On the Eve of Potbelly’s Arrival on Barracks Row,​ Is Capitol Hill Losing It’s Character?

 

Some residents fear that homogeneity will accompany Potbelly’s arrival on Barracks Row.  The restaurant is scheduled to move into the space formerly occupied by Tandoor Grill.  Plans for the Indian restaurant to re-open on the newly constructed second floor have been shelved in favor of office space.

Some residents fear that homogeneity will accompany Potbelly’s arrival on Barracks Row.  The restaurant is scheduled to move into the space formerly occupied by Tandoor Grill.  Plans for the Indian restaurant to re-open on the newly constructed second floor have been shelved in favor of office space.

Residents want more retail like Danna Oweida’s recently opened Pinktini Fashion Boutique, 705 North Carolina Avenue, in the former home of The Village Gallery, adjacent to Port City Java.

Residents want more retail like Danna Oweida’s recently opened Pinktini Fashion Boutique, 705 North Carolina Avenue, in the former home of The Village Gallery, adjacent to Port City Java.

Inside Pinktini Fashion Boutique

Inside Pinktini Fashion Boutique

 …and more like the deceptively named “Homebody” at 715 8th Street, SE, one of the coolest retail outlets on Barrack’s Row.  Homebody, co-owned by Henriette Fourcade and Erin Mara is in its ninth year on 8th Street.

…and more like the deceptively named “Homebody” at 715 8th Street, SE, one of the coolest retail outlets on Barrack’s Row. Homebody, co-owned by Henriette Fourcade and Erin Mara is in its ninth year on 8th Street.

Mara interacts with customers outside the store on Saturday.

Mara interacts with customers outside the store on Saturday.

On the Eve of Potbelly’s Arrival on Barracks Row,​ Is Capitol Hill Losing It’s Character?

by Larry Janezich

On April 8, a City Paper reporter said of the closing of Remington’s: ​ “As reported by PoPville, the building, located at 639 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, was sold a year ago and will be renovated.  If a Potbelly moves in, I’m moving out.”

Well, it’s a good bet that in the coming months Potbelly will move into the space now occupied by Tandoor Grille, and “& Pizza” will replace OXXO Cleaner’s on the same block.  A series of recent changes in Capitol Hill business fixtures point to the state of flux in the neighborhood’s​ commercial corridors.  The continuing trend toward food and drink venues – including fast food – worries residents.

Gone:  The old Hawk ‘n’ Dove, the 18th Amendment, Li’​l Pub, Remington’s, Fusion Grill, Hello Cupcake, Monkey’s Uncle,  Capitol Hill Fitness, the Dollar Store, China Wall.

On the way out:  Tandoor Grill, OXXO, Capitol Hill Sporting Goods, Kraze Burgers.

On the way in:  Potbelly, &Pizza, Capitol Teas, District Doughnuts, Sprint. (The owners of the former Remington’s are reportedly looking for a way to open a food venue in the half of the building not occupied by Sprint.)

Recently arrived:  Pinktini Fashion Boutique, Capitol Frames, Pure Barre. Barrel, Sona, Rose’s Luxury, Chiptole, District Taco, Medium Rare, Kimchii Cafe.

Status uncertain:  Nine restaurants formerly owned by Xavier Cervera.  (A recent rumor that Mr. Henry’s was going on the block was knocked down by owner Alvin Ross, who told CHC “Larry Quillian will never sell the building and I’m here ‘til I die.”)

The list above reflects changes in community demographics,​ ​as ​family​-​oriented businesses replace the edgier – and to some, more interesting – food and drink venues.  As the edgier places turn over,​ landlords look to increase revenues by renting to food and drink providers.  City agencies seem disposed to businesses which provide the most tax revenue.  Rodney Smith of Capitol Hill Sporting Goods, who has until January before his lease is up, says the building’s owner has been approached by a sushi bar operator.

One factor that contributes to high rent (and the bias in favor of chains that can afford them) is the major transportation hub at Eastern Market Metro.  A high volume of foot traffic provides fertile ground for fast food outlets.  Rents in the 400 block of 8th are reported to be $80 – $100 per square foot compared with $40 – $50 in the 700 block of 8th Street.

