Ellwood Thompson’s Grocery Store Not Looking Good For Columbia Heights At the Moment


We’ve been wondering for months whether or not Ellwood Thompson’s was going to move into the space on Irving Street in the DC USA complex. As you probably surmised, it’s not looking good for a move any time soon. Thanks to a reader for sending an article from the Richmond Times Dispatch. While the Richmond Store is doing well the economy is going to have to improve for a DC expansion:

“In April, Ellwood Thomson’s scuttled plans to open a store in Washington. The 15,000-square-foot store would have been its second location.

Hood says the economy played a significant role in putting off the expansion.

“The timing just wasn’t right,” he said, though he hopes to open a store in the same D.C. location at some point.”

I wonder when all these vacant ground level retail spots in DC USA are going to fill in. Any guesses? One year, two years, longer?

50 Comment

  • A store that actually is worth going into would be nice.

  • I dont get it though. It was like a week between when they signed the lease and they announced they had to shelve their plans? Why did they sign the lease if they were worried about the econ? did they seriously sign the lease before getting their financing in place. Or do they have it but feel that its too risky to open? arent they just throwing away 5k or whatever it is a month on that lease? How did they manage to get themselves into this pickle?

  • a shame for lots of reasons reasons. 1 it would do very well for the owners which is good for them as small business owners. I was happy to hear they were coming over whole foods 2 it would provide a much needed service to the neighborhood who has nothing but a blah giant (not to mention mount pleasant which has nothing but the bestway…) 3, it would raise the profile of DCUSA and probably go a long way to help it obtain some uh. less budget tennents.

  • As for the rest of the spaces filling in.. who knows. In fact, I am afraid some of the existing ones will close before that happens (like the vitamine shop for example… ).

  • lord. so we went from promises of REI, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, Wow wingery sports bar. all chains sure but at least ones worth spending money in. To Panda Express, Marshalls, Peruvian Steak, Payless and “the shack”. If you think about it. Didnt we just repackage all the crap retail that was already in columbia heights slap chain names on it and up their rents in an ugle building?

  • what gforgood said. I’d add that I wouldn’t be surprised if radio shack closed as well. I think rebranding themselves as the shack is a last ditch effort to avoid the fate of Circute City that will fail eitherway there is no need for the shack with target and bestbuy in the same complex. Also wouldnt be surprised to see Lane Bryant and the Childrens Place close. But maybe a CRICKET will move in?

  • If REI had opened I would have at the very least spent 10 bucks a week there on astronaut ice cream. I do think a craft or fabric store could make good use of the large big box spaces the mall has. and an Arcade would be awesome but yeah thats not happening. rooftop mini golf and batting cages? a draw like that would bring people on dates. which would allow the neighborhood to support more restaurants and shops.

  • just go to yes! at u st or petworth if you want expensive groceries and want to buy them near a metro.

  • I want 2 Check cashing stores, 3 Nail Salons and – in keeping with local demand – a gun store

  • andy- Yes is great and all but they do not have the same centrally located metro accessablitiy. They are also not a one stop shop. They are small markets designed to provide organic goodies to those who do the bulk of their shopping at grocers like safeway and giant. Ellwoods was to be as large as a whole foods. Complete with hot bar, butcher, fish etc. Its not the same.

  • A butcher shop sounds awesome…although the space is probably much too big for just a butcher shop. BTW, where is there a butcher shop in DC?

  • 4:29, the radio shack is always busy… I’ve had to wait in some really annoyingly long lines there. They might be ok.

  • I live in adams morgan. closest to me are harris teeter, safeway. and a yes!. And if Ellwoods opens that is where I will be doing all my shopping. people always gripe about spending more money. But like. The science is in folks. you can have your processed artificial shite for pennies on the dollar all you want. Ill happily pay the premium for food free of chemicals.

  • I would venture to guess that an Ellwood Thompson store here would rake in more money than their Richmond location would. Instead of expanding, maybe they should just move!

