Tuesday night, GM moderated a discussion for the Citizens Association of Georgetown on the topic of the retail district of Georgetown, and in particular Wisconsin Ave. A lot of time was spent talking about what people would like to disappear in Georgetown, but only a little time was spent on what people would like to see come in.
There is a school of thought that says you should just accept what is as what is, and not try to change things (frequent commentor RNM is a big fan of this approach). And to a large extent, this is true. But it is not entirely and always true. As described Monday night, residents of the Logan Circle area lobbied Fresh Fields heavily to move into the location at 14th and P (Fresh Fields was eventually bought out by Whole Foods). Fresh Fields didn’t think that location would work, but was convinced after the residents’ campaign. Now it’s one of the most profitable locations in the chain. Continue reading
Wednesday night the Georgetown Business Association held a forum on economic development in Georgetown. It’s a topic that is much on the minds of business owners and residents alike.
The panel included representatives from across the Georgetown business spectrum and also Councilmembers Jack Evans and Vincent Orange. When asked what the city can do for Georgetown, Evans highlighted three things: keeping crime low, transportation, and taxes. Typically when Evans talks about taxes, he talks about keeping income taxes low in order to attract and keep high income residents, but on this occasion he focused on the effect of higher taxes on small businesses. He stated that 25-30% of the new top income tax rate for DC will hit small businesses (for what it’s worth GM’s never heard that stat before, and it doesn’t sound quite right to him).
Vincent Orange emphasized a DC law that requires DC agencies to spend 50% of their procurement budget on small businesses. He stated that right now 31 agencies are out of compliance. Orange also highlighted the DC Streetscape Relief Fund, which offers interest free loans to businesses affected by disruptive street construction, like that seen on H St. NE. Good initiatives both of them, but they’re not really going to help out Georgetown small retail shops much (although Karen Ohri of Georgetown Flooring pointed out that a lot of their business is for institutional clients, so stores like hers could benefit from the procurement law). Continue reading
Every once and awhile, GM remembers to get around to updating his “Aren’t They Building” list. And today is one of those onces in a while.
So here’s GM’s updates on the items that need updating:
-GM’s old predictions:
November 2010 spring 2011 Late summer 2011
-Clearly GM’s been wrong now three times on this project. But it really does look like it’s opening soon; so GM is going to say November, a full year after the first prediction.
Calvin Klein Underwear
-GM prediction: fall 2011
-GM was a bit too conservative, they opened a few months ago
-GM prediction: August 2011
-That one was about right.
Boutique Hotel on 31st St.
-GM prediction Late 2012
-They are now finally moving forward with this one, but don’t have a new announced date, but late 2012 still seems likely.
Georgetown Waterfront Phase II
-GM prediction: –
Late 2010 to early 2011 August 2011
– They were just one month later.
Developing Georgetown Post Office
2011 at the earliest Late 2012
-This project seems to have been a bit stymied. It’s still moving forward, but the procedure is just taking a lot longer. GM thinks this now won’t come on-line until 2013 at the earliest.
-GM prediction: Fall 2011
-This one was supposed to go into the Riccardi shop on M St., but last time GM checked, Riccardi hadn’t left yet. So it’s unlikely Billy Reid is coming in very soon.
-GM prediction: Winter 2011
-Another one GM was way too conservative on. This one’s been open for months. Continue reading
The Georgetown Park mall has been a depressing place to visit for a long while now. And if it’s possible, it’s getting even more depressing as Vornado, the new operator of the mall, is summarily kicking out long standing tenants like the Hattery, seen above.
GM’s heard many rumors of what Vornado plans to do with the space once it kicks out every last one of the tenants. But none of the rumors have been substantiated. Both CAG and the Georgetown Park condominium association have reached out to Vornado and received no information.
Most of the rumors revolved around several large anchor stores. And it’s GM’s prediction that Vornado is much more interested in a building with a couple large tenants than a bunch of small ones. And the callous manner that they have been kicking out the tenants, giving them notice measured in weeks not months, would tend to support that prediction.
But if it is indeed the case that the mall will become just a couple big box stores shoehorned into a city, what does that mean for the retail landscape of the neighborhood?
GM can’t say for sure, but he can tell you what the numbers might look like. Every year GM takes a survey of every single store in the neighborhood. Last February he counted 530 stores (“store” for this purpose means retail, restaurants, salons, etc. Pretty much everything commercial except office space.) Continue reading
Photo by M.V. Jantzen.
Good morning Georgetown, here’s the latest:
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Every six months of so, it seems some news outlet rolls out another “is Georgetown is dead?” story. This week it was the Washington Post’s turn.
Inspired by the genuinely sad story of the closing of Furin’s, the Post ponders:
Is Furin’s merely an example of the normal business cycle of Georgetown, or a sign of larger problems to come? Do mom-and-pop shops have a place in the neighborhood or are national chains destined to take it over?
In fairness to the Post, they do present a slightly more nuanced picture of the neighborhood than many “Georgetown is doomed to mall stores” articles. They quote John Hays, owner of Phoenix, who argues that changes come and go. In the end, the Post concludes that there has in fact been a reduction in independent shops, and that that is a result of high rents:
Nancy Itteilag, the real estate agent who sold Furin’s, said rents on M and Wisconsin can range from $30 to $70 per square foot, a cost that she and Hamilton think puts pressure on existing independent businesses and can be intimidating and prohibitive for small-business owners looking to set up shop. (Being a chain doesn’t guarantee success, either; American Eagle Outfitters and Reiss are two recent casualties.)
What the Post doesn’t mention is that the vast majority of business in Georgetown are still independently owned. Yes, there’s less independent retail than there was 20 years ago. And the retail, whether independent or chain, is less resident-oriented. But that’s a trend common to many commercial districts. You can blame the Internet for that, among other uncontrollable forces. Continue reading
Right now, GM is working on an effort in behalf of CAG to address some of the poor signage in the neighborhood. You may not realize it, but every single sign in Georgetown needs a permit. Depending on how long that sign is up, that permit needs to be approved by either the D.C. Historic Preservation Office (for signs up 30 days or less) or the Old Georgetown Board (for signs up 30 days or more).
In practice, this is a rule observed mostly in the breach. While most significant store signs do go through the proper approval process, most of the cheap and (frankly) ugly signs like the ones above don’t. So to address the proliferation of non-permitted signs, CAG is working with the BID and other to educate the storekeepers about the rules (see this circular) and to catalog the worst offenders for reporting to the Historical Preservation Office. Continue reading