Owner of Elwood Thompson’s, Rick Hood, Comments on Columbia Heights Store Status


Rick Hood, owner of Elwood Thompson’s, commented on our recent discussion of Elwood Thompson’s delay in coming to Columbia Heights. Based on the IP address I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this comment:

“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.”

So how do you think we as a community can help facilitate further help?

40 Comment

  • Great news! I think this is when DMPED and the council members/mayor need to step up to the plate. Not to mention the developer of DCUSA with some recession concessions. The community has showed immense support, so I think Rick knows the support’s there on our end. We should press the elected officials as much as possible, though. If Jack Evans had jurisdiction over this ward, this deal would have been done long ago.

  • This is encouraging news. Rick, if you’re reading, everything you mention in your concept sounds perfect for the neighborhood. If there is anything that we as a community can do to demonstrate our interest, please let us know. In the mean time, I’d encourage ET to contact Graham’s office directly to see if he can act as a facilitator / has any ideas. At this point, what the heck is DCCH DOING? I mean this is still an organization with people on the payroll, right? Either DCUSA and other area developments are now open and free to run on its own and do what they wants, and DCCH should be disbanded (and maybe it already has been, but not to my knowledge) and the money should go elsewhere, or DCCH is out there actively trying to spur the kind of development within DCUSA that was promised, as well as working to bring other retailers into the neighborhood (or maybe even, gasp, help local retailers who are struggling like Rumberos to get a clue). That means local businesses. That means doing whatever it takes to get a business like Ellwood’s in because Rick is right, that would bring an enormous amount of new foot and vehicular traffic to DCUSA, which might help make it more attractive (especially that Irving Street side which has plenty of vacany) to other retailers … and some concessions at this point from DCUSA are needed. Or heck, maybe just give DCCH’s budget to Ellwood’s and a few other entrepeneurs for whom the DCUSA rates are prohibitive :).

  • I agree with both SG and New2CH. I think the community and our elected leaders can do some good at this point. Did you ask Rick what kind of help he thinks would be useful to push this over the goal line? That would be good to know – and then maybe we can start organizing a bit – here on PoP!

  • We pass by the storefront every single day and talk about how much we would prefer to shop here at ET. We currently drive to Harris Teater. Hope to see you in CH soon.

  • Honestly, I’m getting sick of this. If Ellwood Thompson can’t make their number’s work or if the developer won’t get realistic about the rent, then I think it’s time to move on…

    This being strung along by both for so long is just too much.

  • I for one would love to make my trip to the gym and the grocery store one stop. I’d be in this place all the time.

  • ET would be such an amazing addition to the neighborhood. I drive to Whole Foods several times/week, and would love love love ET to be here.

  • Jay’O – being strung along does suck but it will all be worth it if Ellwoods opens. I was very excited at the thought of them opening by fall in time to get all kinds of fall harvest goods. I really hope they can make this happen. Graham is kind of in the hot seat right now with his offices scandal maybe an email campaign for him to mediate the situation and get Ellwoods open would work. It would certainly be some good publicity for him.

  • It seems since DCUSA isn’t making income if the place stays vacant that they could offer a reduced rent option for getting started (it seems like every other apt building is offering X months free rent). Also, in terms of the recession or not, this part of the city is so deprived of good grocery/retail that new businesses are mobbed when they open. Everything new in CH is packed all the time! Seems like it would be an ideal spot to open a grocery store like this.

  • 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!

  • Annon 9:08 am

    Yeah, I agree it would be great having them here, but I just really hate the whining. Both Ellwood Thompson and the Developers are businesses interested in their bottom lines. I feel like both seem to be looking to us to pressure the other to pay more rent or accept less $$$ for rent.

    Since everyone knows what time it is, it would be nice for both of these supposed adult business to either put up or shut up.

    If the Developer won’t budge on the $$$ of the lease, then let them move on and get something else in there. This recession won’t last for ever and I think they should make a deal or stop playing games.

    Sorry, but I’ve lost patience with both the developer and Ellowood…

  • oh, and if you can’t tell, I drink CH Kool aid!

  • Rick thank you for taking the time to read our comments. As a CH resident, and future ET shopper, I greatly appreciate your efforts.

    I’d also like to point some thing out that has gone unmentioned. While to most of us ET means a convenient place to shop, for many of our neighbors it’s a future employer. When ET comes to CH, it will bring quite a few jobs with it. Just a couple of days ago I was talking to one of the Harris Teeter employees at the Kalorama store. He mentioned how the store, and the job it gave him, has made a major change in his life for the better.

    Jay’O = Elwood is a business, but neighborhood gains significantly by having exactly that kind of business. Your comment is shortsided.

