Dang! Columbia Heights Coffee Not Expanding

DSCN6297, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Well, sometimes if it’s too good to be true… This is actually quite sad. The owners of Columbia Heights Coffee, located on 11th Street between Park and Monroe, informed me this weekend that they will not be expanding after all. I feel really bad for them because they told me they had paid two years rent for nothing. It seems that the permitting process was just way too cumbersome. Oh well, at least the original spot will remain. For those curious the for rent sign says $1K per month.

44 Comment

  • That’s unfortunate, because with Mayorga closed, Starbucks and Columbia Heights Coffee are always crowded and there are never any seats available.

  • I think this is a data point to begin to question how the city handles stuff like this. A local business that is operating legally and adding value to the neighborhood should be allowed to expand if they’re willing to pay the price for the increased square footage.

  • I agree, this is really unfortunate. CH Coffee is always crowded. And any entity that pays its taxes should be able to utilize public services, including permitting.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    For the record I don’t think they were outright refused a permit. It was simply a matter that the process was too cumbersome and was taking too long.

  • I haven’t spoken with the owners lately, but I believe PoP. The owners are very gentle people. I think the permit office may have been harsh on them; but I would also venture to guess they could’ve hired a contractor to pull the permits.

    This may be a shared opportunity for neighbors to lend a hand. I am one of the neighbors who offered to introduce them to a trustworthy contractor, and although I gave them his number, I never brought him in there for a face-to-face meeting. I am not sure whether the expansion looked profitable or not. But with the renovations and permits, sometimes you have to stamp your feet and make demands and this wasn’t their style.

  • District government: 1; Local Business: 0.

    Ridiculous. DC needs to cut the fat out.

  • This is utter and complete insanity. THIS is what the ANC and/or councilmember should be doing — working with local businesses to help guide them through the byzantine city gov’t process (not that that should be needed, but it is what it is). If a venerated local institution, a coffee shop whose expansion presents no conceivable issue can’t expand, what is the point? What do the permiting office even do, other that serve as a taxpayer handout to a bunch of do-nothing bureaucrats? I mean, it’s not like they prevent ugly, monstrous pop-ups from being added to construction projects, or bizarre ugly eye-sore mini storage areas from being built (see half a block up on 11th), or prevent actually undesirable business from doing as they please, so I really don’t see the point at all … this is just so frustrating, to no end. I mean, if one juxtaposition epitomizes city gov’t, and contributes to the frustration and powerlessness or regular citizens, it is that (1) the city can afford to hire permit office employees who do nothing whatsoever except prevent a great neighborhood business from expanding while (2) the city can not afford to hire inspectors who can check out a bond claim against a crooked developer … man ….

  • For a great locally owned and operated business to be stymied by the government is unAmerican. Permitting? What kind of permitting does one need for a coffee shop to expand into the adjacent space? This isn’t a strip club were talking about here.

    This is absurd.

  • Sadly typical. The bureaucratic holdover from Mayor Barry’s city-jobs-as-workfare program is still choking entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs out of D.C.

  • while i agree with mls, i think that we’re forgetting that there are two sides to every story. ch coffee is not a victim the way some of the comments suggest. being an entrepreneur takes a lot of work, ingenuity, and persistance and ch coffee might not have taken proactive actions to make their case. i find it hard to believe that the problem lies solely with govt.

  • Their word against….? Other small businesses manage, why not them? I used work in Rockville and the process was no easier than in the District, but people seem to whine less in the ‘burbs.

  • I’ve received [or attempted to receive] business permits in Montgomery County and DC. The DC process is easily 2x or 3x more cumbersome and expensive than Montgomery Co. DCRA are for the most part a bunch of dipsh*ts. Period. They make the DMV seem like a monument to efficiency and courtesy.

  • 1K a month seems down right reasonable. would anyone like to open an arcade with me?

  • I’m in on the arcade. wait… how about a baseball card shop?

