Retail in the awesome Historic Tivoli Building is officially a Bust

14th Street, NW between Park and Monroe

Well I don’t know who is to blame but I’ve delayed as long as possible and can do so no longer – the retail at the Tivoli is a disgrace. So much potential on such a unique amazing building. Last week we learned a Verizon store was coming to the former Uptowner Deli space and now another wireless store is coming to the former hair salon. Update from the property manager:

“Verizon Wireless will be taking over the previous Uptowner Deli space. The photo of the salon space was an error made by Verizon Wireless sign vendor, which should already be corrected.”

What an opportunity wasted. So who is to blame?


113 Comment

  • who’s at fault?
    1. the developers for trying nothing daring and only looking to create a safe cookie cutter retail shopping experience based on profits
    2. the owners and their brokers for not aggressively seeking and selling the building to high quality tenants
    3. the neighborhood for whichever shopping patterns and demographic metrics have not merited premium tenants
    4. and probably everyone who points fingers but does nothing about it

    • lol, i don’t think i’m that cranky. i just don’t think we can expect private business to be at our beck and call. and what is bad retail anyway? i suppose the OP would love to see a bohemian coffee house, a chic farm to table restaurant, and some places like 14th street – but the reality is the neighborhood demand for that doesn’t appear to there. i’m only basing that on the the fact that none have opened up. in the meantime, we get verizon stores and chickass.

      • Places of that ilk are opening, in the neighborhood, but definitely not in the Tivoli. Check out 11th Street. Or take a stroll on up 14th to The Pinch or Pho Viet. The neighborhood can definitely support more interesting stuff than The Tivoli has on offer.

      • I think he was talking about the Duke of DC.

    • Are you insane, dense/cluless or just an idiot? “the neighborhood for whichever shopping patterns and demographic metrics have not merited premium tenants.”

  • …as opposed to what? I’m not sure what PoP is expecting. A clothing boutique or something? I suppose you can blame the demographics of the neighborhood, if that’s the case.

  • I know this won’t be a popular response, but I feel that the neighborhood just isn’t ready for the sort of retail that everybody wants. I think that with the arrival of DCUSA, everyone expected the demographics to spontaneously change into something a lot more like some suburban neighborhoods, like, say, Silver Spring or Rockville. That’s where you have your Targets and Best Buys and Bed Bath and Beyonds. These retailers have been an awkward fit, at best. The diversity of the neighborhood isn’t necessarily the best match for the retail that many people would like to see. The needs of some are very different from the needs of others.

    • Silver Spring has none of those things.

      • I think you’ve missed the point

      • Yeah. For one thing, Silver Spring remains mostly dead and depressing. I recall being there one Friday night when the only restaurant at capacity was Red Lobster. Whole Foods is the one retail success and its a horrible store–poor layout and terrible service.

        • Really? You are joking right 8407 Kitchen, Urban Butcher (closed but reopening), Mandalay, Jackies, Paccis, Lotus, Society, Firehouse 1 (non-chains) are packed on Friday & Saturday. Then you have chains like Eggspectations, Copper Canyon, Nandos,Olazzo, Pete’s, etc. that are full of people. The fast food places like Chik Fila, Burger Fi Chipotle are packed. There are tons of people out on the street with the movie Theatre. Then you have Denizen and Crisfeld that do brisk business Friday & Saturday but they are a little more isolated.

          • Olazzos isn’t a chain but a family run business with two locations, one in Bethesda the other in Silver Spring. They have the best Italian food I have tasted in this area.

        • You went around and checked each of the 150+ restaurants in the Silver Spring CBD to see if they were at capacity? Yeah, okay. If you’re skipping all the unique (and popular) offerings of Silver Spring to go to a Red Lobster then that’s on you.

    • Target and BBB are a fine fit, and consistently busy. The fill a need for convenient, everyday retail when you don’t want to wait for Amazon (or have the package stolen off your porch). They aren ‘t the problem.

    • I disagree. I think DCUSA draws in people from all over the city given its convenience to the Metro and the ample parking, so not its not purely about the demographics of the immediate neighborhood surrounding the Tivoli that draws the level of attention from retailers. I live over near H Street NE and come over to that area at least every other weekend, if not every weekend.

      I’m not sure who’s to “blame” for the lack of imaginative retail in the Tivoli space, but I’m not sure I’d point the finger at neighborhood demographics.

      • Interesting. I’m in the same general area as you, but if I have to go to Target, I go to the one in Potomac Yards. I’ve just found it more stressful to get to Co Heights than the quick trip across the bridge. The Target in Potomac Yards seems better kept too.

        • honestly, i think part of it is something about the block itself- demographics and rents and poor management may all be part of it, but i just sort of… forget that anything even exists over there. i live in adams morgan now, but i lived over there about a block and a half from that stretch, and even when i heard about a useful store, i’d pretty much forget about it. there was never any reason to walk by, and the crossing of 14th on that north side is the worst part of that light configuration so i think foot traffic is drawn away from those shops. even with the sidewall banners, the stores there just disappear.

