On Wisconsin Ave. north of Book Hill there is a pocket of commercial development that–despite being in Georgetown and in the shadow of a brand newish Safeway–has struggled to thrive. And as the years go on with persistent vacancies being joined by new vacancies, the questions really must be asked: what is wrong with this part of Georgetown?
Some might argue that this isn’t really Georgetown in the first place. This is wrong. Georgetown has a legislated northern boundary line along Wisconsin Ave: Whitehaven. So all the stores between R St. and the Safeway are within Georgetown’s boundaries.
What boundary it’s not within, however, is the BID’s. Does that matter? GM will consider that below.
Anyone familiar with this stretch should be familiar with its ills. Several storefronts have been vacant for years, including the old P.O. Boxes Etc., the old Spiral Flight Yoga building (which was a Homemade Pizza Co. for a short while), the old Adams Bank building, and the frame shop next door.
When the Safeway was reconstructed with a more pedestrian friendly design, it brought hope that this strip might improve into a bustling corner of Georgetown. Ther move to redevelop the lot south further increased the potential for the area.
But then Safeway filled all the new retail spaces with mostly blah tenants. And now those tenants are falling off. Noodles and Co. is closed and so is the Roosters salon (although that should’ve surprised nobody).
Some longtime stores and restaurants appear to be doing well. Bistro Lepic is cherished. After some ownership changes Shanghai Lounge appears to have found stability and success. Some of the tailors and beauty salons also have survived the test of time. And of course the Starbucks is always hopping. But the weaknesses persist.
So why is that?
Part of it is that it simply isn’t a great location. It’s on the edge of Georgetown and a long steep hill away from Glover Park. So probably not a lot of people find themselves simply walking by. And maybe it’s also that the properties facing challenges are just not very good properties. The bank property has a drive thru teller, if you’re not a bank do you really want to have that?
Would extending the BID’s boundaries help? Perhaps. Trash pick up might help. Maybe an organized fair like those that Book Hill throw could gin up interest. But fundamentally it just seems that there are not enough customers coming to this area to support more stores. It’s a chicken and the egg problem that faces lots of commercial districts. You need stores to attract customers, but you need customers to attract stores.
Maybe developing one or both of the surface parking lots into residential would bring the customers. Surely someone has considered that?
Any other suggestions?