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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Moratoriums, & Shaping a Commercial Corridor

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The Washington City Paper's Jessica Sidman uses the recent efforts to implement a liquor license moratorium on U Street NW to more broadly examine moratoriums and the impacts they have, or might have, in the District. It's an interesting read, and one that I think is useful to consider as we ponder the possibility of such a moratorium on H Street (none is currently on the table, but the issue comes up every so often). One of the key arguments that opponents of such a moratorium make in the article is that you can wind up in a situation where a street can become dominated by more corporate (or at least big money) operations because the liquor licenses within a moratorium zone become extremely valuable. This could then price out smaller mom and pop style businesses that may not have access to a lot of capital. According to moratorium opponents, the other type of business willing to invest in these high price licenses is a "turn and burn" bar, i.e. an establishment with a strong focus on high volume alcohol sales. Obviously, that would have the effect of either keeping licenses prices high, or driving them further up. Either way, it would make it extremely difficult for a food focused restaurant (not exactly known for high profit margins) to afford a liquor license. Without the liquor license, it can be hard for a restaurant to make the rent. The article touches on multiple issues raised by the moratorium efforts (including the idea of the magically appearing retail). I think there's quite a bit to discuss on this one. What are your feelings about a moratorium on H Street? And more generally, where would you like to see H Street headed in the next five years? What steps should we take to get there?

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know I'll catch hell for calling out Wicker Park in Chicago (feel free to enter your equivalent area, it's just what I'm familiar with), but it's the general direction I'd like to see H St NE head in. You can go to that area of Chicago at any time of the day, any day of the week, and there's stuff to do. It's a great mix of higher and lower end retail (the first Buffalo Exchange I ever found) as well as decent restaurants and bars - some corporate most small business.

Michael said...

I would be very vocal in opposition to any moratorium on H Street. Sure, I live around the corner on I Street and have to deal with the Thursday through Saturday night dearth in parking, but that's part of the deal. The thing about liquor licenses is that they allow low-cost/high-quality restaurants to open, which is what I love most about H Street. Think about H & Pizza, Dangerously Delicious, Taylor's, Big Board, Cusbah etc. The many great food spots on the strip all either serve alcohol or have bars in the space. The high margins from alcohol help offset the low margins of food, especially higher quality food.

Sure, I'll be as happy as anyone to see more retail, but I don't see a negative correlation. As the opponents argued in the WCP article, a healthy bar and restaurant market serve to make the street safer and attract retailers. I can't wait for our immanent explosion of grocery store/market options.

4th and G said...

I'm opposed to a moratorium until that time when I own a liquor license on H Street. Then I will be all for a moratorium.

Anonymous said...

I'm against a moratorium, as it is completely arbitrary (what number is the right number of liquor licenses?).

I am, however, in favor of fair local public input into the kind of establishments that get opened. One thing that might help is a greater variety of liquor license types, such as different licenses by size. The current system is a rather blunt instrument as right now it's just either tavern or bar. I don't mind a lot of establishments serving liquor, but I would want to limit the number of conglomerate high-volume college spring-break kinds of places.

Anonymous said...

A moratorium hasn't helped bring high quality and lasting retail to Adams Morgan and while U street has some retail I see a lot of small boutiques closing after a few years of business. Retail will come but it can't be forced.

Mary Anne Berry said...

If and when we do see a move to impose such a mortatorium, it will almost certainly be bankrolled by current holders of liquor-licenses.

pat said...

Given where H Street started from, I think the city planning board should be happy things are moving.

The city should encourage better retail at the old Hechingers mall or try and get retail going on Benning rd or blandensburg.



Anonymous said...

I'm in general agreement with the WCP article, especially in a place like U St. which already has a limit on bar/restaurant frontage. But what no one seems to have brought up is, well, show of hands, who shops for most of their stuff in a store anymore? I like to shop in stores...try stuff on, touch it, try it out before buying...and I still do much of my non-grocery shopping online. It's just more convenient and often cheaper.