  • dcusa has officially taken its place as the sketchy/cheap/low-rent version of Chinatown’s Verizon center.

    They have Urban Outfitters, we have Marshalls. They have Clydes, we have Panda Express. They have a sweet $8 per game bowling-alley bar, we have empty store-fronts. They have the Wizards… oh wait, we win that one!

  • ET has been in Richmond forever, I doubt they want to leave, they are part of the community there, not just a store. There are things more important than making money.

  • Im gonna side with Mr T here. Prob not what the ellwoods people want to hear but. Lets face it. isnt the average income of richmond like 20k? DC is actually weathering the recession quite well and all the news lately is about how we have the highest paid young professionals in the country. and here is columbia heights where a ton of those people live. those people being ellwoods main demographic. It might not be such a bad idea to temporarilly close the Richmond store and open the columbia heights location. Then when that gravy train is up and running they could open the richmond store back up.

  • DCUSA isn’t attracting yuppie, high end businesses for two reasons. 1. The rent is too high. 2. Most of the residents of CH are not high end yuppies, in spite of the desires of many who post on this blog.

  • Richmond’s median income is about 40k, DC’s is about 50k. But CH’s is lower, anywhere from 28k to 50k depending on zip code.

  • Maybe we can make the median income even lower by requiring every new residential building to be affordable. Oh wait, they’re already planning to do that.

  • voice of reason- from richmond are we? Also arent all the new condos and apartments nearing capacity finally. arent they charging like 2000 for a one bedroom. aren’t they right across the street from DCUSA?

  • .. pay extra for the chemicals. Food should be iradiated, packaged and processed in a large plant by a faceless agro -consortium. geneticly engineered too. If you think about it, cramming more food per production per acre and genetically enhanced chickens is a more productive use of space, and more sustainable for people. Its better for the planet in that it uses less psace for agriculture, lower irigation needs and deforestation etc.
    I guess organic food consumers just dont love the planet.

    the organic fad is marketing more than anything else, it allows for differentation, a pseudo value chain, in that i can double the price of a carrot because consumers hold the belief that the carrot has more value in the way it was grown. If you check out all the large grocery stores nationally, you’ll find profit margins are slim, they make more money on shelf placement and store brands, which by the way are usually made by the same company that they are trying to knock off, often in the same plant/production facilitiy.
    so go ahead and spend more for the same item, i would doubt the growers see a difference in price, assuming they are not purchasing from the large faceless agro consortium.

  • vor, hit the nail on the head. look at the average income/ % disposable and demand and then decide what to open. That tells you what the neighborhood can support. Theres that whole recession too and wacky credit makets, so capital is an issue.
    I like giant though, i would rather go grocery shopping at cvs then go to the shtty safeway on gergia ave.
    wegmans would be great.

  • In spite of the high end condos at 14th and Irving and Kenyon, most of the residents of the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods are low to moderate income. Sorry. Maybe that will change, probably that will change over time, but it’s a big financial commitment now for a pay off in the future. It’s very clear why the high end stores stayed away from CH for the most part. The market isn’t there, at least not yet. Meanwhile, if people spent more time community building rather than putting all their hopes on stores, everyone would benefit.

  • Mourning Whole Foods loss, again

    Has anyone ever seen the DC USA parking lot full? Half full? Quarter full?

    And Whole Foods fell through because DC USA refused to allow them to have a dedicated parking lot? Even I could have predicted that, in the city, more people will use metro than cars to go to Target. Oh Whole Foods, it would have been so nice…..

    But thank goodness we have 700 empty parking spaces every day!

  • DCUSA needs to drop the rent to bring in 4-5 cool unique “destination” stores like Ruff ‘N Ready, (which anchored much of the development at 14th & T) a good vintage clothing store, (or a space for a collection of vintage stalls) a Bangkok/Hong Kong style food court, duckpin bowling, a koi pond, penny crushing machines – anything to entice people to come here rather than the many elsewheres, for a experience as opposed to just needing an ironing board at Target. Target is great, BB&B is redundant, I have no idea what the Vitamen shoppe is for – a One-a-Day and some vegetables works just fine for me.

