Sunday, June 24, 2007

Coming Soon! More of the Same!

On my way to the Studio Theatre on Thursday (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead was entertaining enough--more entertaining was the woman who answered her cellphone during the performance) and noticed this sign across the street:
To give some perspective, I live along the revitalized 14th St. corridor, which includes the P St. Whole Foods all the way up to U St. and beyond. Seven years ago, when I was first introduced to the neighborhood, the street was lined mostly with parking lots and vacant buildings like the one above (apparently old car show rooms that have been neglected since the race riots four decades ago).

Even then, gems were appearing, including The Garden District, Pulp, and Go Mama Go! I had assumed, mistakenly, that the boom of development would continue to bring independent business and restaurants, similar to U Street and Adams Morgan. To be fair, Busboys and Poets has been a phenomenal recent additional at the physical and cultural crossroads of 14th and U. But more disappointing has been the failure of the residential boom to bring in more of the same. Storefronts keep opening on the first floor of each new development, and the most likely next step is that they remain empty (ripe space for past art installations, at least) or become a showcase for another residential development. On this point, I am not kidding. There are at least eight such "businesses" or real estate offices in as many blocks.

The stores that do open are just as likely to close. I just discovered yesterday that the stalwart Sparky's Cafe has already closed and is slated to move. Now let's be honest, their website hasn't been updated in five years, and they probably win the award for most holier-than-thou, arrogant, or simply angry barristas. Still, they will be missed... sort of.

And now, the most discouraging development is that businesses that do open appear to be trending toward chains. First a Wakovia, then a PNC, and now FedEx Kinko's?! Seriously? Pisses me off. I know I can't do anything about it, I am just disappointed to learn this is where the neighborhood is going. Change is inevitable, so maybe a neighborhood change is on my horizon.

It's hard to argue with your bank being in stumbling distance from home when you need the ATM for emergency questionable decisions, so a Wachovia on 14th sounds pretty great to me.

As for the other corporate behemoths, I think it's about balance. Part of the residential boom on 14th sent property values skyrocketing, and I'm thinking that a lot of independent businesses simply can't afford to lease space there anymore, unless they're trafficking in some high-end luxury goods. Bars will always do well, but that won't really be a factor with Saint-Ex, Pilar, Black Cat and Halo all already bustling. I'd welcome more restaurants (especially now that I'm either a brisk walk or short bus ride away). But stores like Pulp will always be the exception, not the rule in your 'hood, more because--not despite--the people who live there. Vicious cycle.

To wit: recently opened or coming soon in my new neighborhood are almost exclusively corporate establishments: Target, Best Buy, Marshall's, Washington Sports Club, BB&T, Rita's. The lone local business to pop us is The Heights, whose owners already have three very successful other restaurants in their portfolio. We even have an actual chain restaurant (Ruby Tuesday's--the horror!) Otherwise, it's confined to the odd bodega or two to give the neighborhood some local authenticity.

I'd be more bitter, but I LOVE Target and I don't care who knows. I feel your pain though.
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