I Still Love You Cleveland Park

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I know some readers won’t shed a tear to hear about Cleveland Park’s retail woes but I still have some love for Cleveland Park. I lived in Cleveland Park for 3 years and I think of her as an ex-girlfriend with whom I’ve had an amicable breakup. When I walk through Cleveland Park, I really hope she is doing well. It’s not like a bad breakup when you’re secretly psyched that your ex has gained 25 pounds. I truly wish her the best.

So I was dismayed to read last week that their Starbucks on Connecticut Ave. was closing. What I really don’t understand is that this particular store always seems to be crowded:

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As you can see in the first photo, the consignment shop right next door has also closed. The McDonald’s across the street has been closed for years now. I just don’t get it. Then when I walked further up the street, it seems that the Cold Stone Creamery has closed:

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I thought things were looking up when we learned a new wine store, yogurt shop and running store had recently opened up. Anyone know why such a established neighborhood is having such a hard time keeping retail? Are the rents simply to high in this economic environment?

38 Comment

  • Cleveland Park is great, but there’s almost too *much* retail than the population that lives and visits CP can support. There’s a quarter-mile long stretch of retail on both sides of the street. Add in the horrific economy, high rents, and flawed business models, and you have a recipe for vacancies. But also remember that it’s almost impossible to have more than 90% occupancy on commercial strips. Things will come in and replace what was there before, but usually takes 6-9 months for the new place to come in after the lease is signed, etc. So, all things considered, and CP isn’t doing bad at all. Most neighborhoods would kill for the diverse commercial they have.

  • I’m not freakin’ until Nanny O’Brien’s goes. As it stands, that’s the only reason I go that far west anymore.

  • Just a couple thoughts:

    Cold Stone Creamery was doomed. they had no indoor seating which meant you had to eat out doors. Which is hard to do in January. Or February, or March, or November, or December. In other words they had almost no customer base for half the year.

    As for Starbucks, I too was surprised to hear it was closing. But in the photos I notice that it is part of the same 1-story structure as the consignment shop. Normally when I see businesses like this close that are all part of one building–especially a one-story building–I see new construction not too much later. True, there is a lease sign in the window but that doesn’t mean much.

  • Yeah, I”m amazed to see all these places closing down. I think of Cleveland Park as being really heavily trafficked so don’t really see why…I mean if CP can’t hold retail Petworth is really doomed, sigh. Also, a lot of these places that are closing are successful national chains, meanwhile CPs featured oddities such as the world’s most expensive antique lamp & repair store and the worlds most dusty unrenovated vacuum store still chug on. I suspect that this has more to do with the national economy than Cleveland Park in specific.

    Meanwhile, I noticed last night that there’s a new manicure/pedicure place going in by the Petco – Toe Tally Nails. I’m toe-tally psyched.

  • The Cleveland Park retail scene depresses me sometimes. with all the wealth in that area it seems like that stretch of Connecticut is grossly underutilized.

    as far as the coldstone creamery, that was a failure in design plain and simple and likely had little to do with the economy. The old ice cream shop with the guy who would do your taxes had twice the charm, twice the space and much better flavors anyway.

    Who knows what the deal with that starbucks is. Every time I’ve been in there or walked by it always seemed to be teeming with customers. Maybe it’s a cost of lease issue. I do know that a couple years back in 2005/06 some of the lease demands on the eastern side of the block were nothing short of outrageous. Well out of the reach of a small business and probably unjustifiable for some of the national chains as well.

    Anybody remember the name of that big Italian restaurant that used to be directly across the street from the Uptown? loved that place, as well as the Indian place that was right by the metro stop, the wing place, the crab place on the corner, the cramped bookstore, the chinese restaurant etc. etc, used to be a lot of good businesses there before the developers sunk their claws into that strip and tried to turn it into a suburban mall

  • Can someone explain to me how this whole “the rent is too high so the storefront sits vacant” thing works? Wouldn’t the owner eventually lower the rent — that would be preferable to having no tenant at all, right? Or is my belief in the efficiency of the free market misguided?

