Friday Question of the Day – Do You Agree With Old City Green?

Old City Green is located on the southwest corner of 9th and N St, NW.

Dear PoPville,

We here at OLD CITY green wanted to let you know about some recent developments in our journey as a small business and community gathering space. As you may have heard, we were recently informed that we are losing our lease on this space at the end of August. We had been verbally told in the winter that we had two years on the lot, but a month later that was changed to just a five month lease.

Although our landlord (Douglas Development) has been very kind over the years and has gone out of their way to help us stay afloat, this short notice has a negative impact on our survival as a business and community green space. Douglas Development and CAS Riegler are joining forces to start developing a 5 story condo/mixed use building on our spot beginning fall of this year.

We have been essentially left out of the conversation, unable to compete with the multi-million dollar project slated to take place. Moving plants and beehives in the middle of summer takes its toll. Ideally, a green business would relocate in the off season to minimize loss. Having to move before Christmas, means 30% of our yearly revenue is at stake. We very much want to stay in the neighborhood as we feel that we have become a community space that is more than just a retail store. However, we are struggling to find an affordable place to buy or rent.

OLD CITY green has been called the green beating heart of the community, and as of yet our green heart has no place to go. OLD CITY green has not only provided product, but has become an educational and neighborhood gathering space as well.

Here are a few examples of how we have been a part of the community over the years:

-”Best New Shaw Business” 2009 Shaw Main Streets
-Washington City Paper’s “Best Garden Store” of 2011
-”Shaw Community Partner Award” 2011 Shaw Main Streets
-Approx. 4,000 flower bulbs over a period of 4 years planted in Shaw tree boxes during our annual “Tulip Planting” event
-4 Easter egg hunts, 8 movie nights, and a Halloween haunted garden event for neighborhood kids
-Employing teens from the neighborhood
-Teaching nutritional health and local food education in DC high school
-Teaching 12 gardening and nutrition workshops for clients at Bread for the City
-Hiring local musicians to play on site for our neighbors and customers
-Educational field trips for DC schools
-Free workshops (Seed bomb making, herbal tea, fall vegetable planting, native landscaping)
-Hosting neighborhood garden tours
- A certified Butterfly Way Station
-Offered approx. $30,000 in discounts and free product to neighborhood gardeners, local businesses and DC non-profits
-Hosted a Community Supported Agriculture program for about 100 Shaw households for three years running
-Member of “Live Green” and “Think Local First”
-Worked with non profit organizations such as Bread for the City, DC Greenworks, Casey Trees, City Blossoms, and the Neighborhood Farm Initiative
-Hosted fundraisers for So Others Might Eat, N St. Village, Shaw Main Streets, DC Children First,Metro Teen Aids, and Wangari Gardens
-Supporting and working with other local small businesses such as Chatman’s Bakery, Seasonal Pantry, Longview Gallery, Wagtime, Azi’s Cafe, etc.
-Hosting volunteer teams for beautification of the neighborhood
-Donations of labor, time and product to local churches such as Shiloh Baptist Church with Seaton Green, Salem Baptist Church, and The Immaculate Conception

We don’t write this to victimize ourselves, but we feel that we are an example of a bigger issue going on here. Large condos are popping up all over the place, perpetuating the “building up, not building community” problem of gentrification. If developers are going to build more condos and apartments and bring in more people, there needs to be a place for people to go to for their “green” and other specialty item needs. As local, independent businesses are pushed out of the inner city, the systemic response is to go to the big box stores (Home Depot, Costco, Target, WalMart), which take money and good paying jobs away from the local economy.

There will be a public hearing about our lot on June 26th at 9:30 in 220-S, 1 Judiciary Square, 441 4th St., NW.

It’s not easy being green,
The OLD CITY green team

36 Comment

  • Local businesses make a city unique in ways that chain stores do not. It’s a loss for us all when one of them is killed by gentrification.

  • Whatever, they had a subpar selection and subpar customer service. Go to ginkgo gardens or fragers.

    Home depot isn’t the problem and condos aren’t the problem. The problem was there isn’t a lot of margin in selling plants and they were in a prime location offering an inferior product than their competitors. Oh, and their lease expired so their landlord changed what they wanted to do.. Plus what is his about them being helped along the way? Sounds like they’ve been struggling for a long time.

    Like I said, go to GG or Fragers.

    • Could you be more specific? I’ve bought beautiful plants from there that have done very well after planting. I’ve also found their customer service to be quite good.

  • I agree that it’s a tough situation. I could go on and on about the winners and losers here. But I think the main point I’d like to make is that if you’re a small business owner located in a rapidly growing urban city, it is imperative that you do whatever you can to BUY the land or building where your business is located. Otherwise, you have virtually no control over that property in the future. I know that is sometimes easier said than done, but I think it’s an important thing to remember.

