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History


See Georgetown's historic movie theatres

Like many DC neighborhoods, Georgetown historically had several movie theatres. While none of them are still in operation today, almost all of the buildings that once held movie theatres are largely intact.


The former Key theatre. Photo by Constantine Hannaher on Flickr.

Jonathan O'Connell of the Washington Post ran a fantastic feature Monday on the history of theatres in DC, with a map showing where historic theatres were and existing theatres are. The city had 116 movie theatres and playhouses during the 20th century, six of which were in Georgetown. Let's tally them up!

Above you see a photo of the Key Theatre. Of the historic theatres, it was on the young side. It was opened in 1969 and closed in 1997. Nowadays it (along with the former Roy Rogers next door) is occupied by Restoration Hardware.


The Biograph. Photo by joe on Flickr.

Here is the Biograph. It was even younger than the Key Theatre. It was built in 1976 in a former car dealership and lasted until 1996. Like the Georgetown theatre, in its later years it mixed art house with adult fare, but was unable to stave off closure. Like many former theatres in DC, it now houses a CVS.


The Georgetown. Photo by Tony on Flickr.

Familiar to many, the Georgetown Theatre building has lasted several decades, gutted and decrepit as it may be today. However, the facade as we now know it is thankfully not long for this world. Local architect Robert Bell has a contract to buy the building and plans to restore the neon sign and rip off the formstone exterior.

Bell only intends to restore the facade to its state immediately before the formstone was applied. That is apparently a simple stucco style, but unfortunately I couldn't locate a picture of what that looked like. Bell confirmed that he had no plans to restore the facade of the Dumbarton Theatre, which was what became the Georgetown in the 1950s. It was opened in 1913, shortly before this photo was taken:


The Dumbarton in 1913. Photo by joe on Flickr.

Bell plans to restore the neon side, making it red, while returning the frame to its original black color. I predict it will displace the old Riggs Bank dome as the iconic Georgetown image once it's finally repaired.


Tommy Hilfiger, once home to the Lido theatre. Photo by Bill in DC on Flickr.

This obviously isn't a theatre, but the Tommy Hilfiger stands at the site of the former Lido Theatre. The theatre was open from 1909 to 1948. I unfortunately could not find any picture of the original theatre. The facade was changed significantly for Tommy Hilfiger, here's what it looked like in the 1990's:


The former Lido Theatre (on the far left). Photo courtesy of the author.

I'm not certain, but chances are that this isn't really the original building. It just looks way more mid-century than turn-of-the-century. The theatre shut in 1948, and that building looks awfully 1950's-ish. I suspect that's when the current structure was built, or it may mean the building's facade was redone later on. So maybe this is one that should be considered "lost."


The former Barnes and Noble. Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

This is also obviously not a photo of a theatre, but before this building held Nike or Barnes and Noble, it held the Cerebus 1-2-3 Theatre. Like many of the large and similar looking buildings on 14th St., this property was also originally built as a car dealership. The theatre occupied the space from 1970 to 1993.


The Foundry. Photo by kiev_dinamo on Flickr.

Last, but not least, on O'Connell's list is the Foundry Theatre. The photo above shows it as it is today, but it hasn't really changed much since the theatre closed in 2002. It was the youngest theatre on this list, having been opened in 1984. For all intents and purposes, it was replaced by the Georgetown AMC theatre, which opened the same year.

So at one point in the late 1970's, there were four different movie theatres open in Georgetown. Now there's just one (two if you count Letelier Theatre) but we've got almost all the old shells. In the age of Netflix and on-demand movies, maybe we should be happy we've even got that.

Crossposted on Georgetown Metropolitan.

History


Then & Now: The only Chinese restaurant east of the river

Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous in the DC area, with multiple Chinatowns across the region and a plethora of carryout joints. But a century ago, Chinese food was more of a novelty here.


Hong Kong Restaurant in Congress Heights, once the only Chinese restaurant east of the river. Photo from the collection of Jerry McCoy.

The city's first Chinese restaurants opened on Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1890s, according to local historian John DeFerrari, author of the recently published Historic Restaurants of Washington, DC: Capital Eats. He cites a 1903 Washington Times article that described Chinese restaurants as a fad among the city's "smart set," who liked to go "slumming" in DC's small Chinatown at 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, now home to the National Gallery of Art.

Within a matter of decades, says DeFerrari, their numbers began to grow. In the 1920s and 1930s, neighborhood Chinese restaurants began appearing all over the city, serving dishes like chow mein and chop suey. Since Chinese restaurants traditionally didn't serve alcohol, they were particularly well-suited to weather the Prohibition era.

