Sweet Potential For This Spot at 17th and Columbia


Last month I noted that it seemed like there were tons of spots for lease on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. Well, I found one that is particularly worth noting. It looks like it was in a former movie theater. I seem to remember most recently this spot was a huge dollar type store, right? The potential for this to turn into a cool spot is incredible. I know it’s a bit tougher because it’s on Columbia but imagine the possibilities. What do you think would be the best business that could go in here? I’m thinking a huge Tryst type spot with a comedy club (see below about 14th and T).

37 Comment

  • It was a great tienda with all kinds of clothes ‘n crap a lot like you’d find in a Mexican border town or most big cities in the southwest — including really wild knock-offs. I bought a stocking cap (a fake Nike cap) and a scarf there the first week I arrived in DC. I slipped into haggle-mode (just as I would in Mexico) only to be looked at like I was an alien by the Salvadorian staff. Appearantly that’s not how things go here even in a tienda. Still, it was cheapy cheap. Almost bought a cart there once too, but then remembered the no haggle policy, and thought better of it.

  • That was the old ontario theater. It may have been a movie theater back in the day, but in the ’70’s-’80’s it was a music venue/club. I saw The Clash play there when I was a kid.

    More recently it was a dollar store/luggage store/pirated cd’s/etc mart….

    CVS bought what was most of the ‘theater’ part of the building, and what you see on the corner there, and I believe what’s for lease is really just the lobby portion of the theater. I don’t think it’s very big inside, but when it was a dollar store it was so cluttered with crap [both for sale and actual garbage] that it was hard to tell.

    I agree it would make a great cafe/Tryst type place, but like most of the places on 18th St, they’re probably asking too much for rent.

  • Agreed, PoP. This place is dying to be something cool. How about small music venue for up and coming bands? Who knows with all the zoning, but it has great potential to be an interesting spot.

  • That would have been an amazing place to see The Clash. Envy is one of the seven deadlies, right?

  • I was thinking the exact same way when I walked past it a few months ago… Columbia Rd. needs a major facelift and this place would be a good start.

  • I suspect we’ll see a lot of vacant commercial spaces over the next few years due to businesses going under from the economic downturn coupled with owners refusing to adjust rents. 500 square foot spaces are being listed at over $3,000 per month. Something like this, who knows, they may be asking for $20,000 a month.

    Not many businesses these days can afford that kind of scratch.

  • The CVS does occupy most of the old theater space. With all the new CVS’s in the neighborhood perhaps they could let this old cruddy one go and turn it back into a movie theater?

    A girl can dream.

  • “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” played there as well in the 1980’s, wasn’t that just yesterday? Yes, CVS has most of what was the actual theater but maybe they’d be willing to move, perhaps to a Starbuck’s site that will need to close someday!

  • If you want a “Tryst-type place,” why don’t you walk two blocks to Tryst?

    Odd that people clamor for “unique” establishments that are knock-offs of other, nearby businesses.

  • I want the tienda back, where else am I supposed to buy luggage?

  • D. Hotey: Nuevo Laredo.

  • The one thing that would do amaaaaazing in AM / Columbia Heights / Petworth would be a small, independant movie theater. This space sounds too small as currently configured but DC has a serious shortage of movie houses, outside of E Street and Uptown, no place interesting to watch a movie. An indy movie theater would rock in Columbia Heights, I wish somoene wish some cash would consider building one on 14th street or something … plenty of parking and metro access!

  • New 2CH: That’s be sweet, but economically a indy movie theater is a bad business. There was appearantly one near the Hilton on Florida Ave. (“Visions”) that went out of business a few years back, you can still see it there, vacant.

  • The CVS gutted most all of the Ontario theater space, eg the screen/stage area, the seating area, etc. What remains is small, mainly the lobby, etc. Unfortunately, it is not possible to put a Tryst type or any other indie venue of similar quality (partly due to small space) but mostly because there is a liquor license moratorium in Adams Morgan, and no licenses are available except at scalpers prices, which burdens a new biz from the get-go. AM MainStreet still would like to renovate the space, but it would have to be subsidized.

  • Like a lot of you, I too always thought this building had tons of potential for something unique. When I noticed the Discount Store vacated back in the beginning of 2008, myself and two partners started exploring the idea of trying to get something in there – ideally, some sort of bar/cafe/music venue. We did a lot of homework on the place, and put together a pretty solid business plan. We’ve had several walk-throughs, and the place is in pretty bad shape, but does have tons of potential. The second floor especially (which the discount center did not occupy, and which has been closed since CVS/People’s moved in) has a lot of character, with exposed rafters and catwalks, and the original reel room of the theater.

    There are A LOT of obstacles, however, that make this a very risky endeavor. First and foremost, the owners are unlikely to give any money for tenant improvements. Secondly, the rent they want for the space is WAY overvalued. And that’s even before you get into parking limitations, trying to obtain a liquor license, and dealing with the current credit crunch.

    We’ve got a wealth of info on the place, so if you’re interested in finding out more, let me know.

  • The Clash and Bo Diddly in one show – wow!

  • What that area needs
    – a cupcake place
    – a tangy frozen yogurt place
    – wine bar
    – a tapas place
    – indy coffee shop
    – small venue for indy rockers (think h-street)\
    – quirky clothes or furniture

    You know things that DC is really lacking

  • Way back in the 60’s it was a first run theatre, very fancy. In really cold weather the ushers would bring out a trolly of complimentary hot chocolate for those waiting in line!

  • frustrated lawyer:


    man these people are hysterical at times!!

    actually, what that corner needs is a cheap place to buy luggage. it’ll do wonders there i’m sure!

