Capitol Hill Sporting Goods and Apparel Looks for a Way Out

Rodney Smith, proprietor of Capitol Hill Sports Apparel, reflected on the past 11 years on Barracks Row

Rodney Smith, proprietor of Capitol Hill Sports Goods and Apparel, reflected on the past 11 years on Barracks Row

Capitol Hill Sporting Goods and Apparel Looks for a Way Out

Flight of Retail from Barracks Row Continues

by Larry Janezich

Rodney Smith, proprietor of Capitol Hill Sporting Goods and Apparel at 737 8th Street, SE, has a “Liquidation Sale” sign in his window.  After 11 years in business he is looking to get out of his lease which runs until 2017 and close up shop.  He says he is overstocked and business is not good.  He’s asking his landlord to give him a year to liquidate and then get out of his lease so “I can leave with clean hands.”

“It’s a landlord’s market,” he said, adding “nobody comes up to shop – they come up to eat.  And a lot of the restaurants aren’t doing that well because there are so many.”  He also blames the city for not being friendly to small business, “any time you bring in five Walmarts into an area this small, we can’t compete.”

Smith was born and raised in the neighborhood and attended J.R. Giddings school, now the site of Results Gym.  He played semi-pro basketball until an injury forced his retirement.  He has had other businesses before this sports shop, including a NE carry-out.

If he can get his landlord to agree, he says he’ll be gone by this time next year.  He hopes to avoid calling in a liquidator who will give him cents on the dollar, preferring to let the community in on a good deal.  But, he says, “it’s up to him” meaning the landlord.  “If I don’t get out of the lease, I don’t know how I’m going to make it.  It will cost me $200,000 if I stay until 2017 – we don’t want to, we can’t survive.”

He said when he first opened there was a lot of retail on Barracks Row.  Now, he points to Homebody and Capitol Hill Bikes as the only two retailers left on the block.   He remembered the stationery store, the toy store in the 500 block which was succeeded by a jewelry shop, and the art outlet – Attitude Exact.  Regarding the latter, he said, “When the lease came up, the landlord raised the rent to $7500 a month wanting to lease it to a restaurant.  They eventually lowered the rent – there’s a nail shop there now.”

In February, 2011, Capitol Hill Corner reported that the ANC was gearing up to fight the application of the building’s owners for a CT (tavern) license to open the 8th Street Bar and Grill in place of Capitol Hill Sporting Goods.  At its November 9, 2010, meeting, ANC 6b voted 10-0 to protest the application for the new tavern license.  ANC6B and neighbors mounted a success campaign to prevent ABRA from granting the license.  See that story here:





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10 responses to “Capitol Hill Sporting Goods and Apparel Looks for a Way Out

  1. Maggie Hall

    All the best to Rodney Smith, who has put up a great show to keep retail on 8th Street. Just hope the landlord helps him out. But how sad, how depressing, to think of yet another shop disappearing. Oh, for the days when we had shops that sold: shoes; stationery; clothing; lamps and lighting; flowers; jewellery; the dollar store and restaurants that didn’t charge $10 for a glass of wine! Not to mention the cinema. OK it wasn’t to everyone’s taste but if it had survived it would have doubtless changed a bit to cater for the community.

    • Caroline

      How often do you buy stationary, lamps, and jewelry though? I don’t think Walmart and Amazon are the problem; it’s that city dwellers don’t have the space for frivolous purchases. I love Labyrinth and Hill’s Kitchen, and try to buy things from those stores whenever I can, but I only need to buy games or kitchen supplies about once a year (usually as gifts for others). We need more places to buy consumable and/or everyday purchases, like Sapore or Metro Mutts. A dollar store that’s clean and well stocked would actually do very well, in my opinion.

  2. John

    Good luck to him, but I always thought this store missed the mark a bit with its selection. Not much in the way of goods and lots in the way of jerseys and hats…

  3. Tom

    Clearly the money is in restaurants and bars, which also serve the community. Mom-and-pops are valuable too, and they can survive if the zoning re-write allows for ample neighborhood (“corner”) stores, not just those allowed by special exception.

    • anon

      except the corner stores all want to be food purveyors too. That’s just a weak argument for the zoning changes. You definitely WON’T see sporting goods shops like CHSG coming to your neighborhood corner.

  4. Eric

    I feel for him, but blaming Walmart is a BS excuse. Allowing Walmart isn’t anti-small business. I don’t disagree that the city can be unfriendly to small businesses, but bringing Walmart into this is simply not fair … they’ve been in the city for what? … 2 months now?

    • anon

      Wal-Mart isn’t even operating in this neighborhood and none were open when there were obvious issues back in 2011. A sporting goods store could work on the Hill, maybe if it focuses on equipment/gear rather than fashion apparel. Soccer, biking, running, etc. Willing to bet an REI would do just fine too (not mom and pop). BR rents suck and its becoming a monoculture, but it also takes the right business model.

  5. 13SC

    I live on the Hill and we need more retail. We need a sporting goods store. But this store does not carry a selection of goods the neighborhood wants. That is why the store isn’t doing well. Cap Hill is very supportive of its local stores, but we’re not going to buy just anything. All this guy needs to do is update his store some and change the items he sells. Maybe he could ask to neighborhood what we want. Workout clothes, running shoes, and dare I say, yoga pants.

  6. Caroline

    I don’t think Hill residents were flocking to Walmart to buy sports jerseys. The store just wasn’t a good fit for the neighborhood, at least not as it exists today. Maybe if the owner had put up attractive displays of Nats apparel during baseball season he could have gotten some business from the post-game crowd, but I think most of the fans will be staying in the Riverfront area now that it has more dining and drinking options.

  7. ET

    There are obviously lots of issues at play for this particular situation, but it is definitely the case, at least in my opinion, that rents a big hindrance to small business not of a food variety. BRs office/stationary store was around for years before it closed and I think it had enough business for much of its life – though I think business declined in later years for many reasons. But when it was replaced by a food establishment – one that I like – not something else, likely a result of both rent rates as well as a desired location.

    Sadly I think we are passed a tipping point. I doubt few if any establishments that aren’t food-orinted will move to BR- not only because of the rents but because it will be perceived as only a place to go eat. I eat out but not every day and not more than once a day. I go to eat and then I leave because there is no other reason to stay. I hope the bike place, Howl to the Chief, and Homebody do well and last for many years as the provide something the Hill needs, but it won’t surprise me that in a few years any/all are gone not because they don’t have a nice amount of customers, but because they can’t afford to stay.