  • @Jay’O:

    I understand your frustration and can see where you’re coming from, but I think the situation is a little more nuanced than you describe it. As a small, independent business, Ellwood Thompson’s doesn’t have nearly the same access to capital that a national chain has. I haven’t looked at the 10-k financial statements for Radio Shack or Payless or other chains that are in comparable spaces at DCUSA, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they have hundreds of millions of dollars (if not billions of dollars) in cash sitting in their bank accounts. (Please correct me if I’m wrong!) With that sort of money, they can afford to pay higher rent and possibly lose money on a store in the short term, as long as they lock in the rent for a longer time period. Rick just isn’t in a position to do that. So, if we simply throw our hands up and say “To heck with both of them!”, we’re committing to another boring chain in that space. By being a little more sympathetic to the situations of independent businesses, we can make a big difference in the retail mix of our neighborhoods.

    As a general comment, I don’t have any idea what sort of dollar differences we’re talking about here, but I’m sure it adds up very quickly. For example, if DCUSA wants $110 per square foot and Ellwood Thompson wants to pay $100 per square foot (these numbers are entirely hypothetical), that’s a $150,000 difference per year! In the small-margin grocery business, that’s incredibly large. And, that’s assuming that the dollar figure is the only difference, when there could also be substantial disagreements on other lease terms.

  • I have no interest in “organic” food– I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to shop at Yes or WF– but I love the idea of picking up some good fresh bread, prepared foods, and deli products on the way home from the metro.

  • Columbia Heights Dude & RWC:

    Yeah, I’ve felt the same as you guy since the rumors of Wholefoods and trader Joes was swirling around. I sent counless emails to corporate office for all of them. I still would love to have Ellwood Thompson in there instead of another big box. On the surface I’m sure Ellwood is being honest about having $ trouble and the greedy developer is asking too much for rent.

    But… I wouldn’t say it’s IMPOSSIBLE that Ellwood is actually able to move forward, but just wants us neighbors to get him a better deal for the sake of driving a harder bargain. I don’t know and I don’t think anyone here really does.

    If Ellwood has prices like Wholefoods or Yes! Organic I won’t be able to shop there. If they have prices like Trader Joes I will be in there every week. So in this respect it’s hard to say how much an asset it really would be (at least for me)

    Hopefully we don’t get stuck in a false dilemma – Elllwood Thompson or Big Box. Ellwood isn’t the only non-big box store and a big box like Border’s Books or hiking outfitter company would be a welcomed addition too!

  • I don’t know, maybe I’m just in a bad mood today – so take everything I’m saying with a grain of salt!

  • What do we want!?!! Ellwood Thompson’s!!!
    When do we want it!?!!?!! Now!!! Or as soon as reasonably possible!!!

    Shame, really, that it’s so much trouble getting installed. Once in, ET will tear up. I’m sooooo looking forward to it.

    BTW – Over a year ago I emailed Graham about my desire for Ellwood Thompson’s. I got a completely incoherent response along with “Bests, Jim”.

  • Jay,
    I’m more worried that it’s Elwood or a vacant store front…. We need places like Elwoods not only for our personal convenience but for the economy impact it will have on the neighborhood. Elwood has a strong reputation as a responsible and fair employer. To me that’s even more important than the goods it sells.

    Same thing about a bad mood here… been a shitty week.

  • E/T would be great for me, and I appreciate the update from the company. I hope they can get the financing they need to open up a store.

    But, if they can’t pay the rent, too bad. I don’t think it’s worth a huge new subsidy or tax break, or selling off a park or school and giving the money to Ellwood Thompson so the community can have high end groceries.

    There are other grocer’s who offer similar product. I’d love it if Littieri’s over in the Florida Ave Market opened a store. Or My Organic Market. Or Rodman’s, or Trader Joe’s, and on and on. Maybe there needs to be a broader search.

  • Aren’t there other properties nearby that would be suitable?
    I for one am not so crazy about the Target building.
    How about some diversity in location?

  • I, for one, would shop here all. the. time. I can only hope it actually happens.

  • I appreciate all the comments. Jim Graham couldn’t have been more helpful (the real estate tax abatement and overall encouragement). The developer is stretching and wants us. It’s this recession and the changing business climate. We’re about 15% short now on the required funds and working hard in Richmond to get it. But what the heck, if anyone knows a creative community lender or and neighborhood individual who would have an interest, we’ll certainly follow up. My email is [email protected].

  • 15% of what? I hope someone can find some creative financing for them…this would be such a great thing for the neighborhood.

  • Rick: How much is 15%? What if a bunch of people got together in the neighborhood and pooled their money together? If we get enough people, we may just get the money you need! The more people join, the more affordable it would be for the contributors. I REALLY want ET here. There is more money in this neighborhood than you think.