        • That’s a better option if you have a car, but a lot of people in the city don’t. I live in Capitol Hill and would much rather go to Potomac Yards but can only go to Columbia Heights because of the metro. I think part of the problem with Tivoli is that it’s further down the street than DCUSA. When I trek out to Target, I rarely make it past the DCUSA shopping center unless I have to grab something at Giant and even that’s rare, since I don’t want to lug too much stuff on the metro and walk home. I honestly have no clue what’s in the Tivoli building. There’s nothing that draws me over there.

        • +1. The Target at Potomac Yard was my go-to Target before the Columbia Heights one was opened. I’ve tried to make myself shop at the Columbia Heights one at least some of the time… but it’s always a somewhat stressful experience, whereas shopping at the Potomac Yard one almost never is.

    • Do we live in different universes? Target and BB&B are packed all the time. On a good day that Target looks like it was ravaged by a tornado. Best Buy, I’ll grant you, but I think they’re kind of dying off everywhere, no?

    • “Everybody wants?” Who’s everybody? I think a lot of the people in the neighborhood love the big box stores and the added convenience they bring to a previously underserved part of the city, or even the city as a whole. Popvillagers need to remember that even though we might be loud on the interwebs, we don’t constitute the majority of this city or even of this neighborhood.

    • The neighborhood is exactly ready for retail that “Everybody wants.” Sorry that retail however is not what you want it to be. That retail is Target. The demographic looking for higher quality goods is shopping online or making the occasional trip to where-ever what-ever fancy store they want.

      Seriously, no one is going to shop an Anthropologie here, or even a J. Jill. Not ever – and why should we?

  • To be fair, couldn’t the same be said for most of the retail within say a half mile of here? The ground floor retail around DCUSA isn’t exactly booming or exciting, same with Tivoli, the buildings around the Petworth metro/GA Ave corridor, even some of the new buildings on 14th around U St. Sure, some land a big grocery store or the occasional high end tenant, but for the most part they’re either vacant or fairly run of the mill shops/restaurants. I have to imagine it’s a combination of asking too much in rent/having too many upfront restrictions for smaller businesses that would provide more creative & exciting options and other, bigger business options either having another location somewhat close by or being too large for the space. It is disappointing to walk by vacant storefronts and businesses I know I will never use.

  • The Tivoli was tied up in development schemes for years. At one point it was going to be torn down. At another, it was going to be a Shopper’s Food Warehouse. I would imagine the rents are not cheap after all the buying, selling, and delaying of the property. Target, BBB, Best Buy, etc. generally have done OK. The real problem is some much being dependent on big developers and big projects. Most successful neighborhood change is gradual–Georgetown went from hip (60s/70s) to expensive (80s/90s) to filled with foreign tourists (00s/10s) over a long period of time, with many places lasting into more than one era. Adams Morgan used to have retail and a more interesting mix of restaurants–it’s been a succession of mostly local businesses–Starbucks came very late to the area relative to elsewhere in DC. Plopping a lot of new buildings with high rents was a gamble and it largely priced out the kinds of businesses that make a neighborhood interesting–just look at the fringes of the area or on 11th Street–more interesting and largely free of big expensive development.

  • I blame Obama (turns off Fox News @1AM)

  • these days the only thing you can’t buy online are a meal out, a haircut, drinking outside of the house and immediate sundries. Blame the convenience of buying most things on the interwebs.

  • My response is a combination of two prior responses:
    “these days the only thing you can’t buy online are a meal out, a haircut, drinking outside of the house and immediate sundries. Blame the convenience of buying most things on the interwebs.”
    “The diversity of the neighborhood isn’t necessarily the best match for the retail that many people would like to see.”
    Target plus easy online shopping experience eliminates the demand for many stores people would like to see. Add that that whole it’s taken great strides, CH is not yet the right neighborhood for higher end stores. Throw in that large development projects attract large retailers, not Mom and Pop stores.

  • Well, who is to blame? I certainly want culture and diversity preserved in this area but the community was very insistent on having a Spanish theater there, and also insisted that local businesses (like the mattress store) that were being vacated from buildings across/down the street were moved into that space. Now it is a hodge-podge.

    A better option would be to get rid of Z-Burger and turn the main space into an actual movie theatre like it used to be, and focus on boutique retail in the rest of the spaces. Additionally, CH needs more income diversity on the upper end. Too much subsidized housing (which has increased in this area of DC, while decreasing in others) leaves no room for business that needs spenders.

    • “CH needs more income diversity on the upper end”

      As someone who didn’t want to pay $1800 for a studio apartment in Columbia Heights: HAHA No.

    • Agreed on the Z-Burger. It is an absolute travesty what they’ve done to the inside of that space (not to mention that their burgers suck).

  • I honestly don’t think it is any one or two things.

    1. Rents are too high. This is a problem all over the city. This means that what retail there is dominated by chains that have the name recognition which may insure faster success and pockets deep enough to carry them until they can stand. Obviously there are exceptions but that is no small thing. Retail seems to do better when there is other retail. One business may draw customers that then go to other places. When retail/restaurant clusters become dominated by restaurants those restaurants seem to crowd out other things. And then the area seems to only attract and support restaurants because they (with their necessary liquor license) are the ones that can pay the rent. Sort of a vicious circle. The owner of Homebody on 8th raised the rent and now the store has to leave/close. It was doing fine but only at a certain rental rate point.