But you couldn't find them in every neighborhood. East of the Anacostia River, perhaps the only Chinese joint was the Hong Kong Restaurant at 3109B Nichols Avenue SE in Congress Heights.

It is unclear when the restaurant opened and when it closed, but it was around long enough to appear in a postcard. "Its style as seen in the old postcard is typical of restaurants of the 1930s and 1940s," notes DeFerrari. The address shown says Nichols Avenue, which became Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in the 1970s.

It is within reason to speculate the restaurant was open into the 1950s, before the neighborhood desegregated. During that era, the streetcar ran up and down Nichols Avenue from Anacostia, a white neighborhood, through Hillsdale/Barry Farm, a black neighborhood, to Congress Heights, then a white neighborhood. As the only Chinese joint east of the river, the Hong Kong was likely a destination for many residents there.


3109B Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE today. Photo by the author.

Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue is home to convenience stores, liquor stores, mobile phone providers, offices for contractors and social services, a car-wash, an athletic footwear store, and a weekly newspaper, along with the well-known Player's Lounge.

Meanwhile, the weather-beaten storefront remains, the restaurant is long gone, replaced today by a dollar store advertising Newport cigarettes for sale and letting customers know that it accepts EBT and food stamps.

Development


Is there room for local businesses in White Flint?

New developments in urban areas often have a lot of chains. At Pike + Rose, the large mixed-use development on Rockville Pike, all of the first six restaurants to open will be chains as well. Will there be room for local businesses in the future White Flint?


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Representatives from Federal Realty say their goal is to create an interesting array of shops and restaurants, no matter what they are. "It's less important to us whether something is a chain than [having] a mix of retail types, a mix of expense points, and a mix of dining types," says Evan Goldman, vice president of development. "We want...a diverse mix of options to get a diverse mix of people there."

Projects like Pike + Rose can be risky. Successful retail isn't a given even on a busy corridor like Rockville Pike, and both developers and business owners want to minimize risk. Unlike chains, which have a standard store format that's easy to recreate, small businesses also have to design and build a space from scratch, costing money and time.

And if an entrepreneur opens a second location that fails, their business may be sunk. If a chain's 20th store isn't successful, existing branches can help subsidize it. That's why developers often find it easier to work with chains in new projects.

"We know they can perform, they know they can perform," Goldman says. "And God forbid it doesn't perform, it's not going to take down their company or ours."

Where do chains go today?

When Pike + Rose is finished several years from now, it may look like other town center developments in the region, with a mix of stand-alone stores, national chains, and local chains, which I define as locally-owned businesses whose locations are primarily in the DC area. So Georgetown-based Sweetgreen counts, because all but 4 of its 20 locations are here, but Virginia-based Five Guys, which has over 1,000 locations across North America, doesn't.

Some projects have more locals than others. They're 22% of the businesses at the Market Common at Clarendon to 65% at the Mosaic District in Fairfax. At Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square, both owned by Federal Realty, locals make up between 50 and 60% of all businesses.


The distribution of chains vs. local businesses at 7 DC-area town center projects. Image by the author.

Locally-owned restaurants and shops, whether one-offs or small chains, can be an asset for communities, supporting the local economy and providing unique attraction for customers. To make it easier for them to open, they need to have lower risks. There are two ways to do that: reduce the cost of doing business, or increase the potential number of customers.

How can we do that? Read the rest of my post on the Friends of White Flint..

Development


DC kicks off planning for Southwest's future

What should Southwest DC look like over the next few years? Will it continue to be a quiet neighborhood despite increasing development around it? Or will it become a bustling area with more people and retail?


Will Southwest see more development like this? Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

On Wednesday, the DC Office of Planning held a kickoff meeting for the Southwest Neighborhood Plan, which will be the Small Area Plan that will cover most of Southwest DC. The plan will address some of the development pressure that the neighborhood is experiencing, thanks in part to DC's growing population.

The neighborhood is currently surrounded by large development projects, like the Southwest Ecodistrict, the Wharf, and the Yards. Nationals Park borders the neighborhood, as well as the future DC United stadium and associated redevelopment in Buzzard Point. This creates a challenge for planners trying to craft a distinct vision for Southwest.

As the name "kickoff" implies, OP is still in the very early stages of putting the plan together. Right now there are no preconceived notions of what the plan will look like. Theoretically, everything is under consideration. The plan will focus on development along I and M streets, but plan will address issues of conservation, sustainability, and connectivity in areas to the north and south.