  • 13Monroe:

    Yeah, if E/T allowed investors (even small investors) to help with the remaining 15% (of whatevere it is) then this would build up not only the needed funds but a great sense of ownership and loyalty in the community.

    Maybe there could be shares in the amount of $100, or $200, $500, $1,000, $5,000, and $10,000? I know there could be prohibitive legal and administrative hurdles to get over. Then again maybe not – or the cost of overcoming these hurdles would be worth it?

  • a few ideas Rick-
    I would THINK that Highland Park and the other new buildings. Allegro etc. would all have a vested Interest in Ellwoods opening. Perhaps anyone living in those buildings could ask management to pony up a low-no interest loan. IN return for what im sure would be much more interest in their remaining units once a full service organic grocer moves in.

    Another option would maybe be to collect 100 – 1000 dollar donations from individuals in the community. I think this could add up fast. In turn we could be issued cards that a year or two after opening could be redeemed for that dollar amount in groceries. I would certainly donate a few hundred bucks now if it would come back to me in groceries down the line AND get Ellwoods open once and for all.

    Last would be if you are only 15 percent short of the amount you need to complete the build out. Why not do a half build out now. Dry Goods and Produce for example. And then when you reach your target amount add the butcher-seasfood-hotbars etc.

    Just some thoughts. PLEASE OPEN

  • Annon 2:24pm

    Great Suggestions! Especially the idea about the partial build out for dry goods…

  • Rick,
    For a hundred bucks put peoples names on the walls of the store, etc… If some “donates” one hundred dollars they get their name paint on a wall of sponsors and a maybe a “frequent shopper” that gives them discounts on Tuesday… I’m be in for that.

  • I would definitley donate some money in exchange for a coupon book for the store. I would love to see a place like Ellwood that takes pride in being part of the community.

  • Yeah, I’d def. kick in some duckets. Like an organic market keg party.

  • Yeah, I think talking to Donatelli makes a TON of sense here … can’t hurt!

  • 14thandColumbia just gave me an idea. If you are currently leasing the space and you have a beer and wine license? Why not hold a series of fundraisers in the space. You could have your staff from Richmond staff the place and set up your hot bar and have a couple kegs and bottles of wine going and charge 50 bucks a pop. get a DJ etc. Hell id go.

  • why don’t we develop a food co-op with Ellwood (or with someone else)? You can pay to become a member/founding member, and then you get a discount on food. Other people who are not members can shop and pay slightly more

  • Ok – I’m totallyconfused – are we suddenly living on the steppes of Russia in 1891? No vegtables for sale in a hundred miles? I’m all for crunchy granola etc. but really – people – getting a little obsessively nutty here.

  • “There are other grocer’s who offer similar product. I’d love it if Littieri’s over in the Florida Ave Market opened a store. Or My Organic Market. Or Rodman’s, or Trader Joe’s, and on and on. Maybe there needs to be a broader search.”

    Bzzt, wrong, thanks for playing. None of the “grocers” offer anything near what ET has to offer. ET is what Whole Foods (and Wild Oats or Alfalfas for those of you out west) used to be big enough to offer consistently great meats and produce, but at the same time focused on local providers and high quality (which does not have to be expensive). ET would be a great addition. My Organic Market is the only one in the above list that comes close on quality and the selection at ET is much better.

    And for the record, I’m not into crunchy granola, but I do want high quality reasonably priced ingredients.

    To Rick: Your store would do extremely well here and be a great addition to the neighborhood.

  • A few months ago, someone on this board threw out the idea of a food co-op — residents could pool money for a no-interest loan to ET’s and in return get, say, 5% back on groceries for the term of the loan. (this would be a smaller number of mid-size loan amounts, vice $100 donations) I’d gladly contribute $1,000 – $5,000 to see ET’s get up and running, and I’m sure many others in the neighborhood would as well.

  • Lots of creative ideas. The CH community is so educated and engaged. Anonymous – your idea regarding the no interest loan w/ 5% back on groceries (need to study what is fair for both here) to attract the $1000- 5000 loans sounds interesting. Would others be interested in such an idea? I will brainstorm on this (and the other ideas) tomorrow w/ our core staff.

  • Anonymous @ October 4th, 2009 at 3:51 pm –

    You may be referring to a post I created in May about the idea of a no interest loan in exchange for a 5% discount (http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2009/05/dear-pop-is-ellwood-thompsons-back-on/#comments).

    I actually e-mailed a fuller, more detailed version of this concept to Ryan Youngman and “[email protected]”, but I never received a response to either message. So, I’m glad to read Rick is considering the idea is because I think it would work quite well.

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