Washington Post Writes Yet Another “Is Georgetown Dead?” Article

Every six months of so, it seems some news outlet rolls out another “is Georgetown is dead?” story. This week it was the Washington Post’s turn.

Inspired by the genuinely sad story of the closing of Furin’s, the Post ponders:

Is Furin’s merely an example of the normal business cycle of Georgetown, or a sign of larger problems to come? Do mom-and-pop shops have a place in the neighborhood or are national chains destined to take it over?

In fairness to the Post, they do present a slightly more nuanced picture of the neighborhood than many “Georgetown is doomed to mall stores” articles. They quote John Hays, owner of Phoenix, who argues that changes come and go. In the end, the Post concludes that there has in fact been a reduction in independent shops, and that that is a result of high rents:

Nancy Itteilag, the real estate agent who sold Furin’s, said rents on M and Wisconsin can range from $30 to $70 per square foot, a cost that she and Hamilton think puts pressure on existing independent businesses and can be intimidating and prohibitive for small-business owners looking to set up shop. (Being a chain doesn’t guarantee success, either; American Eagle Outfitters and Reiss are two recent casualties.)

What the Post doesn’t mention is that the vast majority of business in Georgetown are still independently owned. Yes, there’s less independent retail than there was 20 years ago. And the retail, whether independent or chain, is less resident-oriented. But that’s a trend common to many commercial districts. You can blame the Internet for that, among other uncontrollable forces.

The real challenge facing Georgetown is how to attract quality retail. But being independent doesn’t guarantee quality (just look at the cheap suit stores on Wisconsin, all of which are independent). So rather than focus too much on who owns the business, we ought to focus on whether the business is good in the first place. It’s important to keep a vibrant independent shop population in Georgetown, but the analysis shouldn’t stop there.

The Post added one more nugget to the genre: they show old photos of Georgetown along with current shots of the same scene (sounds familiar). You can see them above.

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6 Comments

Filed under Retail

6 responses to “Washington Post Writes Yet Another “Is Georgetown Dead?” Article

  1. RNM

    As Topher (so glad to finally know the name of GM, thanks to a post link in the online version of this story to one of Topher’s columns) points out, the decline in independent retail is not just a local phenomena but a national one. A decade ago it was the Walmarts of the world killing small stores in small towns. Now it is the large chains killing killing the small shops that survived. Economics of scale are at play…other than the “let them eat cake” crowd, most people don’t want to pay more for the same basic product because the small store can’t negotiate a better price from the distributor or spread its costs out over hundreds of locations. In the same sense, I lay hands on products at stores (including chains) and buy online with free shipping, no sales taxes and better prices. So maybe the internet will be the tool that kills the chains.

    The two most interesting parts of this article and its accompanying pieces were the photos…showing the run down bombed out looking Georgetown of the 1970s. And the text which reminded some and possibly educated others that this is just a neighborhood that goes up and down and while it has been home to the hoity toity it has also been run down slums. The only constant is change.

    The other interesting part was the smaller side article which pointed out that Georgetown was once a destination for nightlife but is rapidly becoming an afterthought as compared to other areas of the city. While this is certainly in part to the development of places like U Street and the Atlas district…it is also a direct result of the choices made by leadership in Georgetown over the last couple of decades which have created the situation. The restrictive control and covenants on liquor permits and how businesses can operate eventually have chased people away. That also means that more and more of what can survive in Georgetown is going to be the chains that some decry here. Law of unintended consequences. To be relevant, a place has to be vibrant…if people work to squeeze the vibrant nature of the community out then decline in relevance should not be surprising. Balance is key…and for too long the balance has been weighted to stifle many aspects considered undesirable by some…when that happens you get a decline, or you end up with an outdoor mall. And so it goes…

  2. The Post has been writing a variation of this article for the past 45 years.
    Somehow, Georgetown manages to survive. Commercially, and residentially. Georgetown was here way before the Post, and will be here way after the Post.

  3. GM

    RNM: Sorry, I don’t hide my name (it’s listed on the About page). But when I started the site, I started doing the whole GM 3rd person thing, mostly to imitate Loose Lips at Citypaper. I get sick of it, as I imagine many are, but it’s just one of those things that once you start you keep doing for some reason. I think what I ought to do is at least change the tag at the bottom of the posts.

    Dave: Sadly, I fear that “way after the Post” might not be so far into the future.

  4. Topher

    There, how’s that?

  5. Cynthia Anthony

    Having just returned from shopping in Random Harvest and lunch at Paolo’s (we usually go to Martin’s, but one has to vary somewhat) I can attest that Georgetown looked quite alive and happy this afternoon…..

  6. Carol Joynt

    Perhaps you should consider a masthead that reads The Georgetown Metropolitan. Editor: Topher Mathews

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