During this stage, OP is seeking input on what values are important to the community. Many residents value the diversity, affordability, green space, and access the neighborhood provides. But while some residents want more restaurants, retail, and bars, others are worried that competition will force out existing businesses. Neighbors also differed on whether a streetcar on M Street would be a good idea.

At the meeting, Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning seemed optimistic that the neighborhood could build on its shared values to overcome differences and mold a plan. She pointed out that people aren't for or against the streetcar because it's a streetcar, they are for it or against it because of the perceived effects a streetcar will bring to traffic and the neighborhood. OP will continue to take input and then analyze and report back in late fall. They hope to have a final draft of the plan by Spring 2014.

Much of the land in the area is currently occupied by housing, which seems unlikely to go away over the next several years. But DC owns a fair bit of land that Tregoning called "underutilized." These are shorter structures like the DMV branch and inspection station and the DC Fire Department repair shop, located on M Street SW about halfway between the Waterfront and Navy Yard Metro stations. In the future, this area could sit right on a proposed streetcar line.

OP will continue to seek feedback through community meetings, an interactive website, and the #SWDCPlan tag on Twitter.

Development


Design for pedestrians, not cars in Glenmont

A long-awaited redevelopment could finally bring new housing and retail to Glenmont. But to create a urban, walkable environment around the Metro station, the Glenmont Metrocentre project needs to be designed for pedestrians, not cars.


Rendering from Hord Coplan Macht.

Today, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved a preliminary plan for Glenmont Metrocentre, a 31-acre mixed-use development at the corner of Georgia and Glenallan avenues with 1325 apartments, 225 townhomes and 90,000 square feet of retail space. It would replace Privacy World, a 1960's-era garden apartment complex with just 362 units.

County planners first envisioned this project in 1997. Ten years later, the Planning Board agreed to let developer JBG build retail in addition to housing here, but the County Council refused to approve it until Maryland approved funding for an interchange at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road. With money in hand, the project can move forward. Next, JBG will need to submit a more detailed site plan.


Privacy World today. Photo from Google Street View.

The project is split into two phases. First, JBG will demolish 275 existing apartments and replace them with two apartment buildings and 4,000 square feet of retail. Meanwhile, partner Winchester Homes will build the townhouses. Later, two new buildings and more retail space would replace the remaining Privacy World apartments, but not until the interchange at Georgia and Randolph is fully funded, or the proposed Bus Rapid Transit lines along Georgia and Randolph have been built.

The developers will set aside 14.5% of the homes for low-income households, higher than the county's requirement of 12.5%. This will produce 225 affordable apartments, but it's not enough to replace all of the already-affordable units there are today.

They will also build new, wider sidewalks on Georgia Avenue and Layhill Road, and a 10-foot-wide "shared-use path" for walkers and cyclists along Glenallan Avenue. They can also pay for other improvements, like bike racks, signs that tell people when the next bus or train is coming, or a neighborhood circulator shuttle.

Plan creates great open spaces, lousy street network

JBG hired Baltimore-based architect Hord Coplan Macht, also responsible for the new Safeway and apartments in Wheaton, to design the project. On the west side of the site, closer to Georgia Avenue, are four apartment buildings with above-ground parking garages. The buildings will have between 5 and 7 floors; the tallest buildings sit along Georgia, and will also have ground-floor shops.


Site plan from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

On the east side, closer to Layhill Road, are blocks of townhouses with rear-facing garages on alleys. Tying it all together are a network of new streets, giving residents and visitors alternatives to using existing arterial roads.

The design also creates a network of open spaces, including several pocket parks, a central lawn that serves as a community gathering spot, and a wooded area that will buffer the development from the railyard behind it.


Site plan of the lawn from Hord Coplan Macht.

However, the project's street network and potential architecture won't create the kind of walkable, urban environment that county planners and residents envision for Glenmont. Some blocks are really long, which encourage speeding and reduce the number of places where people can safely cross the street.

A "main street" parallel to Glenallan Avenue forms the development's spine and provides another connection between Georgia and Layhill. But according to the planning staff report, the State Highway Administration thought the intersection of the new street and Layhill was too close to Glenallan Avenue and would inconvenience drivers. Instead, the main street has been severed, forcing people to turn left, then right again before reaching Layhill Road.

Like in many new townhouse developments, the townhouses here will have rear-facing garages accessed from an alley, not the street. This can make the streets more pedestrian-friendly, but many developers use this as an opportunity to save money by getting rid of the streets entirely and arrange the townhouses so their "front" is on a pocket park instead.

