Georgetown a Foodie Desert?

Photo by Gina Jones.

The sad closure of Cannon’s got GM thinking: is Georgetown a foodie desert? In other words, does Georgetown lack a strong gourmet food culture?

Part of what makes a gourmet food culture includes restaurants. And there’s obviously a very old debate about the aggregate quality of Georgetown restaurants. Yes, it is weighed down with a lot of tourist-oriented restaurants. And some of the finer dining options are sometimes accused of resting on their decades old laurels. But a lot of it is just perception. For instance, in GM’s opinion a restaurant like Capitol Prague would get much more press if it were open on 14th St.

But what GM wants to discuss more is not the food that people buy at Georgetown restaurants, but rather the food they make in their own homes.

Now, GM obviously has no idea the quality of food that gets made every night in the neighborhood. But what he can see is that there’s not much retail in the neighborhood that caters to homemade gourmet cooking.

With Cannon’s gone, the only shop in Georgetown that sells unprepared food is Stachowski’s. Sure, there’s also Dean and Deluca, but they’ve basically eliminated their produce, meat and fish sections. Now it’s almost entirely prepared foods.

Safeway is also technically within the boundaries of Georgetown, but barely. And while you could certainly make a gourmet meal from ingredients bought at Safeway, it doesn’t exactly cater to the market.

Think what doesn’t exist in Georgetown: no Whole Foods or similarly “aspirational” grocery store (more on that term below). No fish monger (any more). No cheese shop. No produce stand. No cookware shop (even our Crate and Barrel doesn’t carry cookware).

There’s a spice shop, some great wine stores, and a couple relatively small farmers markets, but that’s pretty much it.

It would be one thing if no other neighborhood in or around DC had any of these types of stores either, but that’s simply not the case. Small gourmet markets are popping up all over DC, like Glen’s Garden Market over in Dupont, or the Smucker Farms market on 14th St. And not to mention Union Market.

There’s still no Williams and Sonoma in the rest of DC (other than the one in barely-DC Friendship Heights). But it seems unlikely that if they decide to add another location that they’d choose Georgetown.

There could be a million reasons why foodie retail culture has either left Georgetown or skipped over it entirely. High rents, rich residents who would rather just hire a caterer for their parties, perceptions about parking, who knows. But the end result is that if you aspire to homemade gourmet cooking, you’re probably going to head out of the neighborhood first.

And “aspire” is the key term. A branding expert once told GM that all advertising (and ultimately every product) can be broadly put into two categories: aspirational or affirmational. Either it’s trying to sell you on a life you could have or it’s trying to sell you on a life you already think you have.

What’s interesting is that Georgetown is full of aspirational retailers. Practically every clothing store is. The furniture stores sure are. Hell, even the cupcakes are. Foodie culture is definitely aspirational, so it’s just a little weird that it doesn’t appear to have grabbed a foothold in Georgetown and doesn’t look likely to do so anytime soon.

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4 Comments

Filed under Retail

4 responses to “Georgetown a Foodie Desert?

  1. Sadly, it is on the verge of becoming a food desert. We are being passed by for many reasons, rent only being one of them. We are becoming a neighborhood of chain stores and tourist restaurants and
    losing more than we’re gaining.

  2. Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by “aspirational”. Or by “neighborhood”, for that matter. I can walk up to Whole Foods in about 20 minutes from anywhere in my neighborhood, and I get plenty of aspirational inspiration there. I love Stachowskis, and Dean & Deluca still has a great cheese section. Before I moved to Georgetown I used to drive from Fairfax County just to shop it. (BTW, have you noticed that their wine selection has become much more reasonable?) Even Safeway is more inspirational than it was in the old building. Cannons was just too expensive and the product wasn’t all that great.

    I don’t need to have a Williams Sonoma on my block. It’s a quick bus or bike ride up to Tenlytown for that stuff, and I only need to shop there about four times a year anyway.

    Easter Market, Union Market, and Maine Avenue are all wonderful food destinations, and are quick and easy to get to from Georgetown. Grab a Cars-to-Go. Would I love to have a real old-timey food market in Georgetown? Sure, if the product AND the prices were competitive with the stores. I can think of a few bank buildings that would have been more useful as a market (TD Bank, why are you here?) But overall, I’m not complaining.

  3. I agree with a lot of Robert Harris’s points, particularly regarding how we define neighborhood, in the sense of retail availability. I think that a lot of it is based on perspective. From our apartment, the Whole Foods is much closer than Wisconsin and M, so I consider it “in the neighborhood.” Trader Joe’s is similarly only 2-3 blocks past the Georgetown “borders.” Also, both Glen’s and the new Wagshal’s on New Mexico Ave are within a 10-15 minute bike ride (or less time in the car). And I’m at Union Market 1-2 times a month, either biking from work, or swinging by in the car in conjunction with cross-town errands like e-cycling at the Fort Totten transfer station.

    And while Cannons closing is sad, the still-very-recent arrival of Stachowskis has considerably upgraded our food shopping options. And while the Safeway is still a Safeway, plenty of their options (including the cheese and wine counters) are significantly more “foodie-licious” than at other safeways in the area. And it’s light years beyond the former Social Safeway.

    You’re also forgetting about some of the markets and bakeries like Marvelous Market (or Le Pain Quotidien), which, while they may not be of the highest quality, are at least in the same category of shop as something like Smucker Farms. I was never around for Neam’s market (and I’m sad about that), but MM is slightly better than nothing.

  4. IIRC, years ago (late 80s/early 90s) Williams-Sonoma had a location in Georgetown Park.

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