This little phenomenon is not limited to DC or cities. My hometown hosts the local mall and numerous strip malls and other retail properties. Sure, national retailers are established and tend to stick around. They have the revenue to do that, and can share revenue between online operations and the brick-and-mortars. But mom-and-pop shops tend to come and go. Except for a select few businesses. Salons tend to establish themselves and stick around. Restaurants/bars - both chains and well-run independent shops, so long as they're sit-down and have a liquor license - do well. That's about it. Why? You can't order a haircut or restaurant meal or a couple of margaritas online.

So, you want diversified retail? You have to patronize it. National brands *might* take up a few storefronts here and there in spite of the propensity for people to shop online. Small boutiques? Not going to make it if you buy all your shoes/clothes/furniture/housewares/etc. online.

Anonymous said...

Is anything happening over at the Hechinger's mall. I saw a big whitewashed signboard going up on the huge empty space next to Ross' yesterday?

inked said...

In terms of retail and other development, I was thinking specifics. I think most people would agree that encouraging retail is a good thing, but HOW should we encourage retail?

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree w/ 11:26. I buy 80% of my day-to-day crap online. The only useful retail I can think of would be an Ace-like hardware store.

-cb

Anonymous said...

11:26 here again. Inked, that's the kicker. The mall/national chain/big box store "revolution" really undermined small stores, and now online shopping is undermining all brick & mortar stores for things you can get online. National retailers can still support some B&M stores because, even if someone comes into the B&M store and then buys from the online store, the profit still goes to the same company. But they tend to have fewer & larger stores than what most people want in urban neighborhoods.

We all say we want a shoe store, or a housewares store, or whatever, but then we continue to buy things online. Honestly, I think the only way is to flood existing B&M stores that you'd like to see more of. Just an example, if Hill's Kitchen was overwhelmed with demand from people in neighborhoods where they don't have a housewares store, then a smart business person would see the opportunity. But if you think about the effort to go to Eastern Market and the price you'll pay there, and decide to just buy from Amazon, then it looks like demand for the B&M store of that type is met and there's no excess demand to turn into a successful business.

There might be some room for government support here. The government could subsidize some of the risk that small business owners incur in opening in an expensive market (maybe with income-contingent payment, forgivable small business loans), but that's messy because it's hard to tell how well a business will be operated, and even the best idea will fail if poorly executed.

inked said...

2:07,
I'm not sure how typical your experience is for people around here. I know that I actually do very little shopping online. Virtually everything I buy comes from a brick & mortar store. I always buy shoes and clothing in stores. Books and music are the things I suspect people buy online the most frequently. It would be interesting to know more about how people round here shop.

killakillum said...

what retail would i like to see? well, i personally love the boutiques on U street. i would love some decent thrift or consignment shops (and we all could contribute here), book stores, head shops, posters and local art, candle/incense gift and houseware stuff, at the same time i could see an american apparel or some equivalent doing well on the main street but i wouldn't want it to turn into chinatown/verizon center! there are two scenes i can see retail fitting into... more cafes + shops with useful/crafty/boutique-y things for the day; and retail that can play music outside like H&Pizza and accommodate (and make money off) the late night/wknd crowd.

Anonymous said...

Neighbor here. My husband and I both have jobs, and we have two kids. If I have free time, shopping isn't how I'd like to spend it. I do ALL shopping online - shoes, clothes, books - everything.

If we're being totally honest, I don't think I'd shop at a local, boutique type clothing shop. I know exactly what size I am at all the national retailers, and I don't think I'd take the time to stop in at a little local place - as much as I'd want to.

Anonymous said...

Traditional retail is dead. There are two types of neighborhood retail that will survive: 1). services that can not (yet) be obtained online such as hair cutting, dentistry, medical care, etc, and 2) experiences such as going out with friends to catch a live musical act or have dinner.

Incense, posters, housewares, clothing, books and perhaps drug paraphernalia, will all be purchased online and delivered by private delivery services (I.e. FedEx, ups).

inked said...

9:17,
There are plenty of local places to get your hair cut. You can get medical treatment at220 L St NE.