    But let’s think expansively and creatively – this isn’t a suburban mall. Maybe a whole open court of small stall/shops. A knife sharpener, a shoe-repair place – a little stall where someone will load up lots of music on your ipod for you – no need for on-site facilities, there is enough density to support “drop-off” services for a lot of routine business.

    Please let’s stop settling!

  • not that “low income” voiceofreason. According to DC Econ Partnership Info page on CH–within a half mile of DC USA the average HH income is 55,000 and the median is 37,000. Within one mile it jumps significantly to 69,000.

  • And within a mile the other direction it drops to 28k. This ain’t g-town folks.

  • A Trader Joe’s would be lovely, but I have a feeling that the German family that privately owns the company doesn’t look to kindly upon a neighborhood such as ours from the other side of the pond…

  • And if we push the wrong policies it’ll never be Georgetown.

  • As someone who doesn’t follow grocery stores – why is there the big push for this over the whole foods at 14th or Yes on 14th? Is it just a matter of getting a closer store that isn’t giant? When I was in Richmond I went to the ET, and it doesn’t seem that much different that Whole Foods. A bit more expensive on some items, and I think there was a better selection of (vegan) prepared foods. Weird hours, though, but i’ve heard those changed.

  • thought,

    what does that mean, “such as ours”?

  • how about a shooting range? that would make a good anhor for dc usa and bring in customers from other parts of the city.

  • Come on rg, we already have a popular outdoor shooting range in the 1300 block of Columbia.

  • As a person who has several businesses in Washington dc you need to understand a few things. First Columbia Heights is ghetto(lots of theft). Second the rent is too high for most day time retail spaces. Third the property tax is high and last but not least we are in a recession that is hurt most business

  • saf

    EPF – there are several butchers at Eastern Market. There is also my very favorite butcher, Pam, at Wagshal’s Market in Spring Valley.

  • I think there the expectations of the neighborhood and particularly DCUSA are completely unrealistic.

    For starters, a household of one with an income of 43,000 qualifies for housing vouchers (per DCHA $43,050 is ‘low income’; 34,000 is ‘very low income’). With a median income of $37,000 the majority of CH residents aren’t going to be buying climbing equipment at REI or organic vegetables at Ellwood’s.

    Second, the smallest rental unit (they are called ‘vanilla boxes’ in the biz) at DCUSA is 2,500 square feet. Most are over 5,000 square foot. These are much larger than most boutique shops are looking for. On top of that, no matter how low the per-square-foot rent is, a tenant is paying for loading docks, security, mall maintenance, etc–amenities small businesses don’t need nor can afford. They have standards and rules that would make it hard for a small business to imprint their unique character–like window displays, or signage, or advertising.

    DCUSA is a mall. Just like Verizon Center, just like Clarendon Market Commons. It will always be a mall and it is going to attract mall tenants. Expecting some vintage clothing store or a butcher shop to be interested in this kind of space is to completely ignore all of the norms that exist in the retail and construction industries.

  • It’d be useful to have a store there with baby stuff.

  • I think it’s really unfortunate that the ET hasn’t gone in. It’s irritating that the only grocery store in the neighborhood is the crappy Giant. A Trader Joe’s would be an awesome alternative to ET though.

  • Yeah, a Trader Joe’s would be awesome. While I don’t mind going to Foggy Bottom occasionally, I’d go weekly(or more) if they moved into DCUSA. An REI for the City would be cool too.

    Does anyone think that now that it’s obvious there’s a ton of parking available, that that migh reconsider some of this dedicated parking stuff that some tenants wanted???

  • EPF, there is a very nice butcher at El Progreso Market in MtP. (Next to the 7-11). The meat counter is at the back.

