14th and T heading toward big-box furniture
Prospects for the Tryst/Diner/comedy club/yoga studio/dance company plan for 14th and T, which has become a major campaign issue in 2B09, are looking dim. The City Paper found out that the owners have decided to sell to a big-box furniture store, Room and Board, instead.
The deal isn't totally done, and some neighborhood activists including 2B09 candidate Doug Rogers are already pushing Room and Board to pull out of the deal (which they have the option to do).
I'd love to see a late-night diner in the neighborhood more than a furniture store. At the same time, I'm not as outraged about big-box stores coming in to compete with local retailers. It is good to have more retail in DC, even big-box retail. The simple fact is that big national chain retail can often provide better prices, and many shoppers, especially new residents who don't know the quirks of local stores, are more comfortable with them.
When we moved here, we went to Crate & Barrel in Tysons for some furniture, because we didn't know the local stores (and still aren't aware of any store with as much selection). To set up our wedding registry, we're going to pick out items at Williams-Sonoma rather than a small local kitchen store. I always look for housewares at the houseware annex to the hardware store on 17th, but the fact is that they don't have much and, except for minor everyday items like a spatula or towel rack, I usually don't find what I need there. It's not really worthwhile to walk all the way to 14th to check out a slightly bigger store that still lacks the selection and price of a big box.
I want to support local retail, and do when it meets my needs, but there's only so much reduced convenience a local shopper will suffer to patronize the neighborhood stores. If we don't want people driving out to Tysons for all their clothes shopping and home decorating, we want some the national chains to open stores (but without DC USA's excessively huge parking garages) in walkable and Metro-accessible areas. 14th and U, like it or not, isn't a bad place for some big-box stores in walkable, urban buildings.
It's an even better place for a diner, of course, and as I said, I'd prefer to see that. I'd also support tax incentives to help local businesses compete, to keep our streets from becoming completely generic. But we also do need an urban alternative to the mall. Ideally, there'd be enough retail space to go around so all stores can share the streetscape in our walkable neighborhoods like 14th Street.
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