    2. Buying online. I agree that a lot of what people want/need can be bought on line so that does cut into business. Of course a retailer wanting to open a small women’s clothing store needs to offer products that may get missed online and appeal to a very broad demographic – not just relying on the 23-33 age demographic – and do so at a price point that makes the business enough to pay themselves and their bills without charging so much potential customers are scared away. That is a very small needle to thread particularly give point 1.

    3. Maybe parts of the city just just can’t support that type of retail. Maybe the demographics of the city mean that the needs and conditions of one demographic are far enough different from those of another that they don’t shop/do the same things.

    4. Maybe people who want small retail want it but at the same time not enough of them need it enough to keep them viable. As much as I love Homebody, I (and other customers) don’t need to buy anything in there that often to make enough of a difference when her rents was raised.

  • I’m in the minority, but I’m not troubled that a wireless store is coming. Over the years, I’ve needed to go get my phone fixed, and I had to go to some place like Farragut or pentagon city to do it. Sometimes it took me over a month to be able to get there. Having one in the neighborhood isn’t a bad thing. Sure, I wish it wasn’t in the Tivoli, just because it is a beautiful old building, but I guess I’d rather have it there than not at all. I’d love for the wireless store to be next to some cool local offerings, but for that I can go to 11th street.

    I am more concerned about the empty retail across the street and in dcusa. That I think is caused by a lot of what the other commenters are taling about – steep rents and online shopping.

  • I toured that building pre-redevelopment. It had been abandoned for decades, exposed to the elements, and was a deteriorated disaster. Its amazing it got saved and reused at all. That all costs a ton of money, and while boutique stores are nice and have their place, landlords naturally prefer tenants that can pay rent (and debt) reliably.

  • I agree with above comments re: online shopping and high rents. Would I love a Berkley style coffee shop that sells quinoa yoga pants with my latte? Yes. But selling $4 coffees and organic pants can’t generate the revenue for business sustainability to afford to live in the city. Mom and pop can’t move in with their boutique items because of the way corporate models work (buying in bulk, putting up a lot of money upfront, etc). Target and BBB already exist–so most retailers who offer similar products from soda to diapers couldn’t compete. What kind of retail would people want? Stationery store, vintage clothing, wine shop? There won’t be enough or continuous revenue to support high rents.

    Examine the demographics of the customers and their buying preferences. There are students who live or come to the area for all the schools within walking distances of colhghts metro. They buy snack food and disposable clothing which the current stores already sell. The latino population and those who live in nearby low income housing is mostly working class and does not have the disposable income or buying preferences for $6 rosemary infused goat cheese or $15 scented candles. The people who can afford to currently buy $600K and up homes in the area tend buy goods online because they are working so much to pay for their homes. (I couldn’t afford a 600K home selling scented candles). Sadly, most people have the mentality now that if “I can get it cheaper online, then I will.”

    People still pay a lot for services in DC including childcare. It would be great to see DC make more spaces for the arts and/or children. A childcare center run by quality educators? An indoor play space for children? Arts center for adults and children with a sliding scale? A old-school food co-op? These would have to be subsidized by government to pay the current rents. The city had decades of blight and flight so its currently riding a wave of development based largely on highest bidder (arts project in old school downtown recently thrown out and homeless shelters torn down for condos). A city cannot just be condos, trader joes, and Targets–this seems like the suburbs to me.

    • Well said.

      I’d add, too, that with the the theater, Col Heights Dance Institute, and the Museum of Unnatural History nearby there’s a great opportunity to make it a culture/learning district. But again there’s that small issue of rent…

    • If you’re referring to the homeless shelter on 14th, they got PAID and moved to a bigger and better location. Yes it’s ironic that people are buying fancy condos in a renovated homeless shelter. But no, it’s not tragic because they were compensated for their in-demand property.

      • I think the commenter is referring to the Franklin School across from the Park which was once a homeless shelter and scheduled to be a mixed use art space. Bowser has cancelled the project and sent out a new RFP.

      • And if you want to go further back, it’s ironic that people are buying fancy condos in what used to be an auto showroom.

    • We have to remember there is a wine shop just down the block, there is also a large athletic shop, multiple coffee shops (one that just opened), and other things in this area that do just fine. The reason why the Tivoli is of note is not because the area is doing poorly, but because the Tivoli is. The area has plenty of open shops that do JUST FINE, some of which are super successful businesses.

      The problem comes from the Tivoli itself, and it is accurate to point that out, not Columbia heights. Which has had numerous successful businesses in the area. The rent on the Tivoli maybe to high compared to the area itself. That maybe at the core of the problem. The Tivoli may have attempted to raise rents above and beyond what tenants are willing to pay and/or sustain their businesses. But the area itself can support plenty more high end businesses and/or resturants, if the rents are reasonable.

  • Not sure if it’s feasible, but I think a movie theater would do really well in this space.

    • Absolutely. But based on the current trends at the Tivoli, I fear we would end up with five screens of Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and Alien Tampon.