  • If you can’t make money at that space in DC, I think they need to rethink their biz plan.

  • I, for one, like having a Target and Best Buy in the neighborhood; I used to go to Potomac Yards and/or Pentagon City to visit these stores. I believe the Target is a destination that brings shoppers in from other parts of the city (at least this is true on the weekends), and I like shopping there. Unfortunately, DCUSA had the misfortune of opening during the worst economic climate in decades. Read the business news: fancier malls in fancier neighborhoods all over the US are struggling with vacant storefronts, declining rents and defaults. Some major REITs that control malls have gone bankrupt – it’s not just DCUSA’s problem, it’s a national problem. Hopefully they can survive until the economy rebounds. At that point in time, I hope they can reconsider some of their policies (like dedicated parking), and fill in some of the vacant space.

  • I think one of the problems in attracting more retail to the area is that the demographics are so diverse. It’s an obvious point, I know, but take a look…

    I went to the Mt Pleasant St. revitilization meeting last week and learned that the average income for those living right on or near Mt P St is 40k, but for those in the rowhomes of Mount Pleasant near the Park, the average income is almost 80k. It is hard to appeal to both of those demographics in the same store/restaurant and there isn’t quite enough critical mass of either demo to support a lot of retail targeted just to them. Columbia Heights faces a similar challenge.

  • I’m the owner of ET’s and reading all these neighborhood comments. I want to confirm that we’re still in love w/ Columbia Hts and trying to work it out w/ DCUSA. In fact the developer has been to see us in Richmond and is really stretching. We love the diversity of CH and the desire of the community to have a gathering spot for those interested in health, social and environmental consciousnesss around food. Although DCUSA is full of national big boxes, we were attracted to the old facade and feel like we can be the catalyst to more local stores. I think that the education and income levels are growing and the small household size is ideal for us. And Mr T in DC is right, there’s more of our customer type here than Richmond or any other place we’ve studied. Our 15,000sf concept is full service w/ a focus on prepared foods, produce, cheese and meat/seafood. The plan was to include large mural paintings and a long community table that would feel very much like a food co-op -the DCUSA space is perfect. W/ the recession the projected sales have dropped impacting the rent that we can pay and our financing levels. I’m personally very motivated to be here – we really fairly close if we could get a little further help.

  • Dang Rick now you have me all hopeful again!

    An earlier thread (there’s a link to the comments above) included some creative proposals to raise money from the community to help bring ET to CH. Whether or not this would make enough difference…I don’t know.

    But I do know I’d cut up my Giant, Safeway and Harris Teeter bonus cards if you move into the neighborhood!

  • Rick- Are you real? you arent pranking me are you? please open Ellwoods. Once open the community will reward you in spades with patronage. I dont know how to help out to make it happen. Is there someone the community could put pressure on? Would a petition to Jim Graham help? I liken the chain of events so far to the elections of 2004 and 2008. I would have been happy enough to have Kerry as a president. Kerry being Whole Foods. But that didn’t work out and we had to suffer as a result. But then Ellwoods came along. (Barak Obama) and it was like. It was meant to be. It was fate. Because we will be getting something even better. I guess what I’m saying is that Ellwoods is change I can believe in. Please make it happen.

  • There’s still hope! Hope for the future – hope for Ellwoods coming to the neighborhood. I’ll be one of the first customers in the door. I’ll be there the following day. I’ll spend my grocery money at Ellwood Thompson.

    What would it take to get ET to move forward & build in Columbia Heights?

  • we love you Rick! I just walked 1.5 miles yesterday to the Yes Organic store from Columbia Heights to get fresh fish to grille. My wife resuses to let me cook the fish at Giant b/c it’s never very fresh.

    trust me Rick, I’ve lived in CH for 2.5 years, i’m a businessman, and i’m in real estate, you will crush it in our neighborhood. in the last 6 months, i have seen an influx of young professional types who will line up in your store in droves.

    make it happen Rick!

Comments are closed.