What’s Wrong With Wisconsin Ave.?

Photo by Raoul Pop.

What’s ailing Wisconsin Ave.? Despite being in one of the most popular retail districts in the country, the strip is littered with vacancies and discount clothing stores? What gives? How did it get this way? And what can be done by the city, the BID, and the citizens to turn it around? And why aren’t there more stores that serve residents, like a hardware store?

Well tonight these questions, and more, will be on the agenda of the Citizens Association of Georgetown’s November membership meeting. On hand to discuss these matters will be Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, Chairman of Western Development, Herb Miller, and President of Asadoorian Commercial brokerage, John Asadoorian. Each of these men play a big role in what Georgetown looks like today, and will likely play a big role in what it looks like in ten years and beyond. Evans is about to be reelected, Miller’s Western Development is still a big player in the Georgetown development scene, and Asadoorian is active throughout the neighborhood getting businesses and landlords together.

GM himself will be moderator, but he’ll keep his role to just tossing out the questions to the panel and getting out of the way.

The meeting is at the old Georgetown Theater. Yes, seriously, it is. This recently vacated space is in many ways a symbol of the decline of Wisconsin Ave. Meeting there is meant to be a little bit of a statement, but it’s also just a chance to see inside of this historic structure now that the jewelry booths have been removed.

The reception begins at 7:00 pm; it will be catered by the new Paul Bakery. The main program will begin at 7:30. You don’t have to be a member to come, so please join us!



Filed under Citizens Association of Georgetown

12 responses to “What’s Wrong With Wisconsin Ave.?

  1. Carol Joynt

    The problem with Wisconsin Avenue is who owns the real estate, and also the devastating impact the mall had on the small business owners who once gave some charm to the stretch between M and P. Not charming anymore, and the mall is a failure. Thankfully there is some promise above P and especially above Q.

  2. RNM

    The problem is, there is no problem. Nothing is wrong with Wisconsin Ave.

    Is it everything that any of us would want it to be? No. It is what it is…a commercial corridor, where businesses come and go, succeed and fail, some loathed and some loved. The only way to control and reshape it into what one wants it to be is to dictate in dictatorial terms how it will be. Of course there is no real way to do that, nor to assume that one’s “best intentions” wouldn’t make it worse. Additionally, there is no consensus on what Georgetown should be…I dare suggest GM and Ms. Joynt would have radically different views than I do about what Georgetown should be…and what sort of establishments should be here. There is also a ton of judgment in the “should” moniker. One might as well bemoan the rain today and discuss ways to prevent it from falling from the sky. Businesses will come where they think they have opportunity. Rents will be set by what people are willing to pay. Shoppers will go where the stores are…and where parking is easy.

    Ultimately the Georgetown of today is in many ways vastly superior to the one of 20 years ago, and that is in great part to the free market system…which rewards winners and punishes losers. Sure it may not have as much local flavor and character…but flavor and character are halmarks of up and coming areas, not established ones. This city has some great areas with character and local flavor, but I doubt many of the folks who pay a premium to live in Georgetown would want to live in those areas.

    If you want to live in a completely controlled area where it is quiet at night…try a suburb with a tight HOA. If you want to control what businesses will exist maybe a Soviet style state. In those settings one could dictate terms. Those are not the places we live. We live in a city, so we have noise and rats. We live in a largely free market economy so retailers are set not by what the community wants…but by what it supports. Sure we can zone certain types of establishments all but out of existence or into Ward 5, but we can’t pick and choose winners with our vote, only with our dollar.

    The residents (and I am one) all choose to live in Georgetown, and while it is fair to want to make it better, maybe dictating what is best as if it is some sort of agreed upon ultimatum is a bit presumptuous. Of course, if you really want to change things…then as Ms. Joynt suggested buying up the real estate would be the way to go. I appreciate your voice, even if I emphatically dissent against it and hope you will understand that I too want a community that I can live my life in, and the truth may be in the middle…between what I want and what you want.

    One last thing, to call Georgetown one of the most popular retail districts in the country is a bit of a stretch. I would give you one of the most popular in DC or the local region, but country…keep dreaming. Then again, I think I see more folks at Costco on a Saturday in Pentagon City than in all of Georgetown…really there is a world of shopping on the other side of the river. We all like where we live (well actually not really sure about that given how much some complain about it) but it isn’t the end all be all of the country.

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  4. Carol Joynt

    Mrs. Joynt, thank you.

  5. asuka

    The problem is parking. You can’t park on Wisconsin, and parking is limited in the area around it, so no one stops to shop. Heresy to anti-car loons, but that’s reality. Plenty of chains that do fine everywhere else in the country struggle to stay open on Wisconsin (and M, for that matter) because they can’t get enough traffic through the door. It’s a dead zone because no one is going to hoof it up hill for several blocks when they can drive to Bethesda.

    PS. Is Carol giving herself props, or is someone else using her name?