The resulting layout is no less circuitous and confusing for drivers and pedestrians alike than the cul-de-sacs that alleys are meant to replace. The developers should put some more streets back into this plan, or at least redesign the townhouses in a way that forms more coherent blocks.

Pedestrian-focused design is a must

Since this is a site plan, we don't know what the buildings will actually look like. But since there will be a lot of foot traffic here, they'll need lots of detail and careful design to create an attractive, inviting pedestrian environment.


Photo by the author.

Judging from the townhouses that Winchester Homes is building up the street at Poplar Run, that may not happen here. It's as if the designers assumed that nobody would ever stand outside these houses and look at them, because very little thought went into designing the exteriors.

The windows and doors don't line up with each other, and without any trim, they look like they were pasted on. Each house has a number, but in a different place on each house, making them hard to see. And sticking utility boxes on the front of the house defeats the purpose of having an alley, which allows you to hide things like that.


Townhouses at the Mosaic District. Photo by the author.

Compare that to these new townhouses at the Mosaic District in Fairfax. Inside, they're very similar to the Winchester townhouses. But outside, so much more thought went into tiny details, like the way the stoop railings match the house lights, or even just making sure the windows line up with each other, creating visual interest and engaging pedestrians. These are the kinds of houses that belong across the street from a Metro station.

Glenmont Metrocentre could bring new residents, shoppers, and visitors to Glenmont and take advantage of a surprisingly underutilized Metro station. With so many people living and working across the street from the Metro, there will be a lot of pedestrians here. In order for this project to be successful, everything from the streets to the buildings must be designed with them in mind.

Development


Shops begin to open at Brookland Metro development

Monroe Street Market, the large multiblock development adjacent to Brookland Metro station, is making rapid progress. The first buildings are occupied, and shops are beginning to open.


The landmark Brookland sign at Monroe Street Market. Photo by the author.

The new town center will stitch together the residential neighborhood, Catholic University, and the Metro station like never before. Although it's a smaller scale than what's gone in at Columbia Heights, and will always be more of a local node than regional shopping mecca, it will be no less transformative to the livability of the neighborhood.

One of the first shops to open for business is Analog, a boutique and on-site crafting workshop selling, among other things, DC- and geography-themed paper goods. My wife is co-owner of Analog, and I couldn't be more proud of her.

More small shops and artist studios will open through September, with the larger retailers coming in spring 2014. The largest will be a new Barnes and Noble bookstore, which will include a section for Catholic University textbooks.

Here are a few more pictures of Monroe Street Market and Analog.


Monroe Street Market's Arts Walk (top), 2nd building (bottom left), and Analog (bottom center & right). All photos by the author.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Retail


Dupont ANC recommends phasing out liquor moratorium

Last night, the Dupont Circle ANC recommended that DC lift a liquor license moratorium for restaurants and stores, but to temporarily keep the cap on taverns and nightclubs. Some commissioners feel it's a step towards phasing out the moratorium entirely.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In 1990, DC first created the moratorium, which applies primarily to establishments along 17th Street NW, to prevent bars and clubs from pushing out stores and to reduce late-night noise and crime. But today, there are fewer retail stores, and neighbors say the street needs more activity, not less. While the moratorium is a crude and outdated tool, as an ANC commissioner, I strongly believe that it's best to end it in stages to minimize disruptions and conflicts.

Other local ANCs are trying to phase out their moratoria as well. Two years ago, the ANC partially lifted one along P Street NW and have since reported no negative impacts, and a proposed moratorium on 14th and U streets faces widespread ANC opposition.

The moratorium is intended to protect local retailers from being bought out by alcohol-serving establishments with higher profit margins. But today, there are far fewer retail stores, largely due to the rise of online shopping. What retail remains serves daily needs, like pharmacies, hardware stores, and grocery stores.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the community is anywhere close to becoming too unsafe or too noisy. Residents of all ages who live close to the 17th Street commercial strip tell us that they are not bothered by the current noise and would be happy for the strip to be more lively. While some residents have concerns about safety, police statistics show that crime has gone down significantly in the past two years, including both violent crime and property crime.

According to the Capitol Retail Group, increased foot traffic can revive urban retail corridors like 17th Street. New or better restaurants can generate more foot traffic, helping all businesses in the area. But under the moratorium, restaurants can't get liquor licenses to open here.

