Wednesday night, the Citizens Association of Georgetown hosted a fascinating evening talk with Eastbanc’s Anthony Lanier and the BID’s Joe Sternlieb. Honestly it was so packed with information and tidbits, that GM could hardly keep track. But here are some of the major take aways:
The reason Georgetowners are often disappointed in the state of Georgetown’s retail options is the Georgetown’s retail doesn’t need Georgetowners.
Sternlieb drew a comparison between Georgetown in 1990 and today. One of the starkest differences is that in 1990, Georgetown retail was equally dependent on Georgetown residents to be customers as it was dependent on DC residents generally, people from the DC region, and tourists.
Nowadays those first two categories are relatively insignificant to Georgetown retailers. Georgetowners don’t spend money at local stores like they used to. And DC residents have many more neighborhoods now to spend their money (and they also have shifted to online spending like Georgetowners). Georgetown retail still gets a healthy amount of money from regional customers (mostly Arlington residents, according to Sternlieb). But by far the largest category now is tourists.
This is a problem for many reasons. The first is that restaurants that target tourists don’t have to be very good. There will be a new crop of tourists next week. That turnover presents another problem. Georgetown has to constantly market itself if its primary customer base is brand new every single weekend.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
The 1400 block of Wisconsin may finally turn the corner soon.
The 1400 block of Wisconsin has long been the most complained about stretch in Georgetown. It hosts a variety of cheap clothing stores that are perpetually going out of business. GM doesn’t believe the old rumors that their all just criminal fronts for either money laundering or drug dealing (although he knows for a fact that one of the shops sold drugs to a neighbor’s son). But they’re probably not the best use of the space.
Sternlieb explained that the BID has been hard at work organizing the landlords to make improvements. The BID is trying to explain to them that if they just put some money into the buildings they could double the rent with new tenants. And there are signs that that message is getting through.
The catalyst that might finally bring rapid change is the renovation of the Georgetown theater by Robert Bell. The end result will have thousands of square feet of retail, office and residential. Sternlieb reported that the building immediately to the north, which hosts Village Art and Craft and Tugooh Toys will be renovated and restored. This is one of the worst maintained buildings on the block, so any improvement will be welcome (although GM hopes Tugooh Toys can stick around).
Sternlieb also reported that the former Subway was going to be taken over by a tenant Georgetowners would appreciate. GM knows the possible tenant too, but since the lease isn’t signed yet, he doesn’t want to screw it up. (Let’s just say that a dessert desert will be filled in).
The old Neam’s Market building’s future as a market is in doubt
GM has been hearing through the grapevine that the Neam’s family-which owns the building that most recently housed Marvelous Market-fully intended on finding a great market to replace it.
But time has gone by, and no news or even rumors have reached GM. Sadly, Sternlieb reported that the Neam’s have instead sold the property for some ungodly amount of money. He said he had absolutely no idea who bought it and what plans they have.
But it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what didn’t buy it: a market. There’s just no way a food market would be able to pay market rate to buy that property. The only candidate GM can think of that would pay a chunk of change for that property is a [pardon GM as he throws up a little in his mouth] bank.
This would of course be a gut punch to lose such a central and public space to an activity killing business like a bank.
But there’s always hope…