Dear PoPville – Why Do These Prime Locations Have Paint Stores?

3124 Mt. Pleasant St, NW

“Dear PoPville,

Would love to dive into the funny question of why, on two of DC’s most interesting and thriving (though different) commercial corridors – 14th street and Mt. Pleasant St – we find two paint stores occupying prime locations, both with parking lots.

McCormick Paint at 3124 Mt Pleasant
Duron Paint at 2511 14th St

The Mt. Pleasant location seems so prime for either a Tryst-style coffee shop or restaurant, or maybe a great natural market (where the parking would come into play). The corner location would allow a ton of outdoor seating.

Duron has a backstory, I know, as they moved to allow the Whole Foods in. The space is so obviously underutilized. They only fill about 1/3 of the inside space, and the lot is generally mostly vacant (as with McCormick).

Is it something about the parking lots that keeps these lots from higher uses? Something about DC’s insatiable appetite for paint? And why paint alone instead of a large hardware store?

I’m sure both lots and owners have understandable backstories, but I find the fact that two large corner lots with parking on thriving commerical corridors are occupied by single-purpose paint stores to be perplexing.”

Ed. Note: An old corner paint store (also a McCormick) at the corner of 15th and P St, NW was converted into a Tortilla Coast restaurant.

89 Comment

  • Maybe because they are profitable businesses? Not everything needs to be a coffeeshop, bar or restaurant. In fact, it’s better/healthier to have a good mix of retail.

  • What’s wrong with paint stores? Peeps need paint! Or maybe we need a Pho 32423 there?

  • They should open up a tapas restaurant in the parking lot.

  • I’d rather eat paint than at Tortilla Coast.

    • so… uhh…. about that ….

      • I think what was missing from Anonymous 2:39’s comment is that Tortilla Coast at 15th & P used to be a paint store pre-2011. At least Tortilla Coast finally made all the seating in their bar area available for happy hour. I hated when they dangled their non-happy-hour-elligible booths in front of you to make you choose between $4 cocktails and standing in a crowded main thoroughfare or $10 cocktails with a seat. I submit that $4 cocktails with a seat taste much better than paint.

  • Mount Pleasant has one because the ANC is one of the worst in the city to deal with, and they were absolutely adamant about bringing in a business that would increase daytime foot traffic (read: no bars or restaurants, nothing which would encourage noise, people driving into the area, or encourage those pesky kids to dance).

    SF: The one in Mt. P isn’t profitable. There’s essentially no one ever there except for a VERY small number of contractors early in the morning. It will close down as soon as their lease expires, guaranteed.

    • This isn’t true of the present-day ANC/Mt Pleasant.

      It was the Mt Pleasant Neighborhood Association that was involved in all the voluntary agreements, not the ANC. It was MPNA’s actions that lead to Mt P getting a reputation as anti-business. The MPNA doesn’t seem to be active these days, dancing is allowed and even (gasp) live music.

      The ANC is much more effective since Gregg (otherwise known as g) is gone. I know the present day ANC was very supportive of bringing Beau Thai to the neighborhood.

      • The Mt Pleasant paint shop also has frustratingly limited hours: M – F 7:00am to 4:30pm and Sat 7:30am to 12 noon. That means that it’s impossible to go after work and there is only a small window on the weekend to make it there before the 12pm Saturday closing. I live in the neighborhood and have wanted to stop in many times, but so far I’ve never managed to make it while it’s been open for business. Annoying.

        • That’s only a small window if you don’t wake up til 11:00am on Saturdays! 😉 (Kidding, and no judgment–I’m no morning person myself!) But with those hours, does most of their business come from the contractor (and small independent/subcontractor) crowd? Sounds like it.

        • Agreed. It adds absolutely nothing to the neighborhood.

  • binpetworth

    I’ve used the Duron store multiple times. I’ve found that staff at general hardware stores know less about paint and painting supplies that paint specialists, so I’m keen to keep stores like these around so long as they remain profitable. Why does everything have to be about food concepts?

  • Im assuming they were in these prime locations before they were sought after prime locations

    • The paint store in Mt Pleasant is relatively new – before that it was a vacant building (for a year, maybe more?), before that it was a grocery store.

      Before that it was a burned out Church’s Chicken and before that it was a Church’s Chicken.

  • When I bought paint there on Saturday, one of the guys said that Beau Thai has tried to get it, but they weren’t willing to pay $18,000 per month.

  • I have no problem with paint stores, but the Duron building on 14th is an obtrusive slapintheface to integrated architecture. Complained to CM Graham that it was allowed to consume every bit of frontage when it was being built.

  • Supply and demand – DUH!

  • Emmaleigh504

    Money laundering, duh. Or maybe profitable businesses!

    • You’ve been watching too much Breaking Bad.

