Yesterday, the Washington Business Journal reported that one of the new tenants of the new building immediately south of the Safeway would be a Cardinal Bank branch. WBJ writes that “the 1,900-square-foot branch, which is next to a newly remodeled Safeway grocery store, is expected to open near the end of the first quarter of 2013. It will create four-to-five new jobs.”
Four-to-five new jobs would be good (particularly if the bank takes advantage of the mayor’s One City Hire) but pretty much everything else about this news is disappointing to GM. Georgetown has way too many bank branches, few of which contribute much more than a dead streetscape. And they keep coming.
When the Georgetown Metropolitan first started, there were 9 banks in Georgetown. Since then, 5 new banks have opened here. GM’s no economist, but it’s got to be some form of market failure when multiple companies offering what is essentially the exact same good, crowd out other uses.
It’s particularly disappointing that Safeway is putting this tenant in its new building. When it built its new grocery store, the company committed to the ANC not to put a bank in the first floor retail spaces. The company recognized that the community doesn’t want any more banks. It lived up to that promise in letter, if not spirit, when it leased the spaces to Petco, a nail salon, and a (since closed) cell phone store. It never promised not to lease space in the new building to a bank, but one would have thought they would remember the concerns they respected just a few years earlier.
The DC Office of Planning actually agrees that too many banks can be a bad thing. As part of the zoning rewrite, the agency is considering changing the allowable businesses in Georgetown to exclude banks. Existing banks would, of course, still be permitted and new banks could still open after jumping through a set of hoops. But the message would be clear: Georgetown’s got enough banks.