  • Does anyone know what the story is with that old McDonald’s space in the strip on the west side of Connecticut? It’s been vacant since what, 1999? 2000?

  • saf

    IA, you know that Nanny’s is not what it once was. While the Bedrock group has done well improving the plumbing (and the smell), they have destroyed the music, and driven away many of the regulars.

    Ro, that was the Roma.

  • Sorry, the old McDonald’s is on the east side of Connecticut. Stupid non-working brain.

  • Part of the problem is the NIMBY-imposed “commercial district overlay” which limits the number of eating and drinking establishments. Someone wanted to open a Cosi in one of the vacant retail spaces, and were blocked from doing so by the overlay, and/or neighborhood opposition. When I lived there, there was a major disconnect between us apartment-dwelling renters, who generally welcome a more vibrant dining/drinking scene there, and the fuddy-duddies who owned those gorgeous houses on the side streets, who were opposed to any change whatsoever. The scare tactic of the NIMBYs was to suggest if new restaurants were to open up, the area would become “another Adams Morgan.” I say, ditch the zoning overlay, and allow places like Cosi to open up.

  • I am sad about this. And very shocked. I really have nothing to add but that.

  • Mr. T in DC: It’s a shame the apartment-dwelling renters have never been able to successfully organize against the NIMBYs, whom they clearly outnumber and could undoubtedly outsmart.

  • @Anon 12:10 – sadly some of the commercial rental issues are legitimate with regard to a landlord sitting on a vacant property. Sometimes it’s greed, sure, but in recent years a lot of commercial property developers have been in the same boat as homeowners in that they are saddled with mortgages or development costs that have now proven to be much higher than what market rents can cover. So the option is sit on the vacancy for a couple years and hope for a market rebound or lease out at below cost, which could be a financially worse proposition since most commercial leases are long-term: 5 years, 10 years and longer. It’s not always as cut and dry as lowering the price.

  • There’s also fantastical tax games you can play with an empty investment property. Ie, if you make a million in the stock market and then lose $100,000 on a business rental establishment, your tax write off on the latter largely compensates for the taxes on the former. (all numbers and specific details made up but you get the idea)

  • what of the rumors that the devil beast Laurie Collins has something to do with this. She who has plauged Mount Pleasant for so long and was forced to move to Cleveland Park after her husband wisely divorced her and got a restraining order. Ive heard now that she lives in CP she has a vested interest in making sure no bars or restaurants locate there.

  • As a resident of CP and a member on the listserve, we are all wondering this ourselves. Some say that CP is “dying”, others say that it is due to the overlay, some say it is due to high rent, and a few acknowledge that it is the neighbors themselves that drive away businesses. Part of the issue is that both Starbucks and Cold Stone are chains that came upon hard times and had to close many of their stores: http://tinyurl.com/4l7c8w and http://tinyurl.com/cqpq4s I imagine high rents in CP make other areas (CH? Petworth?) more appealing to smaller stores that are not chains. In addition, the neighbors can be ridiculous and restrictive about the neighborhood, but I am hoping that they’ll come to their senses at some point. We really could stores like another coffee shop, a bagel place, a hardware store, and a bookstore.

  • Mr. T in DC: Not only the apartment-dwelling renters, but also many condo and single-family home owners feel the same way! Unfortunately many of us also have full-time jobs and lives and can’t devote 100% of our free time to fighting over the zoning/overlay issues like the relatively small group of anti-everythings, notably the CP Citizens Association and a couple of sympathetic ANC commissioners.

    It’s a matter of the majority of the residents finally getting fed up with the actions of a few and speaking up and voting (Mary Cheh ran an explicit pro-development campaign). See, eg, the problems over the Wisconsin Avenue Giant development over the past decade, but now with some organized effort the nimbys (nimbies?) might be defeated this time.

    Definitely some of the current problem is the economy and high rents, although I wonder whether in part the neighborhood has now developed a bad rep among businesses as a place to start up. Why would you want to spend $$$ on zoning attorneys billing overtime at a zillion ANC and neighborhood meetings, in addition to normal startup costs – when you could now go to Shaw, CH, Petworth? 10 years ago, CP was one of the only places for “upscale” retail, but no more.