Residents and Barracks Row Main Street would like to see the street become home to more retail.  Five of the more successful Capitol Hill retail outlets are Homebody, Labyrinth Games and Puzzles, Hill’s Kitchen, Metro Mutts, and Biker Barre.  It’s noteworthy that owners of all five businesses live on Capitol Hill.  Erin Mara, co-owner of Homebody,​ says that it helps to have a good landlord and says “sometimes, we don’t pay ourselves.”  The Labyrinth Games & Puzzles and Howl to the Chief were recently listed as two of the 24 coolest small businesses in DC by Business Insider.  http://read.bi/1ntYv7G   Owner Kathleen Donahue of Labyrinth points to customer service and making your store a destination as the keys to retail success on Capitol Hill.   Leah Daniels of Hill’s Kitchen says that engaging the community beyond the store by participating in community events, embracing the “unbelievable amount of work,” and framing your selection around customer interests and listening to their feedback is key to her store’s success.

With the current legal trouble of Kraze Burger and Cervera​’s former empire, the recent anonymous comment on a recent posting on CHC: “the monoculture of food establishments on 8th is taking a beating. Maybe 8th St. needs some evolutionary diversity to survive as a commercial corridor,​” ​seems​ all the more relevant.​

So too do policies favoring restaurants over retail – like those which allow restaurants to pay far below minimum wage and allow tips to compensate (and exceed) the difference.  Visitors from Europe and Asia – including South Korea – must be surprised at the expectation of tips in American restaurants.  It’s worth remembering that customers subsidize artificially low labor costs for restaurants and bars, which depend upon greater numbers of workers to function, but which can also rely on a high mark-up for alcohol to produce a higher net profit.

And then there is the question of quality, and local versus chain.  Some of the people who would pass by a Potbelly’s will try an affordable yet more interesting spot like H Street’s Toki Underground, Chupacabra, or Taste of Jamaica.  Yet it is hard to design a policy tool that will facilitate one type of business over another.  Likewise, the success of the locally owned Biker Barre exercise and fitness business on 7th Street probably factored in to the Pure Barre fitness chain’s decision to open an outlet over Metro Mutts on Barracks Row.  It is difficult to see any threat to Biker Barre’s popularity as a result, especially since the fitness studio keeps its prices competitive.

In light of the city’s hunger for revenue at the expense of integrity of the community, it’s up to residents to hold ANC6B and city agencies accountable to preserve the commercial diversity and unique character of our neighborhood.  And in the end, it will be up to the neighbors to vote with their credit cards – in either direction.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “On the Eve of Potbelly’s Arrival on Barracks Row,​ Is Capitol Hill Losing It’s Character?

  1. Acg

    Interesting article. 7th street across from Hine seems a successful mix – largely due to one owner and larger macro retail plan. Barracks row, with myriad different owners, look to maximize profits over quality bc no economic benefit in subsidizing dry goods retailer.

  2. Steve

    Downtown Glen Burnie has an interesting mix of local businesses. We could emulate that.

  3. Carole

    “In light of the city’s hunger for revenue at the expense of integrity of the community….” Say, doesn’t that sound like the diagnosis of the trouble with the proposed Hine development, as fostered by DMPED?

  4. Wendy Blair

    Small retail, a variety of small businesses, simply can’t afford the barracks row rents. DC has to think of ways to attract and keep small businesses. Similarly DC has to think of ways to build truly “affordable” housing so that working class and middle class people can afford to live inside DC. Somehow the entire Council is ABSENT and OUT TO LUNCH on the kind of planning to make these things happen. What we have are greedy landlords, poor services, and the death of small, locally originated businesses.

    • Hill Dude

      Why does DC have to do those things? If small business can’t afford rents on Barracks Row then that’s probably b/c they aren’t adding enough value. So they set up shop somewhere else. Why is this the city’s problem to solve? Why should my tax dollar’s subsidize it?

      As for “affordable housing” why should the city be in the busy of setting housing pricing? Rent control –“affordable housing” is just the euphemism de jour for rent control– causes shortages and distortions in the housing market.

      If you want more and cheaper housing on the Hill, abolish the HPRB and allow developers to build enough supply to meet demand. And if the history is so important then accept the trade off and stop keeping people who can pay the prices on Capitol Hill and would like to pay the prices on Capitol Hill off of Capitol Hill.