  • 1) Blame the owners for hiring KLNB to do the retail and not Streetsense or MILLER WALKER or JCR or a more boutique retail brokerage. KLNB is about the equivalent of a used car salesman in the local industry.
    2) Blame KLNB for not caring about shaping a neighborhood and just trying to get paid. The two brokers, Steve Combs and Matt Skalet, could care less about the people who have to shop at these stores. There obviously was no pride taken in this work. Hopefully Popadopoulos can lease the last large chunk to a good restaurant and they can turn it around.

    • Agreed. Having worked with streetsense, they are the best. At the end of the day though, most brokers/landlords want a national credit tenant (CVS, Verizon etc) who they know is good for the rent for at least five years and likely to extend for 10.

  • Is this really unique to CH? And I don’t even mean in DC, I mean across the country. Isn’t retail just dying off in general, everywhere? Every city might have a handful of neighborhoods with retail – one with chain fashion stores a la Metro Center or Georgetown, one with really high end luxury brands a la Chicago’s Michigan Ave (and what may eventually be City Center?), and maybe one with more local type of shops… I guess I’m thinking Adams Morgan or U St, but even those are slowly losing retail. But, does modern day life really even sustain much more than that?
    (When I say “every city” I don’t really mean NYC even though people will swoop in to argue with me. I mean average cities in the DC-sized ballpark. Or really anything smaller than NYC).

  • ThunderCheese

    The rent’s too damn high.

  • The problem is that rent is outpacing demographics. Landlords are charging high-end rents in a middle-income neighborhood. Columbia Heights, right now, is quite diverse, in terms of both race and class. It’s really difficult to sustain high-end businesses in a neighborhood that isn’t monolithically rich, or close to it. We can make opening a business easier, by streamlining the regulatory process. We can lower rents, by zoning for more retail. But this is ultimately the cost of promoting mixed-income neighborhoods, is that there’s very limited ability to support high-end commerce. Personally, I think it’s a sacrifice worth making, but you may disagree.

  • Just one man’s opinion, but I think it’s way too early to call it a bust. Columbia Heights is still changing rapidly, and I think the retail mix is struggling while the neighborhood’s identity is a moving target. The big box stores seem to be doing fine, and bars/restaurants have been hit or miss, but the clear losers have been smaller retailers. I think buildings like the Tivoli are charging rents that anticipate Columbia Heights becoming a high-end shopping destination, which might happen in years to come but certainly isn’t true yet. But despite all of the retail turnover and number of vacant stores, I would still characterize Columbia Heights as one of the most diverse and vibrant parts of DC, and it’s only a matter of time before the retail catches up.

    What specifically would you want to see move into the Tivoli building? Personally, I would love to have a bike shop.

    • A bike shop in Columbia Heights would be a perfect use. There is also no Musical Instrument shop of quality in Columbia Heights, one with repair services onsite. I think both would fit the building.

  • If these businesses are being replaced by other tenants, even if those tenants are wireless stores, how can you say retail is a bust? I think you mean to say the retail you think needs to be there or is important to you is a bust there. Look at Connecticut Avenue north and south of Dupont Circle. The retail there is pretty terrible and most is simply being replaced with places that have food, because as others have noted, it is one market that people still do not totally rely on the internet for.

    I honestly cannot think of a time recently where I have gone into a retail location to buy something not food. Maybe bluemercury to buy some hair product or something. But the only stores I do or would frequent sell food or sundries. As others note, everything else I order online.

    That all said, if they tried hard enough, I could see a chain of clothing stores making it work there – Banana, J Crew, Ann Taylor, Lou Lou, etc.

    • I had the exact same thought based on the title of the post. But I think it’s clear from the text of the post, which refers to the “potential” of that space, that the complaint is more about the kind of retail as opposed to a lack of retail.

  • Question: What do people mean by “high end” retail? I keep reading that phrase in the posts in this thread and I have no idea what that means. My first thought is luxury goods stores. But I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that Coach or Bulgari come to Columbia Heights.

    • They’re probably referring to the stores that Shawess just listed above your comment: Banana, J Crew, etc. Good clothes that are a few steps above Target.

  • Honestly, the City is to blame for the crappy DCUSA which in turn affects all the other retail in that area of 14th. DCUSA is poorly designed. The city never should have allowed a mall with interioe stores to be built. Futhermore, the city required too many spaces for Low income/minoriity businesses which were the hardest hit during the recession leading to the vacancies at DCUSA for years. The Col Heights Dev Corporation is basically a shit show as well and has no idea how to market spaces. So no, you aren’t going to get the next Rose’s Luxury at a space like Tivoli when you have perfumania and five below across the street. Its not only a crappy mall, its a really downscale mall-think PG Plaza for something comparable. In addition, there is no management of the public space, the litter is terrible, the homeless, the folks illegally selling crap on tables set up on the street, the teenagers screaming etc…its just a lousy environment. Holy cow, I am glad I moved from CH to petworth. And I work for the City so I actually do have some info on this.

    • DC USA got the kind of retail it could get when it was being built. That part of CH was way lower on the gentrification curve when DCUSA was being developed. I remember the endless debates on the OneList about which retailers people wanted to get those spaces. In the end, the “high end” types – REI, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s – passed.

