We like reading Raw Fisher, Marc Fisher’s regular musings on DC area issues appearing in the Washington Post. Yesterday he penned a piece on 7th Street NW, our neighborhood’s Main Street, that appeared in print in WaPo’s Metro section and on line – it also caught our eye. Sketching out vignettes along our Main Street as examples, Fisher chronicles a story told a thousand times over, that of the birth and the death of businesses – the thawing and the freezing of commerce in a capitalist, entrepreneurial society during a recessionary period. What’s the strength that will carry us through? Foot traffic. But we still have a few questions to ask.
If we had a dollar every time we: a) saw someone walking up 7th Street with a colorful map open pointing ahead of them while they walk, b) heard the jingle of our cell phone with a friend on the other end of the line saying they were coming downtown on Saturday night and would we be around or c) saw office workers toting take out sacks of food, we’d surely be buying that ski house in Aspen. Just like Georgetown, pedestrians will always ply our main thoroughfare in numbers for a variety of reasons – the proximity to the National Mall, Verizon Center, museums, restaurants, Chinatown arch and Asian restaurants and public transit – that drive workers, residents and tourists onto the streets day and night. Even in a recession, telling is the fact that many friends have the Penn Quarter on their short list of places to go in DC.
It has been a team effort. Organized non-governmental community involvement (big round of applause to the DNA, PQNA and the Downtown BID) and additional interested stakeholders needed to get involved to keep downtown progress centered and on track for residents, businesses, workers and tourists. A few questions continue to nag us after reading Fisher’s piece…
- Will 7th Street NW be the only viable commercial corridor in our area or will F Street NW spark to life? Are there other secondary corridors worth focusing on?
- Is it in the public interest to subsidize local, independent, longstanding small-medium businesses so they can transition to a more profitable business model when market forces push rents beyond affordability?
- Can our area support a balance of retail sectors or must it focus on specific specialties such as restaurants and entertainment? (For the good folks at Apple Computer…if you can’t make the Georgetown store work due to permitting issues, lease it out as is and come to our neck of the woods. Plenty of spots available.)
With stores like Circuit City, Linens ‘n Things and Mervyn’s imploding into liquidation, asking for more retail to open may be like asking for a drink during Prohibition. But we know there are clever entrepreneurs out there who can carve a business out of any economy…CNBC’s Jim Cramer says there’s always a bull market somewhere and we tend to agree. We don’t have the final answers but do hope the economists, urban planners and Councilmembers in the Wilson Building continue to stay focused on encouraging a walkable, livable, shoppable urban downtown core. As stakeholders with equity in the game, many of us residents think about that perspective regularly.