      • Emmaleigh504

        Actually I had to stop, I got too invested in Jesse Pinkman’s pretty face not getting busted up. I just assume everything is a front for money laundering, makes life more interesting.

  • Because they were there first

  • The one in Mt. Pleasant closes at NOON on Saturdays. How is that even possible?

    • So in talking to merchants on that street (including Beau Thai), rents are not what kept anyone out. The perception (now incorrect) of the neighborhood’s hostility to business and the general lack of any nice retail was offputting. No one seemed to want to be the first. I am guessing if the same space were available today, a good restaurant would look at it, but only because of the success of Beau Thai (seriously, that place is full every night, which is amazing).

      But, the paint store got there when the getting was good. I wish it was something more interesting for me personally, but that’s the way this works.

    • +1000

      And closed all day Sundays and at 4:30pm weekdays. Making it virtually impossible for anyone with traditional working hours to make it there, ever!

  • My guess is that the a good chunk of the Hispanics and Latinos living in these neighborhoods work in construction. High demand for paint, thus high supply of paint.

    • Whoa! Or just maybe all the house remodeling being done by wealthy people moving in are keeping contractors in business, thus needing to purchase paint.

  • i don’t understand the question.

    • Is perhaps the question – whether new paint stores will begin to occupy space along Georgia Ave as these two get priced out of Mt. P and CoHi, think of immensity of all the coming renovations in all the Upper NW East areas that will need paint and contractors.

  • I think many of you are missing the underlying smart growth aspect of the question, not about the business itself but rather the use of space. There’s no reason a paint store couldn’t occupy the first floor of a multi-story building on each site allowing more residents or businesses to be in the area and support the paint store.

    • thats not the basis of the question. the basis is the notion that a tryst like cafe is superior to a paint store.

    • Scrillin

      Exactly. I walk by the Duron daily, and every time I see the half-empty parking lot and wonder what the heck is the point of having so much prime real estate wasted on a store that does its business for maybe 3 hours in the morning.

      Put up a mixed-used building, make the first floor the Duron, problem solved. Also, the parking lot can be kinda sketchy after 6 PM when they’re all closed up for the day.

      They can move to some of the empty space in the View 14 building in the meantime. Throw them a subsidy during construction for the inconvenience.

    • Or the second floor… paint stores usually don’t contribute positively to the ground-level streetscape the way an inviting restaurant or coffeshop might. Especially when there are a lot of them in one place.

    • You may be missing the point of the answers. To give it some historical context, around 1990 all of the practical businesses began to dry up. In 1988, there were about four hardware stores in Adams Morgan, including a very useful one with a lumber shop. Eight years later, all of these were gone, along with places to buy clothes (and I don’t mean fashion) and household goods. They had all been replaced by coffee shops. Even more than crime, this drove me to the burbs, since I was going to the suburbs all the time anyway to buy the practical things that adults need to buy. I moved back to DC partially because the crime rate went down, but mostly because it is possible to buy practical goods again. To put it bluntly, people like you want to live in a mall, not a city. Believe me, I have choice words for this attitude, but will remain polite here.

      • This isn’t a practical good. It’s a specialty item (i.e. one bought very rarely by most people and frequently by a select few).

      • Please go back to the suburbs, you’re clearly too much of a curmudgeon to live in close proximity to a large number of other people.

  • Long ago in the deepest mists of forgotten time, DC was a functioning city where people did more things than just eat cupcakes and go to bars. In those hallowed days of old, people actually did things.

  • If I did have occasion to do my own painting, I would actually consider these “prime” locations for a paint store, as both are right near major bus lines in NW–being a car-less person, I wouldn’t want to have to truck out to a Home Depot or something, or pay for a Zipcar, when I could just grab a couple of cans in a nearby neighborhood and hop on the bus. In reality, I’m a renter who’s not allowed to paint my apartment and therefore has absolutely zero need, personally, for paint stores. However, that doesn’t mean other people don’t need them. I mean, I love wine bars, yoga studios, coffee shops, and yes, even small plates as much as the next mid-30s, middle-class, semi-yuppie urbanist, but…that doesn’t mean EVERY establishment in the neighborhood needs to cater soley to my taste and my needs. If they’re still in business, clearly the paint stores DO have a customer base.

    • Ok, but someone who is planning to paint their bedroom will make a dedicated trip to get the supplies. If a street is to be vibrant, safe, and pedestrian-friendly it needs to have more ground-level retail that people might pop in and out of without much forethought. Stuff like clothing stores, drugstores, wine shops.