    • Definitely agree that DCUSA and most of the development around the Columbia Heights Metro were kind of a boondoggle, but I suppose it’s a product of its time. If they were building DCUSA today, it would be like the Whole Foods development they’re building on H Street, or like any of the housing developments going up in Navy Yard. Given its size, that kind of development at DCUSA would’ve put Columbia Heights on much sturdier retail ground and added lots of high income residents to support a more interesting retail mix. As is, much of 14th St from Euclid to DCUSA is low income and apparently unable to support interesting retail.
      It was probably too forward thinking for the city at the time, but the main development should’ve been a block lower and allowed for an expanded Metro station with a southern entrance.
      Having said that, if they proposed a luxury apartment building at DCUSA, people probably would’ve huffed and puffed just like they did over the Reeves Center, even though that’s another colossal waste of space on prime real estate.

      • DC USA went where it is because the site was mostly a vacant field. Moving it a block south would’ve massively increased the complexity of the project. The real shortsightedness involved not putting in a 2nd exit, which IIRC would’ve been at Harvard & 14th.

        • While I’m sure Metro has so many stations with so few exits for financial reasons, it definitely was short sighted on its part. Another entrance at the other end of the station certainly would have been a good idea.

          • Buried deep in a preliminary redevelopment plans from Fenty’s office of Economic Development was some plans to add an additional entrance at Harvard and 14th, but to make a developer pay for it as one of the concessions of redeveloping that enormous public housing property at the corner.

            It was a great idea then, and is a great idea now but there is likely little political will to remove public housing.

  • Well, duh! How do you get there? As Ralphie Wiggum might say, “unpossible!.”

    You can’t drive there without getting stuck in gridlock. The “traffic calming” along 14th Street in that area has made the corridor virtually unusable, even for Metro buses.

    East-west traffic in that area is just as impossible, if you’ve tried to exit the DCUSA garage and sat in traffic either eastbound or westbound.

    For those of us who use the red line or orange or blue, it means transferring, and that’s certainly not an option on weekends, with the twenty-four minutes between trains. It’s even a pain on weekdays.

    So they build a shopping area, but nobody shopped because it was too much of a bother to get in and out of there. There are other options, with less hassle. End of story.

  • “Who do we blame”. That is a pretty misguided question that shows a complete lack of understanding of the basic economics of retail. It is the same thing as asking why there isn’t a Neiman Marcus in Anacostia.

    It is all about the demographics and disposable incomes available nearby to support the retail. Despite the recent influx of more monied folks, the median household income in Columbia Heights is about 48K/yr.

    For comparison, Friendship Heights where all the snazzy ridiculous stores in “Beverly Hill East”, the median income is 160K/yr.

    Everyone seems to think that Columbia Heights is just 11th St, and the ~3 new hyper expensive condo/apt buildings within a couple blocks of the metro, but in reality Columbia Heights has a pretty severe poverty issue.

    There aren’t high end stores, because high end stores don’t want to be here. It is demographics plain and simple and simply dumping a couple billion in new buildings within a few blocks of the metro doesn’t change the area overnight.

    Finally, the “rent is too high” canard has to stop. Average commercial retail prices per square foot have actually fallen in the 20010 zip over the past 4 years…which is astonishing considering DC’s boomtown status during that same period. Secondly, all of those buildings that border 14th are brand spanking new, which means their op ex expenses are relatively high, and fixed. The break even point for those spaces just to pay the taxes, maintenance and to keep the water on is somewhere in the range of $15/sf.

    So while the landlord would love for a REI to come here and pay $40/foot, the truth is none of those retailers you “think” should be in CH are, and so the landlord takes that will pay the ~20 a foot it takes to keep the building from going into hoc, and make a few extra bucks.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      “shows a complete lack of understanding of the basic economics of retail” Thanks for the explanation. For the record, despite my public eduction, I understand that.

    • Thank you for bringing actual data to this discussion.

    • Great points. This debate/complaint is nothing new. The exact same complaints were made when the list of DCUSA tenants was first announced. There was, and remains, a gap between what the people who comment on listservs like this – whose median income is probably north of $48k/year – think their neighborhoods should have and what the actual demographics warrant.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        You’re making false assumptions! I liked Mayorga, Ruby Tuesday, the old sports store. It’s the new shit that’s disappointing. I’m not expecting nor do I want Neiman fucking Marcus.

        • Well, Pop…didn’t you just answer your own question. If places like Mayorga or Ruby can’t survive in the neighborhood, then why do folks think its betters or equivalents could? You can’t “force” preferred tenants or businesses to move in. You have to entice them, and it is pretty hard to entice them when as someone above mentioned, the neighborhood is awash in street trash, crime, pan handelers, people selling stuff illegally from vans etc.

          The solution is the creation of a CH BID. An entity (that I am sure local business would love to contribute towards) that cleans the neighborhood, landscapes it, cleans the crap and grafitti off of things would go a long way in attracting higher paying tenants.

        • Nice places can survive in the neighborhood. Look at the Allegro building. Or Either of the two new buildings on the east side of 14th. Or the building on the SW corner of 14th and Irving. It’s a management problem. H St continues to attract decent food and retail despite FAR less foot traffic. So does union market.