    You are a business that makes money by selling products. Yes, you’ve done great things by giving back to the community and I commend you for that. But unfortunately for you, the landlord operates as a business too and needs to maximize their profits, just like any successful business.

    I don’t agree with your statement that “big box stores take money and good paying jobs away from the local economy.” These stores are hiring and paying people that live within the region. These employees spend money where they live, thus injecting money into the local economy, not taking away from it.

  • They have a very poor selection of plants, the staff is more motivated than the owner, and he doesn’t even sell you a sack of soil that is half way decent.
    Frank looks unmotivated, like somebody who doesn’t care, he seems to be engaged in the performance of a very nasty chore, instead of being a person who enjoys his own business (this is not a dead end job, after all)
    This is a typical example of a loser who wants society to take care of him, without offering the most minimal effort in return.
    Repeating myself, the staff was more motivated, more interested in serving and helping than the owner….
    Don’t feel bad for him. Capitalism took care of his failing business. Socialism would have offered lactation and pampering for the next few centuries to come, customers would have lost their patience…. and their money!!!!!! Triage: if they are dyling and they cannot offer anything to society, then DO NOT RESUSCITATE!

  • “Large condos are popping up all over the place, perpetuating the “building up, not building community” problem of gentrification.”

    What? I thought the whole idea is to “build up, not out” to prevent urban sprawl?

  • I don’t agree at all. Just because a business happens to be (1) an asset to the neighborhood, (2) a venue for community building, or (3) even simply viable and profitable doesn’t make it exempt from the norms of business practice. If you love your space but can’t afford to buy it, you only have one option: sign a lease. Until you do, it doesn’t matter how inspiring your operation is.

    • All fair points, but there is something to be said for an entity that makes community service/involvement a priority. If the community that a business like this serves determines it is a valuable component, there are arrangements that can be made with private individuals/companies (note I did not say government). If no viable arrangement is able to be made, then the market and community have spoken but you can’t fault a business for fighting to stay alive.

      I personally had good experiences with OCG. One idea would be to partner up with a restaurant that has some green space. OCG could provide produce to the restaurant and continue to offer workshops while they would each help drive traffic for the other. Though I’ll be sad to see them go (I live a few blocks away), maybe andy2′s Union Market suggestion is a solution.

  • I think it’s unfortunate they’re closing cause I liked having them there. However, it happens all the time that people and businesses move into an area that’s gentrifying and are surprised when it gentrifies, aka gets expensive. Without gentrification, I doubt OCG would’ve been there in the first place. The solution is either to buy the land, as the other poster said and as Uncle Chips did on North Cap, or to move to another up and coming neighborhood.

  • Allison

    Why on earth didn’t they have a written lease?

  • Can they get a spot in the new Union Market? If not perhaps down by Navy Yard?
    Agree its the small businesses that make the city a bit more local and less anywhere USA – but at times that means relocating to a more sustainable location where the rent is affordable and lease terms and be longer.

  • I agree, there needs to be a place for people to go for their Green, and other specialty items. I wish it was a 420 dispensary instead of condos :(

  • Douglas Development is the Grinch that stole Christmas. I will miss Old City Green.

  • Douglas Development should pay their taxes…

    I’m not sure why Doug Jemal and his coherts (Millstein, etc..) aren’t doing time.

  • Douglas did them a HUGE favor, essentially giving them the space for free with the caveat that it was a highly temporary arrangement.

    No good deed goes unpunished.

    • Im a neighbor of OCg, their space is definitely not free…they have been paying rent every month

  • No doubt they will be missed but in the long term, the neighborhood will be better off with 54 more units of housing. The project not only covers the lot OCG is leasing but the lots on N to the West that are vacant, and the old fight club building and empty lot next to that. That corner has been an eyesore for long enough. More residents will mean better retail for the area.

  • 1. Oral agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on.

    2. Small urban garden stores, while charming, may simply not be economically viable. They aren’t just competing against “big box” stores. People can buy houseplants at Wholefoods and vegetable seedlings at farmer’s markets. Every hardware store sells bags of soil & planters. Propane taxi delivers mulch. More extensive outdoor plantings are generally a one-time purchase, for which people can borrow a car and drive to Johnson’s or American Plant.

    3. Developers do need to realize that people pay a premium – both in real money and in “emotional” weight (crime, congestion, noise) to live in vital urban core BECAUSE there is more to the neighborhood than condo canyons. Pave over every green space, knock down every mural (the Adams Morgan Parrots are next to go) squeeze out every small business, and we will soon be Crystal City!

    All you developers should get together and throw some pocket change – a million bucks or so – into a pot, then use this fund to pay each other off for “lost” square footage in your new constructions that allow for preservation of green space and reasonable rents for (viable) small businesses.

  • How about coming to the corner of Rhode Island and 6th St NW? Next to Red Toque Cafe.