  • Ummm, as cool as those would be and as much as they would indulge my nostalgia, I have to ask, do kids even collect baseball cards anymore? And could an arcade survive in an era when every kid or their friends have an xbox or playstation with ridiculous graphics? I mean, it’s not the 80’s, alas — but if economically feasible, I’m all for it! I would love an independant record / music shop, but again, in the era of itunes, probably not feasible, even if there is no music store anywhere nearby …

  • I’ve been exploring the possibility of opening a small manufacturing business in DC for two years now. After many meetings with lawyers, realtors, and various other experts/advisors, I’ve determined that the only reason start-up businesses don’t locate in the District is because of DCRA. Everything else is comparable to the suburbs, but DCRA makes things so awful that entrepreneurs choose to set up shop elsewhere.

    Has anyone else been to Barcade in Brooklyn? Dozens of old-school videogames and a great beer selection. Someone should take this arcade idea for that space an run with it!

  • Dealing with DC gov’t is absolutely draining. It consumes you for days on end for even the most trivial matters. Many of the people on the front lines need to be working somewhere else. That’s if they are capable of working at all. Rude. Unprofessional. You just can’t have that attitude coming from city workers.

  • This is so frustrating! The space is great… I wish there was something we could do.

  • Vonstallin

    An Arcade shop use to be on the corner of 11th and Park Road way back in the late 70’s to mid 80’s. I use to play all the Atari type Gen 1 games.

    I think a gun shop would work in that location 🙂 (sarcastic smile)

  • What a pity.

    Wish some of those folks (that are still) spending a lot of energy to try to stop the Room 11 winebar had (maybe they have) spent that energy to try to lobby for a business that is willing to invest in the community in these hard times.

  • Anybody think a gay bar would work there, nothing fancy, just a laid back, hole in the wall for everyone, but gays encouraged. Kinda like Nellies.

  • Hey, I needed a simple permit to have pointing done and rebuild my front porch. Essentially, take it appart, remove damage, and put it back together again. It took the better part of the morning, I think it was only $50 or less … BUT, I had to see three different people (one of them twice), in the right order, for all the signatures. It was CRAZY!!!! Even then, I think I had to sweet talk one of them because he wasn’t quit sure. What made the whole thing enjoyable (as in a train wreck of a spectator sport) was the girl on girl sexual harassment I got to see while waiting for one of them to come back to his desk. It was UN-believable.

  • Re Anon. 1:13

    I think a gay bar is a great idea, but the Council of Churches make it damn hard to open a new one. They lobby hard, and have insane restrictions on how close they can be to schools and churches (mind you, they don’t seem to care when strip clubs open). It isn’t even thinly veiled targeting. Forget that schools, churches and gay bars don’t operate during the same hours, as a rule.

  • Im not gay. but im comfortable enough with my sexuality to know that a gay bar would do very well there. and as for the whole church deal. just dont bill it as a gay bar. just float the word of mouth around after opening.

  • DCRA is indeed the worst. The councilmember who beat C. Schwartz had a good quote: “DC is the 51st worst place in America start a business.” I agree. Also, I found DCRA to be totally racist, in that permits for black folk are approved quickly and honkeys and others get the endless runaround and persistent solicitations for bribes. Anyone else find this? Are the CH Coffee folks still Ethiopian? Ie, not black enough? (not meaning to start a race war here, just asking)

  • Do you actually have to indicate its a gay bar when you file for permits? I doubt it. Perhaps just refrain from calling it “the hole in the wall that leads to my ass” or something obvious and ostensibly offensive like that. Note that Wonderland was a damn shady looking gay bar for years before it became a nice harmless liver-pickling congressional slut den.

  • and thats exactly why we like it Pennywise.

    side note – i dont think anyone opens up a baseball card shop with the goal of making money.

  • Mmmm.. congressional sluts.. I have to visit it, pronto! No wait, I am ugly and old.. no wait, that’s what they would like, right? Damn this emo-hormonal roller coster…

  • C-sluts really only have standards for two drinks, after that, they are anyones toy. If you must impress them, mention “career in lobbying” while you drink a martini. If possible, have a silver business card dispenser and some sort of money clip.

