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Busboys & Poets: Take your pick of Anacostia's vacant commercial properties

Chatter has reached the contentious corners of Anacostia that Busboys & Poets is interested in the Southside. But Washington's first suburb needs Busboys more than Busboys needs it.

Lower Good Hope Road SE, an economic dead zone.

"Over here, it is wait and see," say the old-timers who have seen it all before. While newcomers largely live by the restoration creed of, "Just wait and you'll see." Somewhere these two groups unite in agreement that their neighborhood has too many vacant storefronts and not enough places to eat.

Busboys owner Andy Shallal has expressed interest in Anacostia, after a successful run at vending for LUMEN8­Anacostia, an arts "temporium" funded by the DC Office of Planning in April. Here are some possible locations to be on the lookout for.

"It Must Have Been Here All Along"

Up and down the vacant storefronts on lower Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road white lettering faces the sidewalk offering up optimistic, albeit cryptic, messages. "SHOW ME WITH YOUR ARMS HOW MUCH" streaks the glass of 2022 MLK.

A couple steps away at 2004 MLK, "WE CAN JUST PRETEND" was spread out on four glass panels of the former furniture store. The broken glass for "JUST" has been replaced. It now reads, "WE CAN _ PRETEND."

2004 MLK Jr. Ave. Photo by the author.

In both reality and parody, this former showroom would make a great locale for Busboys. Multiple floors, a loading dock, and other amenities make this as good a spot as any. However, word on the street is a social service job training program is actively looking at the space and working on a building needs assessment.

Down MLK and up Good Hope Road, you get farther away from the Metro but you're right at the foot of the recently completed 11th Street Bridge. A Busyboys here would attract immediate neighbors in Anacostia, Fairlawn, and Randle Highlands as well as attract neighbors from the clusters of Capitol Hill neighborhoods, a short car, bus, or bike ride away.

1306 - 1308 Good Hope Road SE. Photo by the author.

Most recently a dry cleaning plant, the two-story buff brick building at 1306—1308 Good Hope Road looks an ideal home for Busboys, complete with a welcoming missive, "IT MUST HAVE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG." An expired Building Permit lingers above "BEEN."

Next door the Good Hope Institute, a thriving Methadone clinic, can be a friend or foe to the restaurant. A friend if patients can enter into an ever-present jobs training program that would provide living wage jobs, a foe if patients panhandle and intimidate customers.

Vacant corner of 15th & Good Hope Road. Photo by the author.

Further up Good Hope Road SE, next-door to Ketcham Elementary School sits a wrap-around Art-Deco building that has been vacant so long that the for-sale sign has been lost to the elements. Hugging the corner of 15th & Good Hope Road, the adjacent storefronts, formerly a printing office, church, barbershop, and hair salon, are all vacant, and have been for many years.

With only a smattering of religious-themed bookstores east of the river, Busboys' opening would presumably bring along its progressive-themed bookstore, run by Teaching for Change. The vacant properties at 15th & Good Hope Road would seem to offer the most potential for a fully realized bookshop in its own space.

If it's not broke, don't fix it

Uniontown Bar & Grill at 2200 MLK Jr. Ave. Photo by the author.
According to a source familiar with area commercial real estate, the most likely destination for Busboys will be the current location of Uniontown Bar & Grill at 2200 MLK, Jr. Avenue. Proximity to the nearby Metro, a five minute walk, is guiding this thinking.

Although paying rent for the upstairs, Uniontown has only built out the street level making the eatery feel rather cramped. With the proprietor facing criminal charges, management problems will eventually arise with immediate concerns such as the liquor license needing guidance from a seasoned restaurateur.

"[Busboys proprietor Andy Shallal] is the frontiersmen that legitimizes the neighborhood," a local developer said. "He'll take his time. He took more than a year to open in Hyattsville."

Either buying out or waiting out Uniontown might be the most logical and prudent business decision, however, historic Anacostia's commercial thoroughfare has a critical mass of properties worth a look in the meantime.

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


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Is this something that is actually being pursued, or just a pie-in-the-sky dream? It's a nice idea, but no one from the Hill is going to cross the river to eat next door to a methadone clinic. This sad Catch-22 is why the city government needs to do more to promote business as a means for neighborhood growth.

by MJ on Jun 7, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

I might actually consider checking out the B& B in Ana if there were one to be built. Its worth seeing how it would compare to other locations in DC.

by SweetP on Jun 7, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

How big are each of these spaces you mentioned, John? Looking at BB+P's locations at 5th & K and in Hyattsville, they seem to need about 7,000 square feet on preferably one floor - or two, if necessary. None of these spaces in Anacostia seem to be that big, though I could be wrong. This might also be an opportunity to do a different or smaller concept that may be more well-suited to an emerging neighborhood with less traffic (foot or otherwise) than some of their other locations.

Which brings me to my main point: is Shallal really a "frontiersman" in redeveloping neighborhoods? None of the locations he's gone to were particularly bad at the time. The 14th & V location opened in 2005, five years after the apartments above the U Street Metro and the Whole Foods a few blocks away. Shirlington was well established as a mini-Clarendon before Busboys came there. And the Hyattsville branch is part of a larger planned community in a pretty stable suburban area. Neighboring University Park has a median income over $100k/year.

The "worst" location Shallal picked is probably 5th & K. It's still surrounded by parking lots and has a lingering problem with prostitution, but it's basically downtown, two blocks from the convention center, and surrounded by new high-end residential buildings.

I think Anacostia has a lot of potential and will probably see some new restaurants or bars started by enterprising folks in coming years. But I'm curious if Andy Shallal would really take a chance on it, given where Busboys + Poets has landed in the past.

by dan reed! on Jun 7, 2012 5:28 pm • linkreport

@Dan With brevity in mind I left out the size and tax info for each building. With creativity I think the spaces would work --- the 1306 - 1308 Good Hope Rd. is small, 15th & Good Hope larger, and the former furniture store has good size. Good points about Shallal and the locations he's dropped his bucket. Time will tell what happens in Anacostia.

by John Muller on Jun 7, 2012 6:06 pm • linkreport

Someone recounted to me a conversation with Shallal wrt locating in the NoMA area, and apparently Shallal said he'd only locate in a "historic" type building, that NoMA is too full of new buildings.

I countered, how could that be, every one of his B&P locations is in a new development in a new building? (He got his start in "old" buildings in Dupont Circle, but that was a long time ago.)

But dan reed is right in that Andy S. doesn't appear to be what Everett Rogers would have called an innovator (or in the case of cities, what some people call a pioneer, although that isn't fair, because people are already there), more an early adopter, in the 2nd wave, once a place has already been marked as being in play and likely to be successful. E.g. NoMA is in a much different place than Anacostia.

Speaking of which, I haven't been to the Minnesota Ave. Ray's. That is an example of being willing to jump into an emerging market that most retailers aren't willing to do.

That being said, B&P is a good concept and Andy Shallal deserves props for doing it, and for opening locations in places that are still early in the curve of revitalization success.

by Richard Layman on Jun 8, 2012 6:31 am • linkreport

City Vista does date back to the waning days of the George W Bush administration but it's hardly a "historic" building and that hasn't kept Shallal away.

by Matthew Yglesias on Jun 9, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

I'd rather see him do it in a location other than Uniontown. Because the more options, the better.

by H Street Landlord on Jun 10, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

Busboys would be the perfect tenant for the Uniontown space. They could do both floors.

by MC_in_SEDC on Sep 1, 2012 12:47 am • linkreport

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