    • Not to quibble, but the average household income in zip code 20010 is $65K and the average income in zip code 20009 is $88K according to the Census bureau. Friendship Heights is $133K. It is understandable there aren’t high end stores in Columbia Heights, but there is a reasonable amount of disposable income in the area, along with tons of foot traffic.

      • Average and median are two completely different things. Median, is a far better metric.

        • +1
          To be perfectly honest, as someone who makes less than the median and the mean income for this area, I think that the retail in and around CH does in fact fit the area. I think one of things you have to understand about “those people” or in this case, me, is that we are trying our best to live in an area. I cannot and will not shop at high end stores. I would venture to guess based on my frequent trips to Target that more of the shoppers are like me and less like those who want boutique shops and niche-type stores.
          I really wish that people would stop thinking that everyone in this part of the city is well off and wants the same thing. The fact is, while we may the vocal minority on blogs such as this, we do exist.

      • I don’t think anyone expects high end stores. But just a few things that don’t suck.

      • Also keep in mind that high income does not necessarily equal good retail. Van Ness has mostly sucked since forever. And while the WF on Wisconsin is nice, in general the retail area around the Tenleytown Best Buy/Container Store complex is pretty mediocre..

        • Van Ness is pretty awful but what I wouldn’t give to have something our own Calvert Woodley somewhere on the Green/Yellow Line…

    • west_egg

      Kathy, why would op ex be higher on a relatively new building? I’d think greater efficiency + fewer maintenance demands = lower operating costs. What am I overlooking? Hmm, perhaps you mean from the tenant’s perspective and not the owner? That would make sense, of course.

  • I’m sure there’s plenty of “blame” to go around. The landlord, the business concepts that try and make it, the consumers preferring to shop online. I guess to me, it seems like the rents are just too damn high for anyone with a solid business plan but is an independent business owner to make it in a newly redeveloped building. I have friends who’s businesses have failed in the District and I’ve done research to start my own business but the retail leases are just staggering for what developers/landlords want. Thus you are gonna get the cookie cutter businesses that seem to pop up in every newly gentrified hood.

    It’s a shame because you go to towns like Baltimore and Philly, where sure the economies are not so great, but are chock full of quirky retail and restaurants and coffee shops, etc.

  • Not to be Pollyanna here, but these complaints have been coming since the Metro was built. The neighborhood is in a demographic, housing, and retail transition phase. We’re living in it, so it’s hard to step back and see the forest for the trees. Things are better than they were five years ago, and things five years from now should be significantly better for retail in this area. I appreciate that the Prince brought this up, but I think it’s important to understand that most of the commenters on this site (and others, really) don’t stay in DC for long periods of time and tend to see snapshots rather than movies during their experiences in the District. Things are progressing, PoP, and I think it’s unfair to call this a bust until commercial rental prices increase to match the increases in housing prices (it’ll happen, be patient). And if we’re going to blame anyone, blame James Earl Ray and 1960s and 70s bureaucrats.

  • A couple of things are at play here. First I think it really is building management. The building on the SW corner of 14th and Irving has great tenants (although both the bars are owned by the building owner). Allegro up 14th has great tenants. The buildings across from DCUSA and Giant have great tenants. It’s really just a portion of DCUSA and GALA that are really screwing things up. As to why I have no idea.
    GALA is a disaster. Community leaders really pushed for it, but who does it serve? Very very few of the Spanish speaking neighbors go there. A movie theater that regularly brought Latin American popular cinema would be really cool and attract both new neighbors and Spanish speaking long time residents, but this serves the spanish speaking elite only.
    GALA also poorly run. They are losing money hand over fist but still have 4M in the bank. Check their 990 filings. Gala lost 173k in 2013 and most of the money they did take in was in grants and contributions. Program revenue (i.e. ticket sales) is only about 20% of their money. That doesn’t even cover executive salaries. They’re kept alive because there are so few hispanic theaters in the country so they can get a lot of grants, but in the long run I think this place is going down the tubes. There’s just not enough interest.

    • Just a quick addendum: I definitely did not mean to imply in any way that the GALA execs are overpaid. If the income listed on their 990 is accurate I’m actually shocked at how little they make.

    • Yes. Gala is losing money as are many theaters in the country. I have been to a few shows here because I am an arts lover and I would pay $30 a ticket to see a show (which is relatively cheap compared to other theaters in similar sized cities). You are right that very little of the immediate latino community goes there because its out of their price range–especially if you have a family. The ambassador to Spain was at a show when I was in there. Do we close down theaters because there isn’t demand or do we find away to keep the arts in our city and make it available to all? Maybe if they had more matinee shows, high school performances, kids shows, interactive etc this would increase interest and ultimately demand. Shakespeare in Col heights in the summer? Elmo and friends etc. Could they form more partnerships with Kennedy Center/private partnerships?

      Re people staying: I’ll stay in a neighborhood if I can afford the rent/mortgage, if schools delivery quality education and my child’s classmates aren’t violent. I will stay if transportation is efficient and working. I will stay if my children can get involved in the arts in a reasonable distance. I will stay if I can eat at a few places that aren’t corporate chain restaurants within a few miles.