  • I mostly remember it operating from 8th grade to 10th grade.

    notable shows there, which junior high and high school acquaintances attended included Siouxie and the Banshees and Duran Duran. The one that people I knew in junior high were SUPER excited about was the “Irish punk band” U2. The second-most attended show was the Cure in 1984, which was a teenage monster show. It was basically the place where Seth booked bands too big for the 9:30 club, read: British post punk and new wave acts that were artsy enough to attract yuppies.

    There were these girls I knew in Spanish class who I think saw Simple Minds there, maybe Psychedelic Furs, maybe Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie. (What, no OMD?)

    What I don’t remember was how many larger hardcore bands played there. I think when I was in 10th grade the reunited Minor Threat circa 1983 played there.

    Around 1984 I worked with a hippy who told me about seeing dodgy-ish acts like Johnny Winter there, Judas Priest, Motorhead/King Diamond, Joan Jett w/ Iggy Pop, Stray Cats, Ian Hunter, Todd Rundgren. I can’t even fricking talk about the club without evoking the sophomoric Britishism “dodgy.”

  • oh wait.

    I think that Peach of Immortality may have written their record “REM is Air Supply” after REM played at the Ontario theater.

    I just IM’d my brother and he remembers shows there by the Police and PiL. That sounds about right I guess.

  • Gang of Four played there in the early 80s. Last show I can recall hearing about was David Bowie’s Tin Machine, probaby early 90s-ish.

  • Sounds like what we need is a richer, more meaningful arts culture, venue aside. Oh well, who’s up for a $6.00 latte?

  • Siouxsie and the Banshees, Duran Duran? Sure some folks aren’t thinking of the old Citadel [now Harris Teeter]? I know I saw Siouxsie there in the late ’80’s. Citadel also hosted one of the most bizarre lineups ever: Puiblic Enemy, Primus & Anthrax – yes on one bill. I think the neighborhood ‘aftermath’ from that show is what caused them to shut the place down.

  • These posts are an embarrassing reflection of my iPod…

  • there are about 9 other places to buy cheap luggage on columbia rd… A bar venue like the red and black or dc nine that had a cafe on the first floor with a solid brunch would do very well. Pete. please continue with your plans. for those noting the tryst is just down the street. tryst is always packed. which i think points to the need for more good indy coffee cafes. add a small venue to that list and you have a winner. There is already a yogurt place that is always empty on columbia rd by perrys. and a cali yogurt coming to 18th. but columbia rd seems to suffer fromt he same sort of problems mt p street does. land lords asking absurd rents. so most likely in a few years this will become a potbelly.. BOOOOOO. why cant dc draft a plan to fine landlords for having vacant commercial properties for more than 2 months.

  • I agree – it was the old Harris Teeter. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who I saw there, but I’m sure it was a godd show.

  • I remember to Public Enemy / Primus / Anthrax shows!!! I saw them in the mid-west somewhere, talk about wild. Almost as amusing as the Rage Against the Machine / Wu Tang tour about eight years ago.

  • I’ve said it before in regard to another property, and I’ll say it again…. this is the perfect spot for a McMennamin’s-like concept (anyone who’s been to Portland knows what I’m talking about.) McMennamin’s is a lot like Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, but more versatile in terms of event programming, dining options, and beer selection.

  • Great history from the commenters!

    It’s worth noting, though, that the Potbelly on 19th and L has live music at lunch! Maybe the luggage store couldn’t book a few bands, now and then, just for old times sake.

  • I am pretty sure both Siouxie and Duran Duran played there when I was in Jr High, but good lord, I’m talking about 1981!!! Cut me some slack if it was really the Citadel.

    Now, Sonic Youth/Fugazi at the Citadel theater, now Harris Teeter? hoooo man.

  • I dont get the whole commercial rent-lease thing. The landlords charge an arm and a leg on these streets like Mount Pleasant and Columbia Road because of their proximity to thriving areas. but how do the dollar stores and nail salons and the “fell off the truck” places afford their rents? Do they have 100 year leases or something? Mount Pleasant will never get a music venue of any kind thanks to the MPNA. hell they barely allow juke boxes. The closest thing to a venue is wonderland and asylum. pull off a venue at this location and it would draw from adams morgan, mount pleasant, and columbia heights. three music loving neighborhoods all within walking distance. anyone who has the cajones to make a go of a venue-cafe would be handsomely rewarded in the long run.

  • I saw “The Little Prince” on a grade-school trip there in the 70’s. And I almost saw Gang of Four there. Pete, any chance of a photographer (e.g., me?) getting in the rafters?

  • I saw “The Sound of Music” there.

  • A friend of mine who is on the ANC in this neighborhood told me that they have worked hard to try to fix up this block of Columbia. However, he said that most of the businesses are minority-owned and receive major tax breaks and other benefits from the government, so they’re able to stay in business and are not willing to leave. Also it’s an unpopular move to boot them out because they have a lot of backing from minority groups in the area.

    Think this is true or a conspiracy theory?

  • My old band played a show there with Lloyd Cole and Commotions and The Go Betweens back in, oh, 1991, for Coats for Kids benefit arranged by WHFS. Lots of fun. I didn’t actually live here back then but I remember our manager, who was local, telling me about all the bands that had tread it’s floorboards.

    I say divide the space up and turn it into practice space for bands. Rent out amps and drums as part of the rental rate. And then open up a bar in the front with cheap beer and cheaper sandwiches so the bands could hang out, talk music, schmooze and maybe play an acoustic-ish set in the bar every now and then. Bands in this town desperately need places to practice.

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