Jaffe to Georgetown: Drop Dead

One of these days, there will be an Apple store built somewhere in the District. GM looks forward to that blessed day so he can stop writing about it. As it is, every day there’s no Apple store somewhere there’s more and more blame directed at Georgetown residents, primarily from journalists who should know better.

The latest bit of it comes care of Harry Jaffe, hands down one of the most knowledgeable journos on District matters. But sadly, even he can catch a case of Georgetown bashing as he displayed last Friday. How wrong is Jaffe, let GM count the ways:

1.     Georgetown is dying; actually, it might already be a dead town walking.

Jaffe then goes on to say that “[t]hese days the once-chic shopping district on the Potomac River has the feel of a dowager way past her prime; teeth yellowing, hems threadbare, furs moth-eaten.” While poetic, it’s just not true. As other skilled writers have pointed out, the threat to Georgetown is not from threadbareness, but rather “generification”. And as GM pointed out, the threat of generification is probably overstated (although not by that much).

2.    Name one restaurant that wants to open its doors on M Street or Wisconsin Avenue.

Well how about this one from the Georgetowner:

1078 Wisconsin Ave.: 
Capital Restaurant Concepts (CRC) has decided to become an owner and purchased this property, which served as the former kitchen space for the City Tavern on M Street. CRC paid $875,000 for this small building in September 2007. Since then, the company has been preparing plans for a new restaurant/café and recently submitted plans for a new storefront and concept for a French bakery. CRC is well known in Georgetown as the operators of J. Paul’s, Old Glory, Paolo’s, and Neyla — all fabulous restaurants. Hopefully, CRC’s plans will continue their success at this new location.

Throw in Hook, Tacklebox and Agraria and you have a handful of new restaurants that have opened up relatively recently. Is it like the Penn Quarter or H St.? No, of course not. But the reason those places have added so many restaurants is that there is so much space in which to add them. Georgetown doesn’t really lose restaurants that much. Just compare Georgetown to Metro Center, which has lost Butterfield 9, Red Sage, and Les Halles in a short space of time. Where would you rather have a restaurant: Pennsylvania and 27th or Pennsylvania and 13th?

3.    Nathan’s, a cornerstone bar and restaurant at the main intersection, might be closing its doors. 

Sadly yes, but not because Carol Joynt doesn’t want to be in Georgetown anymore. If they shut down it’s because they can’t work out an acceptable deal with their landlord. Don’t expect Joynt to open up a tavern on U St.

4.    A decade or two ago, Georgetown was the hippest place in the nation’s capital. Now folks who want to shop and eat and spend a day on the town can go to U Street or Columbia Heights or Penn Quarter or Capitol Hill.

Great. It’s Jane Jacobs 101 that says success in other neighborhoods relieves the upscale pressure on popular neighborhoods. If it weren’t for the success of the Penn Quarter, there may have been even more chains in Georgetown making their way farther up Wisconsin.

5.     Ever seen an Apple Store? They crackle with action 24/7, selling and repairing all Apple devices. An Apple Store could revive an old whaling village.

Hey Harry, ever seen Wisconsin Ave.? It’s also crackling with action all day and night. Which gets to a central contradiction in Jaffe’s argument: he seems to be saying that the threat to Georgetown is from a loss of foot-traffic and popularity. That’s insane. It’s like Jaffe heard Yogi Berra’s statement “nobody goes there no more, it’s too crowded” and thought “gee, I bet it’ll shut down soon”.

As stated above, the threat to Georgetown is not from a downturn in suburbanites wanting to come and shop at stores they could just as easily find in the suburbs. The threat is that stores found in the suburbs is all that Georgetown can offer. Plenty of people think that’s true already. Adding an Apple store won’t fix that.

6.     [Terry] Lynch is an architect of Penn Quarter’s revival as a living downtown

This is a little outside of GM’s bailiwick, but he has never heard any else give Terry Lynch credit for Penn Quarter. Has anyone else?

7.     I would not be surprised if many of the monied elite who inhabit Georgetown’s brick mansions are not quietly pleased by the Old Georgetown Board’s dismissal of Apple’s design.

Some truth here. GM doubts there are many Georgetowners (monied and ensconced in brick mansions or not) who are disappointed that one of the more radical designs was not approved. Moreover, GM doubts there are that many Georgetowners who really care that much about getting an Apple store in the first place. It’s not like it’s a store you can particularly benefit from having in your neighborhood. It’s a destination store. Georgetown has plenty of those already.

