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.