norris announced the restaurant's closure before the meeting. Norris has proposed a budget that would keep property tax bills level in hopes that it will help landlords keep rents level and avoid pushing more businesses out of town.
With the Do Dah Deli's closure, Leonardtown has lost four restaurants in recent months, including Chillin' Time, Corbel's and the Tea N Scones Cafe & Wine Bar. It also lost the One Stop Family Fun Center, which closed after its roof collapsed under the weight of winter storms.
The town also lost a print shop, Hilltop Graphics, which moved to Hollywood last summer. Hilltop owner Carol Davis helped Perrygo move Saturday. She said her business was lured out of town by cheaper rent, higher visibility and better parking.
"It put us in a much better place as far as visibility went," Davis said. "I'm not sure where we would be if we had stayed there."
But Davis said she misses the small-town feel of her Leonardtown location and the sound of the church bells.
Perrygo said she, too, will miss the town. She is scouting a new location for her deli, but she noted, "It's just not in Leonardtown."