Commercial ponderings

Well I have yet to fill out the Bates Area Civic Association’s Straw Survey (see the Truxton site for the form). And as this is for North Capitol, I haven’t come up with much.
Now I know the kind of stores I like. I love bookstores, like Borders. I love Filene’s Basement. Other loves where I do spend money are Target, Whole Foods, Home Depot, various restaurants with wait staff, Giant (all over the DC metro area), and various farmers markets. Thing is there is already a Giant and Whole Foods in Shaw, the Target is going in at Columbia Heights, Home Depot is over in Brookland and well we tried a farmer’s market but it failed for many reasons. Simply said there isn’t the square footage available for a Borders or a Filene’s (besides crackheads would steal like crazy from Filenes) along North Cap.
Also I’ve thinking of the history of 14th street, which was sparked from the string of comments from my Bates meeting post. Though Whole Foods was a huge catalyst for the Logan Circle area, there were other, smaller businesses that were pioneers in the area before WF opened it’s doors, and it was still a while before chains, like Starbucks and Storehouse, ventured into Shaw after the 1st organically grown tomato was bought. Another thing about 14th Street, it helped that many of the buildings were larger former car shop that could be transformed into decent sized stores. Of course there are businesses that are in small buildings like Home Rule and the Garden District. Looking at an aerial map of North Capitol, the building stock looks to be townhouse sized, not large enough to house the businesses I would love to have. Sadly it seems some of those structures would have to be pulled down (or just keep the facades) in order to create space for an anchor business like Whole Foods or Target.
The other part of this train of thought focus on the businesses that are here. On 7th Street there is a dollar store. As far as dollar stores go, it is okay, but I don’t see it as a bad thing ’cause really sometimes you just need a cheap bowl. But what I wish is that the dollar store make the inside more visible. The most ghetto look a store or any business can have are dirty windows that are covered up with signs and whatnot that do not allow you to see what’s inside the store. The GG Store on NJ has that same ghetto look. Bright and open and welcoming is not the vibe I get and it doesn’t make me want to go it. But it doesn’t mean the store have to go, no, I just wish they spruced up a little. There are a long list of stores on 7th and Florida that in principle can serve the community but are in need of a serious, serious, commercial Extreme Makeover. For some it is appearances others it’s some operational changes (POST F*CKING HOURS OF BUSINESS & KEEP THEM!!!!) and for many it is both.
Development will also depend on what is going on around Truxton. I wonder if the ATF (or whatever fed agency going there) will get some business in the NYFAGU (NY Ave Station) area that service the people of that agency and XM Radio, besides the Methadone McDonald’s and the shady Wendy’s. Or if development moves up from North Capitol transforming the Sursum Corda area, what would that look like? And on the western front it is good to keep up and support positive changes on 7th and 9th streets.
But in the end I know what I don’t want. I know I do not desire to be in the middle of a major commercial destination. I would like businesses that serve the residents more so than passer bys.
When I think of neighborhoods I’ve lived in and the commercial health there are 2 that stick out. First is Hyattsville, MD. Not the whole of Hyattsville, but that section where I lived, where a few blocks over I had a Shoppers Food Warehouse, a bank, a Chinese takeout, a hair/nail place, and Ledo’s Pizza all in one strip mall. If I walked a bit further there was the Pho restaurant, the Asian grocers, the Pakistani grocers, the quickie mart and dollar store. The neighborhood was fine except no metro rail. Second was College Park, MD, where the College Park-UMD station is. At the time in its strip mall a short walk away was the WAWA, some eat in dining spot, the big discount clothing store, the pizza place, Mickey D’s, the CVS and the hair place. Around the neighborhood was Plato’s Diner, a Kinko’s, various local fast food joints, a tee-shirt shop, discount dry cleaners, Laundromat, and bookstore. In biking distance was the Smile Herb shop, a vegetarian eatery, Asian restaurant, bike shop, Town Hall Liquors, an Indian restaurant and another liquor store. And this is all before the recent new construction that has occurred in College Park in recent years. But the thing that got me out of College Park was it did not have a full fledged grocery store. I had to go to the Beltway Plaza for that.