    Slightly OT – been following the threads on unhappiness with Phil Mendelson with interest, since he’s been a big roadblock in Ward 3 on these issues too. (He never shows his face in Ward 3 other than at nimby events.) Find an anti-crime, anti-nimby candidate to challenge him, and we can probably unite a good portion of the city to toss him out.

  • As for Cold Stone Creamery, I was in Landlord/Tenant court yesterday and there was a default judgment entered against them for $71K so I don’t think we will be seeing them again.

  • I’ll be moving to CP soon. I used to live there about three years ago and I can’t wait to get back. They may have a few vacant store fronts but you won’t see baby thugs throwing rocks at anybody. It’s funny, you cross the park and you’re suddenly in a different country.

  • The Starbucks departure is simply a result of that chain’s great overextension during the past decade. They’re overbuilt and have now announced two rounds of closings; Cleveland Park Starbucks’ demise is due to the fact that there’re 3 locations in 11 blocks, so they’ll hang onto the UDC location (even though it’s often empty and the service is poor) because it’s on a campus and they’ll surely keep the Zoo location (a quasi-captive audience of tourists, who mainly stick to chains). Cleveland Park’s store is only three blocks from the Zoo location, so it gets the ax.

    As for Cold Stone, their product is mediocre, their prices are very high, and (as someone else said) they haven’t got any indoor seating. A bad fit for that strip.

    High rents, though, could really hurt the neighborhood. Federated is said to have raised the rent for Magruder’s, pushing them out the door. That would be a prominent empty storefront.

  • Also, I’ve never understood the “NIMBY” criticism. If someone has a million-dollar investment in an area and truly thinks that a certain change would negatively impact that investment and/or one’s quality of life, one should oppose that change.

    Personally, there aren’t too many neighborhoods that could stand to benefit from the addition of a Cosi. That’d be a big step backward for Cleveland Park. Better than an empty storefront, sure, but I think that’s a false dilemma.

    This neighborhood would be best served by neighbors who demand and support quality retail, and oppose that which dilutes the quality of life in the neighborhood. More Yenching Palaces and fewer Walgreens, please.

  • The McDonalds space is available for the low, low price of $30,000 a month.

  • We still find reasons to go there, but my heart left Cleveland Park when Yenching Palace closed.

  • CP’s shop closings should concern us folks on the ‘other side’ of Rock Creek Park. The DC gov’t based its development policy on the Cleveland Park model – transit-oriented nodes consisting of retail and residential enclaves along the major avenues.

    If CP cannot sustain the right mix of business and commercial activity, Petworth and Park View won’t have much luck either.

    So far I’m loving the mix of commercial services we’ve recently received in the greater Cohi/Pewo’ area, tho there’s still much room for improvements. I had the day off yesterday and managed to bike over to Pho 14 for lunch, run into Best Buy for an errand, grab a pastry at Pan Lourdes, sit down to the spring cleaning issue of Real Simple at Columbia Heights Coffee with steaming cup of cafe Americano, made it home to water my newly sodded lawn and headed down to Looking Glass later that night for 1/2 price wings. Notice how among those vendors only 1 out of 5 was a major national chain, 2 of them were ethnic eateries, and 3 out of 5 are minority-owned small businesses? That a pretty good mix if you ask me!

  • At one point, Divino’s, an Argentinian tapas out of Bethesda, was considering opening in the old McDonald’s space (which I believe used to be part of Tony Roma’s), but ran into problems with the overlay issue.

  • Apparently CP really gets around! I’m another x CPer (then to Petworth, then to AU Park) with fond memories who still wishes the old girl well. I loved the feeling of folks out-and-about-but-at-their-leisure on spring and fall afternoons. And Magruders, and Vace, and the Uptown, and the Park Bench Pub, and CP liquors, and the $5 burgers and Nanny’s on Sundays, and the rowdy frat boys singing Irish songs at the 4Ps, and Ivy’s place, and Spices, and Atomic. Most of that stuff is still there, but the departing Magruders really hurts. I know if I still lived there I would be happy to pay significantly higher prices (theirs have always been quite reasonable for a small convenient place) to keep them around.