  6. John Asadoorian

    To all those who are sincerely interested in discussing the realities of what we have and a vision of what is possible, I would be happy to speak/ meet with you. I agree with RNM and Caroly Joynt as their comments reflect a spectrum of issues from market forces to community involvment. Somewhere in that spectrum is a reconciliation of action that the public and private sector can take. I am actively involved in this effort and happy to gain more input and provide feedback on where things currently stand. I can be reached at 202-333-9088 or john@asaretail.com.

  7. Observer

    I recently attended an Old Georgetown Board (in-architects employment association) meeting and I think the finger of blame needs to primarily be directed there. I watched astonished as an elderly man pleaded for approval for home works that the OGB “did not object to in principle” but after 5 architects over many years – “at our stage in life my wife and I are ready to just give up”

    “Not our fault” Ann Lewis coldly prissed (she does prissy well, empathy poorly) – the board then making it clear that none of the five architects hired – or was it six “was the right firm.” In a couple of sentences – repeated a few times, David Cox confirmed that the problem really was the wrong firm. Above all – it was “not our fault.” carefully advised the old man decided not to antagonise the unpleasant trio by arguing that maybe six architectural firms might not be wrong.

    The same issue arose with Tudor Place – a treasured museum that must make changes or close down – again forced to run through architects to work out who was competent – and “in” with the OGB. This story hit the Washington Post – so the board was made at Tudor Place and made little secret of the fact.

    Next, the board harassed a series of small storekeepers on Wisconsin – should that wheel-cahir ramp be stainless or painted…. that fencing – what color …

    Then that coterie of expensive consultants – led as usual by Christian Zapatka – paid thousands of dollars to get permission for works costing a fraction of their fee presented issues – like brick driveways, gravel, etc. The boards eventually started joking as they handed down arbitrary decisions – “what are we into this month – is it brick, cobbles, gravel…..” Zapatka simpered back – knowing what side his bread is buttered on.

    At many junctures, especially those involving business premises, that standard view of the board was a mix of – (heavy hint “you hired the wrong architect”) and “you can resubmit in 2-3 months” (using one of our pals presumably.) What was apparent to a business person watching was that it astonishing that anyone does anything in Georgetown – when faced with the utter uncertainty of what the OGB will approve – what architect they are friends with this week – and the fact that any rejection means a 2-6 month delay, all the while paying rent.

    So lest move onto the Wisconsin Avenue Stores – why are they not used for better purposes. It is the OGB – every store would need reconfiguration for another purpose – design changes (OGB permit), new windows (OGB permit), signage (OGB permit) – architect (who are they friends with? To start the process a business would have to lease the store, pay for plans, pay consultants to file for permits – and then wait months for an OGB meeting that might make them go back and restart – all the while burning money. Does anyone think that a business without the resources of Apple would have endured the saga of their permit process – that took years?

    Does business person think that the likes of Ann Lewis – who once prissed of a roof design ““there are going to be fat people in bikinis out there and nobody wants to see them,” should have any say in the design of their store – or relish the possibility. Indeed, I am faced with a quandry – asked for advice on what architects firm to hire , my observation of the OGB leads me to conclude that they are not competent to do the job – but getting a permit probably means hiring firms connected with or favored by its members (and so I have heard.)

    It is clear what Georgetown needs, and what Georgetown could do with less of – less cheap clothing stores – less “vertical” (standing room only) sports bars – more small intimate pubs, more specialty service stores. Will it happen – not if the OGB has anything to do with it.

    There is of course one possibility – someone sues the members of the OGB – the Old Georgetown Act does not make them immune from lawsuits (or their architectural partners) and they are clearly over-reaching beyond its terms in many decisions (gravel selection anyone.)

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  9. John Asadoorian

    As I mentioned in my comments, on top of everything else discussed, there is a perception that it is hard to do business in Georgetown (you highlight one of the topics). Question for all: why is that there are quite a number of stores/ buildings (primarily along Wisconsin Avenue) that have signs, etc. that would not pass the taste test of other markets that have less control then Georgetown does, yet when companies such as Hickey Freeman/ Hart Shaffner Marx decide to invest in Georgetown, maintain a historic building, gets pushback for simple things like a blade sign or flag or other retail friendly embellishment that doesn’t ruin the design integrity of the property or historic district? Where is the enforcement? Where is the vision and if there is a vision, how old is it, does it need to be reviewed, etc.?

  10. Can someone explain to me why Carol Joynt thanked herself here?

  11. Dizzy


    As best I can tell, it’s a response to RNM. He says: “Additionally, there is no consensus on what Georgetown should be…I dare suggest GM and Ms. Joynt would have radically different views than I do about what Georgetown should be…and what sort of establishments should be here.”

    In response to his calling her “Ms. Joynt,” she says “Mrs. Joynt, thank you.” Admittedly, I’ve never heard/seen anyone correct it in that direction before – usually it’s the other way around – but that’s how I read it.

  12. Dizzy: Ah, got it! So it wasn’t a sincere “thank you,” it was a “hey bub, get it right!”

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