      • David

        DC doesn’t “have” to do them, but it should. From a standpoint of public policy there are other virtues besides profit maximization. Urban planning doesn’t have to be about how to make the richest city, it can be (in part) about how to make an interesting city.

  5. Michael

    I’m not sure there’s a takeaway from this blog post. It begins by lamenting the loss of restaurants and bars, and ends by lamenting the arrival of restaurants and bars.

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  8. 8th Street Resident

    Generally speaking I think the changes have been a good thing. Having a few solid chains mixed in with the small businesses is a good thing, in my opinion. And I don’t understand why it’s such a problem that most of the new businesses are food-oriented. I think it’s fair to say that a typical city-dweller is more interested in spending their money on experiences, like meals out, than on knick-knacks (if nothing else, we simply don’t have the space for unnecessary stuff). I also don’t think the food-to-retail ratio is much different than in any of the other thriving corridors of the city.

    I do think some more “practical” retail would be nice (a store like H&M where you can buy underwear and basics, or a Dollar Tree where you can stock up on dog bags and toilet paper). I know such a business would knock our “character” down a few notches but it would be more likely to survive because who doesn’t need new underwear and toilet paper?

    At any rate, I’m certainly not disappointed that we’re trading a dry cleaner for one of the best local food chains in DC.

    • Hungry Man

      “I think it’s fair to say that a typical city-dweller is more interested in spending their money on experiences, like meals out, than on knick-knacks.”

      The brick and mortar model for retail is DYING. I enjoy browsing at Homebody, but when it’s time to buy I go online, where the selection is better and prices are cheaper. Meals are usually a social occasion. You need a physical space for that. Barracks Row reflects that. My only complaint is the existing restaurants are a little spendy for my taste. I welcome Potbelly and it’s reasonably-priced food.

  9. Homogeneity? Capitol Hill is where, pardon my frankness, white people move to DC but don’t want to be in the real DC!

    • Emma

      So what would you consider the real DC? It’s not like we’re upper NW or something.

    • anon

      BR and Cap Hill is a destination across a pretty wide spectrum of “real” DC. this is just a trolling non-sequitur comment.

  10. JayCee

    The general condition of Barracks Row is deteriorating. The sidewalks are breaking up and covered with gum, the tree boxes are trampled and the place just looks unkempt. It wouldn’t surprise me if the new area at the Yards soon eclipses Barracks Row as a destination. The Hill community will suffer if Cervera’s restaurants go belly up. There will be a lot of empty real estate. 8th St needs to be diversified with retail as well as food and beverage.

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  12. Stanton

    the article and some of the responses illustrate the issue for Eastern Mkt and Barracks Row. People are unhappy about the state of retail. And yet they also oppose more density that is needed to draw and sustain more and better retail. The neighbors who continue to fight the redevelopment of the Hine site [at this point for I'm not sure what purpose].will never be satisfied. they’ll do what a small number of people in Glover Park and Tenleytown do…say no to everything. we all would love some unique neighborhood retail, but this being America we can’t exclude chains and shouldn’t.
    the bigger problem we have is the instinct rampant to oppose everything which is alive and getting stronger it seems.

    • anon

      I don’t see a “no to everything” approach, as a lot of the development pipeline is ‘by right.’ Some of the issues lie with the zoning exemptions (ie special permissions) for fast food, new development which exceeds size of existing zoning allowance, reduction in parking minimums, etc. People who buy in a historic district should also be aware that it limits the ability to make dramatic changes to the front of their homes. The ANC has ventured down a slippery slope by green lighting fast food exemptions, and I expect this trend to accelerate as it’s harder to say now once they’ve already said yes. The current and new fast food development targets the transit hub around EM Metro more than the neighborhood residents. The neighborhood mostly gets the garbage and rats.

      The zoning rewrite should positively address some issues, like accessory/alley dwellings, corner retail, and even reducing parking minimums for new multi-tenant buildings, but it won’t change change some of the limits which are in place by design and widely supported by CH residents.

  13. Kathleen

    capitol hill is one of the most residentially-dense and attractive neighborhoods in the country, and is cited by “new urban” gurus as such (one even cites it in a university class).
    i wonder if part of the problem isn’t the high rents charged by a monopolistic landlord?