What’s wrong about what Jaffe said is his reliance on tired stereotypes. Georgetown is mostly full of modestly sized rowhouses. Yes, they’re expensive per square-foot, but they’re hardly mansions, and these days their inhabitants are probably more likely to include two hard working professionals rather than some monied opera-glass-toting matron.

8.     It reminds me of Georgetown’s opposition to a Metro stop.

Jaffe, get thee to Zachary Schrag.  Georgetown did not block a metro stop. This is a canard as old as Metro itself. Can’t we expect more out of top-notch city journalists like Jaffe beyond tired analogies and the false rumors that feed into them?

9.     [Fenty] should make sure Georgetown doesn’t ruin it for the rest of us.

“Georgetown” isn’t ruining it for all of us. It’s the Old Georgetown Board, which consists of three architects, only one of which even lives in Georgetown. And they’re enforcing a federal, not local, law.

This is how stupid rumors like the Metro stop rumor get started. In both cases, a federally appointed agent decides against locating something in Georgetown that people would like to see in Georgetown. And in both cases, somehow the current and future residents of Georgetown are getting blamed.



Filed under Retail, Rumors

7 responses to “Jaffe to Georgetown: Drop Dead

  1. SG

    I completely agree. It’s typical yellow journalism that is sure to get hits, because it’s very popular now to hate on Georgetown.

    As to some of your peripheral points… I do think it would behoove Georgetown and Adams Morgan to reinvent themselves in the coming years. The former’s image is becoming that of a boring and stodgy place, thanks in part to the media portrayal. The latter is suffering because now there’s so much nightlife in other parts of the city that is “hipper” and less “collegey.” Both need to pump a bit of new blood in, lest they lose out to the U Streets, H Streets, Columbia Heights’, and Penn Quarters of the world.

  2. congrats on calling jaffe out on the metro stop comment. it’s a damn shame that someone who wrote a book as important as “dream city” has forgotten how to do basic research for a simple newspaper column.

  3. Chris Loos

    I agree with you completely. I’ve picked up on all the ‘Georgetown is dead’ comments lately, and can’t understand for the life of me what people are talking about. Georgetown is, without a doubt DC’s main shopping district. It has everything it needs – walkable streets, a dense fabric of small shops, and healthy foot traffic. Over on the Georgetown BID webpage (georgetowndc.com), 235 shops are currently listed. 237. That’s not even counting restaurants. I’d love these Georgetown haters to name one other neighborhood in the city with that many shops. In fact, let them try to pick 3 neighborhoods with that many shops combined.

    Lets look at the 3 neighbohoords that commenters on the various local blogs were proposing as an alternative location for Apple’s new store: U Street, Penn Quarter, and Columbia Heights. U Street is undoubtedly hip, but it still has a long way to go as a shopping district – there are maybe 20 boutiques. My girlfriend and I were there on Saturday, and we hit every shop on the strip in less than an hour. Penn Quarter has some great restaurants but limited retail, and also lacks the walkability and small blocks of Georgetown. Columbia Heights is still transitional, and lets face it – the biggest shopping attraction in the area is a Best Buy and a Target.

    Apple KNOWS Georgetown is still where its at. They probably paid a consultant bucket loads of money to do a market analysis to come to that conclusion. That’s why they’re willing to put with these setbacks – they know they will make the most profit on that location. So why do people keep insist on ignoring reality?

  4. Gtown09

    “Moreover, GM doubts there are that many Georgetowners who really care that much about getting an Apple store in the first place. It’s not like it’s a store you can particularly benefit from having in your neighborhood.”

    I do agree with your post overall, but very much disagree with this statement. If you have any kind of Apple product, it’s such a huge benefit to have an Apple store near you. Contrary to what Apple wants everyone to think, their products aren’t flawless, and can often need repair. My Macbook’s logic board broke three times in one year, and each time I had to trek out to Tyson’s Corner or Clarendon to get it replaced. It invariably breaks right around midterms or finals, and being a student without a car, this is such a huge pain in the ass.

    I don’t know about permanent residents, but at least for Georgetown students (at least half of which use a Mac), this would be a wonderful, convenient neighborhood addition.

  5. joe

    Why would Apple open a Georgetown store? They don’t need the flagship position – they’ve got that with their glass cube off Central Park in NYC. They opened the first Apple store in Tyson’s Corner. That’s right – the suburbs. Most of the traffic around Wisconsin and M is either gridlocked for cars, or pedestrian poseurs more interested in looking rather than shopping. Sure there are some nice exceptions – the Patagonia store on the canal. Maybe down by the new waterfront park would work….

    For entertainment, the scene in Georgetown died with the loss of Desperado’s, The Bayou, and The Cellar Door.

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