    When we decided to leave Petworth, I wanted to buy in Cleveland Park so badly, but it was just too pricey. And its still there for a visit, every now and then, or for an outing to the Uptown. It’ll be fine, I think, though we all miss our favorites.

  • I get the feeling too that CP is an aging neighborhood. The need for bars and eateries and fun places to go will diminish as its residents get into their 70′s and 80′s.

  • I’m really not surprised by this…

    CP is just geographically challenged. It is geography’s fault, not its own. Too far to walk for most from AM, up a steep hill from Woodley and down a steep one from Van Ness. And because VN probably has a higher pop. density and UDC, they get the nice new grocery store (Giant), fast food joints, liquor store (Calvert), Gold’s Gym. Cleveland Park is surrounded by a zoo and uninhabited park on one side, and embassies and expensive housing on the other. They could probably benefit from a Trader Joe’s to compete with the Giant and somewhat nearby GTown Whole Foods, but otherwise most people just have no reason to go here. How many times do you find yourself saying…”Boy I could really go for an ice cream, lets transfer to the red line to go up to Cleveland Park and get an $8 cone?”

  • I’ve said it before, but if I were planning to spend the rest of my life in DC-I’d deal with the racial isolation (which, yes, exists in segregated cities like this one)-and head ‘cross the park myself.

  • The consignment shop apparently picked up and left because it’s his business model to do so; there was an article in the City Paper about the guy in Ocotber. he ran off without returning consignment items (or paying the owners) and reopened elsewhere a few months later. and he came to CP after doing the same at another location.
    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/tag/washington-consignment/

  • rukasu- your definition of “steep hill” does not match mine.

  • @anonymous3:37: I personally don’t think it’s steep, but ask a fat tourist in July on a 95 degree day.

    Elevation of…
    Woodley Park Metro: 165ft
    CP Metro: 212ft
    Zoo Entrance: 223ft

  • I would call it more like a slight and very gradual elevation change. bordering on unoticable. but yes. a fat tourist may see it differently.

  • It is sad to see some empty storefronts right now, I hope at least some is due simply to the economy and crazy landlords who will eventually come to their senses.

    @CP: I’ve lived in and around the area since 1994 and I am totally skeptical when people keep raising this issue of certain changes affecting property values, quality of life etc. I remember the hand wringing when Macgruder’s opened (and knew many people who feared the Starbucks as well); they’re “chain” stores, will ruin the neighborhood character, will drive out local competitors. But they’re practically neighborhood institutions now and certainly people are unhappy that they’ll soon be gone.

    I just don’t think there is very much anyone or anything can do to make CP an UNdesirable place to live. Even Van Ness and the Wisconsin Ave corridor (where I live), with our grim and semi-useful retail options, have remained very nice (and increasingly expensive!) residential neighborhoods.

    If anything the problem I see is that it’s become almost unaffordable. If I hadn’t bought my condo 10 years ago, no way I could buy even a small place here now.

  • Though I’ve lived in Petworth for a good long while, there’s really nothing here for me to buy. The Safeway is ghastly and incedibly ghetto, there’s no bank, there’s nothing here for me, but my house and parking space near my house. So of course I have to travel. CP is right across the park, right off Rock Creek Park and up Klingle Street which becomes Porter. I love little over-priced Brookville Market, the little self-serve Suntrust, even Yes, Market and the cute but weird gift shop near the movie theater. CP is really white people’s heaven, and like reuben, I’m so aware of the racial polarization of this city. But still I like my nice shops. So is Mcgruder’s closing (I really wasn’t a fan).