…okay this is getting long. I’ll follow up later.

12 thoughts on “Commercial ponderings”

  1. Plain and simple, we need a Starbucks or Caribou. Whether you like them or not, they spur gentrification faster than anything else. And they could build a grocery on 1st and P in the open field by the abandoned school. There is an empty firehouse on NY Ave right by 1st St, next to all the dumpy little shops which could be a great restaurant. Thos shops, by the way, SCREAM “Make me something good!” We also need a normal, open mini-store like they have all over Chicago and NY, but it’s too high crime for any serious small investor to consider. Finally, there is a mammoth warehouse on N Street. Brass Knob has a 10 year lease on the 1st floor, but the second floor would make awesome galleries or even lofts. The owner needs to at least paint the building. It is really cool but looks like a blight with all the peeling paint. Does anyone know anything about that building?

  2. The problem with Starbucks is that they show up towards the end part of gentrification when the worst part of the struggles are over and people slap credit for SB showing up as a factor in gentrifying a neighborhood. If The U Street Starbucks teaches us anything, it’s that. As I mentioned before in other comments, Starbucks didn’t show up until waaaaaaay after the Whole Foods and Harrision Square and a few other large upper income housing projects had broken ground. Starbucks, despite it’s image, does not have a pioneering spirit.
    Caribou Coffee I will give some credit to, as they showed up a little bit before or after Whole Foods but around the time PH Hoffman was showing the Logan Circle Community Association plans for the huge condos that are standing across from the WF now.
    This is not a matter of me liking or disliking Starbucks or Caribou, ’cause as a non-coffee drinker I could care less, it is a matter of what generates development on a small scale and serves the needs of the residents. And Starbucks gets too much credit as a gentrifying force. If a Starbucks comes to Truxton it will be well after the fight with the bums and the crackheads has been fought.
    Another thing as residents we don’t present a face that would be attractive to the businesses that we want to attract. My own belief is that we need to be all middle class and buppie or boho or artsy or whatever and outshine the Section 8/Crack head/ Crack dealer image that is so present on the street so all who drive by at 30mph on NJ or N Cap or NY Ave see that image, and they are not going to if we all stay barricaded in our homes. So during rush hour walk the dog, stroll the baby, jog, get out and tend the yard, or just walk around. Present an image that counters the negetive one standing on the corner, sitting out on the front stoop in curlers, or staggering down the street.

  3. mm, i totally agree that a visible presence on the street will help us to “outshine the Section 8/Crack head/ Crack dealer image that is so present…”

    i don’t think i realized how big a deal that kind of visibility was until i began walking my dog every morning during rush hour. for convenience sake, i dress in my business clothes before i walk him, and the commuters literally stare at me like i’m an alien as we stroll along P street, or NY ave every morning.

    people may think i’m a freak, but they definitely notice me.

  4. On 7th, the “development street” is lined with what 5-7 section8 developments. I can see why no one wants to develop in Shaw.

  5. Good comments. Let me say this. We bought a house to rent out bc the owner was going to put sec 8 tenants in it if it didnt sell. We rent to students. When trying to find tenants, they ALL ask, where is the closest Starbucks. So for the younger crowd, it is a sign of safety or SOMETHING. But I’d take a Caribou just as easy.

    I also agree about being out and about. I walk my dog all over the place; it’s the only time I feel safe! (He’s 100 pounds of ferocious love).

    No one seems to know about the warehouse on N Street. But does anyone know a resource where I could find out? or a strategy for getting it painted?

  6. Until people feel safe walking down North Capitol St. in the evening (when people with jobs are actually home) then we won’t attract quality retail there. People forget that Logan Circle started to gentrify in the late 1970’s (when people first became priced out of Dupont). 14th Street didn’t even start to “turn around” for about 20 years after that. I suspect it will be a similar wait for Florida Ave and N. Capitol.
    – JM

  7. 20 years OUCH! Actually, home ownership was not as common then there’s a lot more people who EXPECT to buy, and a lot of people who have seen the gentrification successes in Logan, etc, so it seems less risky. Real estate is a way different game now and people want the big payoffs, have the money, and are willing to take the risks. So I think it will be 5 years. still too long.