A Dupont Circle ANC subcommittee held three public meetings about the moratorium over the last three months. They came up with a compromise following in the footsteps of the West Dupont moratorium, which lifted the ban on liquor licenses for restaurants, but not for taverns and nightclubs.

Establishments with restaurant licenses must serve food and alcohol and are subject to certain food sales minimum requirements. Many of the popular new places on 14th Street, like Masa 14 and El Centro, have restaurant licenses, even though they have bars, music, and dancing. They may seem like bars and clubs to some, but they face limitations that taverns and nightclubs do not.

Meanwhile, establishments with tavern licenses don't have to serve food, but they're not all the same. Some are peaceful, like Room 11 in Columbia Heights, while others are very fun, but loud dance clubs, like some of the taverns on U Street (one of which has "Boom Boom" in its name, which I enjoy and have no objection to in its current location). 17th Street residents might welcome taverns like Room 11, which probably would not have an impact on noise or safety, but the latter ones may not be as well received.

ANCs and the DC Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) have some tools to try and minimize the negative effects of these establishments, but they aren't perfect. And once a tavern gets licensed, it's not easy to enforce prior agreements, and the immediate neighbors have to face the consequences.

If DC agrees to lift the moratorium on restaurants and stores, I and some of my colleagues will consider it the first stage of phasing out the moratorium entirely. During this first stage, the ANC should strengthen and clarify its policies and tools so that it can ensure that any new taverns or nightclubs on 17th Street are successful, but also responsible members of our community.

Not everyone agrees with lifting the moratorium, but it is not the best tool for making 17th Street and Dupont Circle a better neighborhood and a stronger retail environment. Many people want to eliminate the moratorium, and I agree, but it will be less disruptive to do it in phases. When the moratorium ends, we want the supporters to remain friendly with the opponents, because we have a very convivial community. And we want it to stay that way as we make progress together as a community.

Our recommendations will go before the ABC, which will decide whether to lift the moratorium. To send them your recommendations, visit their website. You can also see a list of recently-awarded liquor licenses.

Development


Adams Morgan gas station gives way to condos, retail

For almost 90 years, 1827 Adams Mill Road welcomed drivers with an Exxon gas station. Soon, this lot at the heart of Adams Morgan will make way for a new condominium with several features to encourage future residents to bike or use transit instead.


Rendering of 1827 Adams Mill Road. All media from PGN Architects.

Neighbors generally support the 36-unit building, which will be built in a partnership between PGN Architects and Perseus Realty. They're excited about what establishments could fill the project's 8,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space. But others worry that losing the gas station and repair shop, which first opened in 1926, will make it hard to get their cars fixed.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment agreed to give Perseus and PGN an exception to the height limit, allowing them create a rooftop communal space, which should have great views of downtown Washington. They will also allow the developers to build just 24 parking spaces instead of the required 37, which will reduce the cost of building expensive underground parking.

In April, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, which represents the surrounding neighborhood, voted 7-1 in favor of the project with several concessions, including that they don't want nightclubs or taverns in the building's retail space.

Residents will get 18 of the building's parking spaces, while the rest would go to commercial tenants. The residential parking spaces will be sold separately from the units, meaning people without cars won't have to pay for space they won't use. Everyone in the building will have to get a chance to buy one parking space before anyone can buy a second, and non-residents will be able to rent any excess spaces.

To reduce the amount of car trips future residents will make, everyone will get a $75 SmarTrip card or one year membership to Capital Bikeshare or a car sharing service. According to the building plans, there will also be 20 bicycle parking spaces.


The developers will pay to repair the "Pueblo Desmuralizado" mural, shown in 2007. Photo by Keith Ivey on Flickr.

In addition, the developer will set prices for any required Inclusionary Zoning units at a level that people making 50% of the average median income in Adams Morgan can afford. They'll also hold a public meeting with ANC 1C residents about their proposed construction traffic plan, and provide a one-time contribution of $2,000 to repair the "Pueblo Desmuralizado" mural on Columbia Road, otherwise known as the Ko Gi Bow Bakery mural.

After the building's finished, they'll continue to pay for upkeep at the pocket park at Adams Mill Road and Lanier Place NW, including periodic irrigation, fertilization, mulching, seasonal plantings, and installation and maintenance of tree boxes.

The developer's agreement with ANC 1C ensures that this project will make a great contribution to Adams Morgan, by supporting new residents who don't drive and giving current residents more shops within walking distance. This is just one of several condo projects in the works in the neighborhood, which altogether will add 175 units.

Any ideas on what you'd like to see on the ground floor?

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