  • I don’t know what commercial rents would go for but I think heading towards Bloomingdale/Ledroit would be a good consideration…think of all those gorgeous homes with amazing landscaping plus the community garden in Bloomingdale that the residents took over and brought to its current state of loveliness. The idea of 6th and Fla that people have thrown around seems not like a bad suggestion.

  • How about 6th and FL with a combo beer garden and Old City Green? People could swill beer and eat pretzels and brats on picnic tables in the middle of plants for sale. I think it’d be fabulous, but I’m not business-savvy enough to do it myself.

  • City Green has benefitted as much from gentrification as they have been hurt by it. Ten years ago I don’t think this location would have supported a business like this at all. Now they are losing their location because of development. I agree with other posters that if you don’t buy or have a long term lease you are in a very unstable situation. Their business has basically benefited by the past decline of the neighborhood by being able to take advantage of an empty lot. I don’t think you can fault Douglas for finally seeking to develop the land.

  • Apparently the OP would like me to come to the Public Hearing to
    (1) object to the proposed development, and
    (2) require that Douglas Development rent their space to Old City Green?
    Because #1 is irrelevant without #2; however, #2 is preposterous. The city has no right to force a landlord to rent to a specific business, and I would never support giving it that power. Further, I don’t even agree with #1; I enthusiastically support the controlled densification of the city. Although I agree with the need for open space in the city, I would not rely on the for-profit private sector to provide it, not matter how much of a good neighbor a business might have been. Me relying on Old City Green to provide urban open space would be like Old City Green relying on their landlord’s unwritten unenforceable commitment to rent the space to them, and we see how well that turned out. (And what if Douglas Development had honored their verbal commitment to a two-year lease – what was Old City’s contingency plan for their future beyond the two-year lease? Would they be asking me to ask the city to force Douglas to offer them another two-year lease? Or more?)

    I am not the most hard-core capitalist but I join the others here who have suggested that Old City Green needs to rely on common business practices and legalities – such as the written lease – in its business dealings. They should not try to harness popular sentiment to ask the city to require a different local business to do something that the city has no legal right to require and that Old City has no moral right to ask.

  • I don’t understand what they’re asking. Is this just a commentary on gentrification, a request for a nearby alternative to lease, or do they want us to fight for something at the public hearing? He had a good run at this location and it’s time to close/move.

  • I love Old City, and I’m sorry to see them go. Hope they find another spot soon.

  • I love Old City Green — we’ve taken little ones on the Easter Egg hunt in the spring; we buy plants and herbs in the summer; and our Christmas tree in the winter. they are wonderful….and i second, third, etc the move to 6th and Rhode Island!!!

  • Any body see the Anthony Bourdain show when he did “old” New York city. Each one of the enduring New York small businesses was still around because they owned the building. It is also the same reason why the stretch of 14th street North of Tivoli and major parts of Adams Morgan are still full of small businesses, albeit crappy ones.

  • I just relearned a lesson. Never rent – buy. ….and then rent.
    There are still plenty of spaces in DC to buy a commercial space…think Benning Road.

  • I frequent the Greenhouse at the National Cathedral. The greenhouse business was shutdown about 5 years ago and I have not gone back to their campus since.

    I konw it’s in a far away space, but maybe ask to revive the greenhouse. The space has been empty.

  • I like old city green but I think I agree with some of the other posters. I think they need to innovate, I like the idea of loxatimg at the new union city market there must be some space or something like this there, and I also like the idea of making some kind of beer garden or something else. That said, they have a fair point about waiting through their season so as to not hurt revenue. I think this latter point was actually their reason for writing.

  • There is a large empty lot at the corner of 1st and O st NW. I would love to see OCG move there. It seems like it would be close enough to draw in the Bloomingdale crowd, without the Bloomingdale property prices.

  • I, like many others here, love OCG. It’s a great business and has done good service for the neighborhood. I choose to spend money here often rather than Home Depot because I want to see businesses like this thrive. But I can’t support any efforts to block douglas’ planned development. Two points.

    1. As others have stated, the landlord can do as it wishes with the property. I sincerely hope that OCG finds a different parcel of land to continue its great work. I hope the suggestions proposed–particularly on 6th–are explored.

    2. For me, the bigger point, I would LOVE to have a 5-floor mixed-use building here. (I wish it were bigger, but I’ll settle for 5 floors). 9th St. has the bones for a commercial revitalization. But it NEEDS to have an influx of POPULATION DENSITY. That is why 14th st is flourishing — the condo buildings are bringing the population density that is so critical to supporting a host of small businesses. We’ve seen great strides in single-family houses developing and bringing interest to our neighborhood, but we badly need enhanced density. Only that will bring SAFETY and the commercial base that we so badly need. So as much as I feel for and appreciate OCG, I would much prefer a big building on that corner.

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