  • The local “citizen’s association” is a big part of the problem. CPCA has delayed the building of a renovated Giant on MaComb and Wisconsin for literally a decade, leaving an entire city block of boarded up shopfonts stuck in the melee. The zoning overlay is indeed very restrictive of restaurants (whic, when permitted to open, thrive on the Connecticut Avenue strip by the Metro Stop). The CPCA was one of the key players in holding up Indique’s liquor license for months and months on end. Like most neighborhoods, the CPCA has dominated the neighborhood at zoning meetings and hearings.

    Dozens of neighbors recently joined CPCA, annoyed at the store closings and aggravated over continued delays in the Giant project. CPCA, sensing change in the air, canceled their yearly officer’s election, as well as their annual summer meeting cashing the checks of new members all the while denying them a vote. The Washington Post’s Raw Fisher hammered the CPCA in one of his posts last week.

    Citizen’s Associations can be a massive impediment to healthy retail and smart growth, if, as is the case in Cleveland Park, new owners face the one-two punch of an overly restrictive overlay for an urban zone AND a citizen’s group with a very small but noisy following that will nitpick an application for a new business to death. Small businesses will simply find somewhere else to go because they can’t afford to wait (literally) years for the zoning/nimby issues to iron out.

    Cleveland Park’s unemployment rate is exceptionally low–less than 3%, and median incomes are quite high. This isn’t the “economy stupid” it’s a small number of “stupid neighbors.”

  • Lost in the focus about the Giant is another theme in the Cleveland Park Citizens Association contest for control: payback. One of the organizers of the self-described “coup” at CPCA is the “partner” of Geoff Griffis, the controversial former chairman of the Board of Zoning Adjustment. The current CPCA leadership opposed Griffis’ nomination to the Zoning Commission, citing conflict of interest and other, uh, conduct allegations relating to Griffis’ stormy tenure at BZA. Griffis and his partner may now see an opportunity for possible payback.

  • “It’s a matter of the majority of the residents finally getting fed up with the actions of a few and speaking up and voting (Mary Cheh ran an explicit pro-development campaign).”

    That’s an urban myth. It may be what Cheh and the Cheh Cadres say now, but that’s not what she said a few days before her election. So she’s either going senile or she’s lying. See what she posted on the Cleveland Park list serve in November 2006 when the issue of her being too close to developers was raised. She responded that she would consider added density only at Metro stops (the Giant PUD is over a mile from the closest station) and “fully supported” historic and commercial overlays! Explicit pro-development campaign? Puhleeze.

    “I want to thank all of the listserve contributors for raising important issues
    as the political season comes into the home stretch. I once again invite residents to visit my web site and contact me, as many of you have, if they need more information.

    As far as questions about particular development projects are concerned, a
    councilmember does not have the authority to approve or disapprove of proposals
    or the details of proposals. Rather the process is either matter-of-right (with builder
    co- operation with the community hopefully but not necessarily forthcoming) or one
    that requires zoning approval (e.g., PUD). In that case the builder has to meet
    conditions which arise from community concerns, ANC input, or zoning demands. Obviously not all development is good and not all plans make sense, and, even though I would have no decision-making authority with respect to particular developments, I would try to be helpful in seeing that projects fit the neighborhood, serve the common good, and are pursued in a way least disruptive to all concerned.

    My view of development overall, i.e., across the City, is that we should preserve our unique neighborhoods and encourage lively mixed residential-retail along the corridors. For Ward 3, the main corridors of Connecticut and Wisconsin are already developed and/or have zoning overlays, such as historic and commercial overlays, which I fully support. But there is a segment in Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, positioned as it is along the subway,
    which offers an opportunity for enhanced retail and residential development
    (complete with the infra structure to support it, as well as amenities such as green
    design, affordable housing units, etc.) which would serve the public good and give residents the
    lively, walkable city scape they want and deserve. My hope is that the community as a
    whole and the planning and zoning agencies can develop a small area plan that will
    invigorate this area…..again, that is my hope, but the decisions must arise from the
    community….the councilmember has no direct role, but can serve to bring residents and
    government together to forge consensus.


    Thanks,
    Mary M. Cheh
    Democrat for Ward 3, DC Council”

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