      • I’m not saying they should shut it down, but the theater offerings are pretty occasional and pretty elitist. The entire argument for having it in the neighborhood was to preserve the areas Spanish speaking heritage and the proceed to deliver years of programming with no appeal to the Spanish speaking neighbors.
        I don’t think they should leave entirely, but it would be really nice if they had some programming that appealed to nearby residents more. Why not a bar/cafe as part of GALA that showcases latin food and drink? Why not a movie night for popular latin cinema?

      • Also as a point of reference Avalon theater has almost the same expenses. They are right on budget and take in 50% of their revenue in ticket sales.

      • On behalf of GALA, I would like to clarify a I am writing to clarify some points..

        As regards to GALA’s 990, the “4M” in the bank that is quoted is incorrect. That 4M was our physical or plant equity/investment, since GALA raised and invested 4.2 in actually building out the physical theater space (it was not done by the developer/landlord). This is not cash it is simply the value of the plant and fixtures.

        As regards programming, I believe the problem must be in our marketing because it is obvious that neighbors do not know what we present/produce at GALA, despite the fact that we recently invested in a marquee with an LED screen precisely for this reason – so that neighbors would know what we had programmed . Here is some information:
        1) Approximately 12,000 to 15,000 people come through GALA’s space every year. Aside from GALA’s programs, our space is used/programmed by groups who have no performing space. These include, among others, on a regular basis: Young Playwrights Theater, In Series, Dance Institute, Malcolm X Drummers, a music school for children, and La Red, the Latino Church network that conducts services at GALA every Sunday of the year.
        2) GALA offers a variety of free community programs for Latinos and non-Latinos, such as the Three Kings Day celebration, that are open and free to the community at large. As far as the suggestion to do film, we have an annual film festival for which audience pays a contribution of $5 per film, and we also host the Environmental Film Festival, the Latin American Film Festial, the Spain Arts Film Festival, and films by independent film makers in the area, for which we only ask a minimal contribution for use of our space.
        3) As far as serving the Latino community, 65% of our audience is Latino or audience of color. We offer $10 tickets on Thursday nights, making it accessible to all, and we often have service workers sitting next to Ambassadors in the audience (so much for elitism). It is important to know that ALL of our performances have translated surtitles (if performances are in Spanish we have English surtitles) and we do one play a year in English so as to reach general audiences.
        4) In addition, we offer student matinee programs throughout the year at 10:30 in the morning for high school and elementary school children throughout the city. Over 7,000 students in the area attend shows at GALA, which are followed by interactive discussions with the artists and teachers. We also provide teachers and students curriculum enrichment guides with suggested reading list and information on the writers, cultural context and socio historical background of the plays/performances. GALita’s children’s theater also offers bilingual performances for children on Saturday afternoons,
        5) Finally, we offer a totally free after-school program for at-risk Latino and multicultural youth, (Paso Nuevo) providing them a safe space in which to create and perform their own work. These youth, who would otherwise be on the street, learn theater and life skills and perform or produce three GALA’s stage three times a year and the shows are free to the community, families, teachers, and artists. Graduates of this program are always the first in their families to go to college, and we help them get scholarships based on their work with GALA.

        I hope this gives you a better picture of what we do at GALA. And yes, it is always a financial struggle because the arts are underfunded, and particularly the arts that reflect a certain cultural or ethnic minority. But we feel our mission is still clear and we wouldn’t have lasted 40 years if we had been poorly managed or had no relevance.

    • That is something which should be noted. I think some music programming would do well to serve beyond just elite as well. I will be honest, it would be nice to see some latin jazz acts. I mean if gala could become both a place for theater, but also latin music, it would be a much better venue with wider appeal city wide. Music brings a wider audience no matter the language is used in the music.

    • I like Gala, I’ve been there several times, and I’m neither Spanish-speaking nor elite. I think they don’t do a great job marketing, but some of the programming is really interesting, and it’s much cheaper than a night at the Kennedy Center or something like that.

  • tonyr

    Somewhat off-topic, but whatever the landlords are doing they are doing it better than the ones in charge of the retail at the convention center. Every single place is empty.

    • lol. You mean the city of DC government? Yup, they’re pretty much the worst landlords imaginable. I’m terrified about what they will do with the Post Office at Upshur and 9th when they take over.

  • New question/maybe one that OP/POPville can post for further discussion: what do we want in that space? I’m also disappointed by the trajectory of the space but find myself at a loss for ideas w/r/t what I would like that I also think would do reasonably well. Personally, I only frequent a few of the places in the general vicinity (and which ones I patronize probably live up to the stereotype of my demographic in practically every way). However, in thinking about this I realized that if I consider the whole development area, there are more things I like than I realized. It is a BIG space. So, rather than blaming (as fun as this is) what else do we want to see, or what would be better that we think would thrive?

    By no means an exhaustive or excellent list, but how about: Crossfit? Bike shop? Doggy daycare? A new Native Foods Cafe? A new or relocated Aveda Institute? Urban Outfitters? Lunar Massage? Elevation Burger? Brewpub ala Right Proper? An arts space? Someplace offering kids and adults art classes? Business incubator w/support from the city (my personal favorite)?

    Not quite on point, but I’d LOVE to see one of those parking lots a little north on 14th St turn into a beer garden for the spring/summer.