      • Well, if I *was* going to paint my bedroom, I would still want to make a dedicated trip to a neighborhood-based, public tranportation-accessible store. I’m cheap, and I don’t want to pay for a Zipcar or a traditional rental car just to haul a couple of cans of paint. But that’s just me. I absolutely agree with you on the need for vibrant, pedestrian-friendly retail (I mean, I’m a lifelong, car-less city-dweller, so believe me, I agree with you! :)) But 14th and Mt. Pleasant Sts. don’t exactly lack for ground-level retail that attracts pedestrians and foot traffic. If the issue at hand was a whole glut of industrial/commercial-oriented retail that only attracted contractor traffic in the early mornings and offered residents and the average passer-by nothing else, then that lack of balance would be a problem. But I hardly think ONE paint store on each of these commercial strips is holding back the vitality of the neighborhoods.

  • The last thing DC needs is another coffee shop or small plates restaurant. So glad that these paint stores are surviving. Do you really want to have to drive to the suburbs for everything beyond cupcakes and fancy olive oils?

      • I’m fine with the paint stores existing, but I would appreciate them being open past 5pm on weekdays and past 12pm Saturdays and on Sundays so that I don’t have to rent a Zipcar to drive to a paint store with hours that were more accommodating of busy daytime and weekend schedules.

  • Duron OWNS their site on 14th so why should they give it up. No doubt they bought it when no one wanted to be on the section of 14th. Gotta give some props to any business that invested in some of these locations and stuck it out. With so many thousands of units coming on line, flip jobs etc, its very convenient to have an actual paint store located right in the middle of gentrification ground zero as opposed to shlepping to Home Depot for stuff. anyhow, I suspect developers have made offers to both locations and the Duron site will turn over in 5 years.

  • I know the story of the paint store at 15th and P, and I’d guess it’s similar to these other two. When the paint store left, I just expected to see the building gone one day and new condos going up. A friend of mine who works for a fancy shmancy local developer who has done a LOT of work in that area told me what was going on – they’d sketched out the building and run the numbers thinking about buying the land to develop it.
    At that location, the lot size is actually fairly small. To put up a mixed-use building there under the zoning up until recently, the developer would have to add a lot of parking. The parking would obviously be underground. Underground spaces start at about $25,000 each as the cost to build and go up $5k-$10k *per space* for each additional floor you go down. Given the amount of space needed for support columns, driving ramps, and turnaround space, they would need at least 2-3 floors of underground spaces to make up the number they’d need. Add in the limited options for a floorplan for the above-ground levels given that you can’t have windows on the property line but only in places where there would be light wells and street-facing sides, which also loses a lot of space to stairwells, hallways, elevator shafts, and the spaces dedicated to amenities people paying Logan Circle prices would want in a building (and what bigger buildings on that very block offered, so you’d have to if you want to be competitive) and the cheapest any of them could get the units was about $800/sf. Most of Logan is still going for around $500-$600/sf.
    On top of that was the already over-inflated cost of the land itself. To an owner who doesn’t particularly need the money (and I don’t know if that particular owner fits this model, it’s just a point about any space like that one), a solid cashflow of $18-$25k per month forever might be far more desirable than a lump sum chunk of a couple million to sell. Especially when you consider that you can probably get that lump sum chunk of a couple million in ten years as easily as you could today. So if you had that kind of revenues coming in off of an asset, why would you sell it if you didn’t need to? I know if I owned the Tortilla Coast building, I’d just kick back and collect my check every month.

    • you weren’t b.s.’n about a story!! jeez sum it up B!!!! jkjkjk

    • What the heck are you talking about?!? I gaurantee you someone could turn a profit building a new condo building there (mixed-use or not).

      And to be honest, what that strech of 14th needs is a nice, new, slightly pricey condo building. From Clifton up to Harvard is junk. I believe in public housing of all types, but what we’ve got now is just sh!t. Get a fancy condo in there to spruce up the area and drive development. Or at least get DC/HUD to fund a new mixed-income Hope VI/Choice Neighborhoods type project.

  • The District is a city not a freaking mall food court.
    There are paint stores because people need them. And aren’t you glad they are in the District not Va or Md where we wouldn’t benefit from the tax revenue? Last I checked a gallon of paint cost a lot more than a cup of coffee – even coffee paired with doughnuts.

  • What a weird question. I just recently was thinking about repainting and like Benjamin Moore paints. I would have LOVED it if either of those locations was a BM store. It would have been so convenient. With so many housing units in these neighborhoods, I actually bet they do a fair amount of business.

  • So I’m the guy who sent the question to Dan, and while I’m not going to get pulled into a comment board he-said-she-said, I will offer a few observations, additions:

    – I never suggested that a better use of the property would be a restaurant, coffee shop, or yoga studio. Get a grip. I make my coffee at home, too.
    – In fact, Dan inexplicably deleted a small section of my original email where I wondered out loud why Duron wouldn’t do better being a full-fledged hardware store…there is no viable hardware store option walkable in CH and Duron is literally half empty.
    – It’s the prime location that puzzles me, not the existence of paint stores. Get a grip. You can’t tell me that Mt. Pleasant “needs” a paint store on its main commercial strip, on an oversized corner location, with a large and empty parking lot. You may make your own coffee and buy your paint…but you don’t buy paint more than once a year. Plus, there was already a Duron a few blocks east.
    – The whole tone of the message (yes, it was sincere and not a troll) was meant to be inquisitive, not judgemental. I walk both neighborhoods daily and I observed two specialty paint stores in prime locations, on corner lots, with parking lots, that seem to have very little business (something I didn’t even mention in the post).
    – If the target audience is contractors, I say again: why locate on a prime commercial strip?