  • Vonstallin

    Hmmm, I was going to wonderland a few weeks ago after meeting a chick that work at Rubys. She and other staff memebers were going to hit it up after they got off…now that I know its a Slut Den….
    I’m all over it.

    Man I have low self esteeme.

  • Also, I found DCRA to be totally racist, in that permits for black folk are approved quickly and honkeys and others get the endless runaround and persistent solicitations for bribes. Anyone else find this?
    I wish that were the case. You should have said that DCRA is racist, and permits for “native” born DC Blacks are approved quickly. The “native” born blacks see the nonnative blacks on the same level as whites.

  • Judging by the comments on this thread, may be time for a new POP poll — best place to meet easy women / sugardaddy men …

  • The LAST thing 11th Street needs is another bar.

  • on the rare ocassion ive had to pull permits for anything or get plats for a building it is horrific. one hand doesnt seem to know what the other is doing and the three and four different window thing is a pain and it can also be the different building thing also. also often the process can take so much time that you’re forced to come back the next day .unfortunately some of the employees are extremely rude and if you call them on it or try to redirect the conversation they will turn their backs and literally walk away.

  • In 5-10 years, the Marion Barry “appointees” who were given job as clerks in DC government and DC courts will have retired, and perhaps those offices will have a chance to hire actual competent people who want to perform labor for their bi-weekly paycheck. until then, the attitude of entitlement to a paycheck because you occasionally show up at the workplace somewhere close to on time prevails, and little gets done.

  • 1. What’s with calling women sluts? 2. What’s with calling women who might sleep with YOU sluts? 3. Just curious, why would a straight person want a gay bar there? 4. can this article go into any more detail? What was so cumbersome? Why did it take so long?

  • I’m going to ask an earnest question — please don’t snark me to death: The District was able to upgrade the DMV under Williams. Why was that possible and why can’t that be replicated over at DCRA? (I know, I know, I know — the DMV sucks. But, based on my many trips there over the past 7 or 8 years, it doesn’t seem to be the soul-sapping experience that it once was reputed to be in the days of yore. Seems to me the city implemented positive reforms.)

  • The District DMV is actually far, far better than MD or VA’s. You can make reservations and it’s quick. MD and VA take hours upon hours and is a miserable, imcompetent experience overall.

    DCRA is horrendous and should be remade, but it’s easier said than done. It would probably require massive firings, which would be politically difficult.

  • Nick has a point – things really are markedly better at DMV than they were before. Does anyone have the history on how Williams accomplished that?

  • As someone who goes through the bureaucracy of the permitting process down at DCRA for my company, I can say that it is NEVER easy or quick to get through. DCRA is time consuming for private homeowners, but in commercial spaces it takes months, at the least. I agree with Bogfrog in that a contracter would be a much easier option for the coffee shop owners. I just recently visited this place for the first time, being new to the neighborhood, so I’m disappointed it isn’t expanding.

  • Also note that DPW has in general improved markedly over the years. Many people probably remember the 90s, when trash wasn’t picked up and all manner of notorious things took place at DPW. Now I count DPW as one of the (few) bright parts of the city. They are not perfect and I am sure some would have examples of their silliness, but from my perspective they often do wonders.

  • There must have been some sort of issue with the proposed plan that caused them to give up. DCRA is an inefficient mess, true, but it is manageable. I deal with them at least once a month. Worst case, expeditors can be hired for a small percentage of the permit fee. Assuming you have no issues with your submission (code violations, zoning violations, etc), standard review time is 4-6 weeks. Does anyone know the background on why they were having so many issues?

  • So, any of you who love CHC and want to see it expand AND know their way around DCRA – as a few of you have attested to – want to help the nice, kind, gentle, overwhelmed immigrant owners expand their business? If it’s going to improve your neighborhood so much, seems like somebody would be willing to step up and help them out, no?

    Here’s your chance to make a real concrete change for the better, seems to me.

  • I love the idea of a baseball card/collectibles shop. If there’s anything like that in DC I am not aware of it. I am working on my collection of Kelloggs 3D baseball and football cards. Just because I collect baseball cards and making a movie about people who race lawn mowers does not make me a geek!

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