  • I blame Columbia Heights. I avoid that area like the plague.

  • I worked in CH for a long time and one thing that makes no sense to me is that the DCUSA parking lot doesn’t offer discounted parking for customers. You can park and shop at the Giant and get your ticket validated, but not DCUSA. I’m not advocating the people drive over there–14th Street and Park Road are already traffic nightmares–but it just seems a little greedy.

    That said, from my recent experience, commercial rents in Petworth are much higher than on 14th Street. Which may explain why there are so many vacant storefronts in Petworth as well. I think the rents in CH are beginning to come down, which will attract more local businesses.

    • Yeah, that’s always bugged me too (DCUSA not having free-with-validation parking) — when it was being built, I assumed it would be like the Best Buy/Container Store complex in Tenleytown, which _does_ offer one hour of free parking with validation.

      • Wouldn’t that be up to the individual stores? Macy’s at Pentagon City offers parking validation if you buy something, but most of the other stores don’t (to my knowledge). My guess is that if Target thought they’d attract more customers by validating parking, then they would. But given how crowded it usually is, they just don’t need to; people are going there regardless.

  • Shocking that some old-timers haven’t hijacked this conversation completely, but I’ll resurrect an old argument. The blame falls on the Anthony Williams administration, Office of Planning, who awarded it to Horning Brothers, the developers. I moved to the neighborhood in 2000 when this was a hot topic, and there was a group trying to Save the Tivoli as an arts/music space or something better than the tragedy proposed by Horning Bros. I got to see the insides of the Tivoi, and it was an architectural gem (and historic – had one of the best acoustics of such large space). What the city did to it was a complete travesty. Everyone else here is blaming the current residents or the stores themselves, but design matters. Many people were very upset by this development when it was proposed and could see it as a set-up for failure.

    • What do you mean by “what the city did to it”? The interior remodel?

      • Yes. The city allowed it to be carved up. The only historic part that remains is the old part of the original lobby, which is why the shape of the restaurant (or whatever is there now, Z Burger?) in that space is so awful. GALA is shoehorned into the upper part of the old theatre, along with meeting space, where throughout, there is the original tin ceiling. If you’re ever in one of those rooms, it seems very odd indeed. I say the city “did it” because they agreed to the developer’s shoddy plan. Also at the time, they awarded land to the same developer, Horning Brothers, further down on 14th, where they put in a horrible strip mall of crap that was recently redeveloped into nicer condos/retail space.

  • I don’t know what the rents are in the Tivoli but I’d blame the 14th Street malaise on several things:

    -Tivoli has small awkward retail spaces.
    -High crime oooozing out of the 14th and Columbia projects.
    -Black Israelites / pan handling / rowdy youth – not really conductive to alfresco dining or even passing through the area without verbal assault.
    -DC USA is ugly and insular. The ugly visual environment is a major problem.
    -Traffic patterns are horrible. No east bound traffic across 14th on Park and that crazy who knows who has the right of way shit show at 14th and Monroe.
    -Hi traffic volumes on 14th Street don’t make for a pleasant street scape / atmosphere. The area doesn’t feel relaxing but hurried other than the fountain which I think is the best thing about the redevelopment of that entire area.

    However there are no shopping areas in DC that have seen the rebound that Columbia Heights has seen since the 90’s so it’s just a matter of letting it settle down into a new groove.

    • I wouldn’t count on it. This is starting to look like the Van Ness of the future. Look at the 4400 block of Connecticut to see this area in 20 years.

    • Yassss to your comment about the shit show intersection at 14th and Monroe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people scream at me from their cars, telling me I made the turn incorrectly. I don’t care which way the city wants us to make the turn but just give us a sign so everyone does it the same way. FWIW, I think it works better when you make a tight left from EB Monroe to NB 14th, as opposed to trying to turn left through WB Monroe traffic making a left on SB 14th.
      …oh, and the toilet paper goes over, not under.

  • Why couldn’t this have ended up more like the Howard Theater? It has it’s problems, but it attracts ton of people every night and as a result the surrounding area has really flourished.

    • Another poster commented that this ‘theater’ was cut up to create floorplans for a bunch of small retail stores. Howard Theater was gutted and rebuilt from scratch with the entire building dedicated to being an entertainment venue. Which was a gamble, considering other local theaters (Lincoln) have had a lot of financial struggles.

  • I miss the Cinnabon!!! =(

  • I bet a high quality ramen shop could do great business there.

  • Look retail businesses are not a given – anywhere. Target is suffering across the entire country. I live/own a condo in Logan Circle and I can say with some degree of certainty, albeit humility too, that not all of these restaurants that have opened up over the course of the last two years will make it – some of them already have closed. It’s competition, innovation, inspiration, business acumen, and giving people what they want. The demographic discussion is shortsighted/narrow way to ask the question/thoughtfully consider: what business would indeed work in a location/ space?

  • This article is erroneous. Another cell phone store is not coming to the former hair salon space. The coming soon sign was installed by Verizon in the wrong storefront and has been removed.

  • EXPENSIVE RENT pushes out unique opportunities for small businesses and large cooperations take over. This is the main problem in dc. It’s sad to see as a native of this city.

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