    Anyway, glad for those who can post insights into the economics or the fundamentals of the whole thing. I wonder if Duron, who vacated their P street location to make way for the big development there, won’t be soon turning over their spot for the same reason.

    Unless both those places do serious B2B sales (eg contractors – and I see no evidence of this in the traffic flow in/out of either) I can’t believe that either is prospering from direct sales to residents. And if they are selling mostly to contractors, I repeat my original question: why be on such prime real estate?

    Anyway, thanks for being you.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      That was not deleted:

      “And why paint alone instead of a large hardware store?”

      • Quite correct! Apologies. I don’t know why I didn’t see that as I read through on my phone. I’ll just blame it on the mobile internets. Anyway, thanks for posting.

        • Thank you! I’ve thought the same thing, it makes no sense to have 2 paint stores with large surface parking lots (which are gated and LOCKED) in prime locations. Even if you wanted to park in their lot you would have to park in the street, run into the store and ask them to unlock the gate, then run back to your car and drive it to the gate and wait for an attendant to let you in. How does this make sense? Why not move to a smaller store front without a parking lot and sell your current plot of land to someone who will actually use it to it’s full extent?

          And if I can add fuel to this urban design fire, why does 14th st need 17 gas stations? There is one on 15th and U, and 2 between U st and Columbia Heights metro, and a few more Northward after the Columbia Heights metro (3?). It’s a waste of prime real estate! This area has to be the most gas station dense area in DC proper, even though most people metro/bus/walk/bike to work.

          • 14th is a major thoroughfare to the suburbs though. It encourages drivers from MD and VA to at least buy gas while they’re tearing through the city.

    • I think you are over-estimating how “prime” that MtP location is (or at least was a year or two ago). If I recall, it was vacant for at least 3 years before the paint store opened. I don’t want to insult some perfectly fine businesses, but I would not say that MtP street has in recent years been a thriving hub of commercial activity. It could be some day but I think your premise is incorrect, at least as far as that location.

      • I agree and I guess the use of the word “prime” was more aspirational in that the location always seemed underutilized and the spot so nice. The parking lot, in particular, is a puzzle – what type of business really needs a lot these days? It was empty back when it was a grocery store. Separate the lot and develop?

        • To me, it makes sense that they have a lot, though maybe not necessarily as big in either locations. The reasons that contractors use the stores is convenience in the morning before going to a site. They have big vans and presumably want to be in and out; in that case, a lot to be able to park several oversized vehicles at a time that wouldn’t have a chance to find on-street parking otherwise seems like a smart move.

    • It’s because they are a credit tenant. The Calormis family who owns that site has a long history in real estate. While you’re independent restaranteur may make the urbanists all sweaty, investors would prefer to see a tenant who has a great credit rating, track record, and a nonfaddish business activity. So, the owners bank or investors would prefer to have credit tenants (which also explains the DCUSA tenant mix) As to the parking, painters buy paint in 20 liter containers, which is harder to manage on bike share than a single gallon that a homeowner might buy. And, there is a lot of Class A commercial real estate that needs to be repainted more frequently than your bedroom. Make sense?

  • Did you reply to the right post? I wrote the one above and said the paint stores should stay and use their space better to create more customers. That’s the opposite of a mall.

    Several small hardware stores have opened recently and they’re great. Please comprehend what you read before threatening to insult someone.

  • After reading this thread, I was reminded of a Monty Python quote, slightly adapted below:

    “On second thought, let’s not go to DC. Tis a silly place.”

  • Maybe the stores could boost business further and get their hipster welcome wagon into those parking lots if they served small plates of artisanal paint, handcrafted by undocumented one-armed blind nuns at a local convent just 34.7 miles away.

  • There are thousands of restaurants in the area. I’d rather have my paint shops and hardware stores.

  • Might I just say to OP that this is a great question!
    I’m not sure that it is the case with these two particular locations but some paint stores are painting contractors as well as retailers, or at least have union paint contractors associated with their stores. This could be a big source of income for the store outside of retail so the business could be profitable even though its empty most of the time. In this case, especially since they have a parking lot for contractors to pull into, the convenience of not having to move probably outweighs the fact that the real estate is probably a bit too prime for their purposes. And by prime I mean they get a lot of foot traffic and its unlikely a paint store draws significant customers from foot traffic.
    Pure speculation.

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