  8. I think good businesses in Shaw/Truxton/N. Cap are only 5-10 years away as well, but I think 7th and 9th will have to develop before N. Capitol. That street just looks SO bad, no one will develop there until they HAVE to because there are no other affordable choices. For now though, there are still plenty of commercial lots and properties sitting vacant all the way over to 9th St (like at Q!) that are much safer investments and in communities that are just as under served.


  9. Well at least 10 years ago (’cause that’s how long I’ve been in the DC metro area) Logan was the place people moved to when Dupont got friggin’ expensive and the movement just kept going eastward. Part of Logan’s success was drawing on Dupont, for new residents and consumers who were willing to cross 16th Street. So I see our fortunes in what we can draw upon in neighboring hoods and stuff those hoods have to draw us. And it will take a while. Before I was kicked out of the business school, one thing stuck, some things require long range planning that is measured in years and years, throw in the “unfriendly to business” rep that DC has (possibly unfairly), and it may be 10 years from now when we get services we need & want within a 6 block radius of our homes. We might have to wait for the next federal census in 2010 to show that there are high incomes in our area to support businesses. For Census Tract 46, which is Truxton Circle, the median income is $33,142, the median income for the US is $41,994 and off the top of my head the AMI for the DC metro area is $80K. On paper, we po’. You can point to housing sales but that could represent real estate investment more than higher income folks moving in. 21% of families live under the poverty level. Of course this is just the year 2000. There may be a completely different face come 2010 and we won’t get the data till 2011.

  10. north capitol does indeed have the space and capacity for large square footage stores.

    -there is an empty block on the ne side of the 1400 block.

    -there is a large empty lot on the nw corner at florida ave.

    -there is a firehouse that will soon be rfp’d on north cap at quincy.

    the n street warehouse houses artist studio rental, though as the artists have moved out, the owner has not been replacing them. the few remaining believe that it wont be long before the building goes on the market.

    the economic revitalization commitee of the north capitol main streets inc., will soon be doing a comprehensive survey of available and possible commercial spaces along north cap.

  11. Back when I was pregnant with the sprog, I’d walk home from the metro at Union Station up North Capitol to Quincy Pl. every night, well after dark. Can you look TOO harmless or clueless to attack? Because I have to tell you it never occurred to me I was anything other than safe. Oh sure, a few times perfect strangers went out of their way to tell me to be careful, but no-one ever threatened me.

    Now that I’m not commuting, I have little reason to be on North Capitol at night. However, the kiddo likes an afternoon constitutional, so we often drive the stroller around the nabe in the middle of the day. It’s red, which may raise our profile, but don’t worry – we’ll confine our crack deals to the alleys so as not to embarrass ourselves on the major thoroughfares…

    😉 BL

    P.S. re/ businesses on North Capitol? Well, I’d patronize a bakery – like Firehook, maybe? or better yet, a bagel shop! Yeah! that would get regular business from our house. As it stands, the nearest bagel shop is on Capitol Hill.
    & a neighborhood pub – nothing fancy, but it would be nice to have a spot to drop by for a beer or glass of wine occasionally without having to make an event of it.
    & a restaurant that serves something besides take-out and/or chinese would be refreshing.
    & a dry-cleaner.
    & a veterinarian.
    & a shoe-repair.
    & for that godawful SAVEMORE (aka the INconvenience store) to change ownership (all that incredibly dingy and underutilized space, and they never have anything useful, unless your idea of useful is 10 different flavors of Mad Dog)!
    & a B of A branch – or at least an ATM that didn’t require going into one of the ubiquitous plexi-glassed liquor store “delis”?
    & a tot lot that isn’t surrounded by indigents drinking from paper bags? (not a business, but a nice idea…)
    & a flower shop?
    & a funky little video rental? (not the giant blockbuster kind that rents what’ll be on cable/satellite in a month, but a more eclectic mix of oldies, foreign/art, etc. for a slightly harder-to-scratch itch).

  12. For videos may I suggest Netflix? I doubt that I could even find 1/2 the German language and bollywood flicks I’ve rented through them in the city without the trouble of riding metro.

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