Will Chains Fill 14th Street?

Lauren Parnell Marino / Flickr

A stretch of 14th Street NW.

The 14th Street NW corridor continues its transformation, as work on luxury condo buildings marches on and announcements of restaurant openings stream in. The older businesses that opened along the strip in the aftermath of the 1968 riots are, one-by-one, closing shop (and getting millions of dollars in exchange for their buildings, if they own them). Some newer businesses are moving, too.

Development comes in waves, from pawn shops to fancier locally-owned businesses, and eventually, to chain retailers. That’s according to a few real estate experts interviewed by The New York Times, who say that 14th Street NW could eventually see its small, albiet upscale businesses, replaced by national chains and junior-sized box stores.

People move into gentrifying neighborhoods partially because they see how it could change, but also because of the unique character of such places. If  national chains come, will a neighborhood lose its desirability among such newcomers? From the Times piece:

One [resident], Tim Christensen, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1989 and is president of the Logan Circle Community Association, wondered about the cost.

“I’ve said before that when the last pawnshop and the last storefront deli leaves 14th Street, I will leave,” he said. “It’s that mixture of the gritty and the upscale that gives the neighborhood a unique character. If one day it’s all gone, I think we will feel a sense of loss.”

Gentrification does indeed come in waves. Some of the first businesses that contribute to the revitalization of a neighborhood can get priced out when turnover is complete. This is especially true for business owners who lease space and have no building to sell; they can become victims of the success they helped to create.

  • http://twitter.com/monkeyrotica monkeyrotica

    Chains will come and new residents will come attracted by those chains. Then the small indie stores will move further out where the rent is cheaper and the neighborhood a little less upscale, and the process starts all over again. It’s what makes living in a city interesting: constant change. Georgetown was once a bluecollar African American community. Now it’s a dull, expensive little tourist trap. Worse things can happen to 14th Street.

  • http://twitter.com/SeanGNet Sean Gallagher

    was driving down florida a few weeks back and as i went through the 12th-16th street area of FL and saw how crowded it was and how commercial it’s getting i felt thankful that i live over on 3rd.’ reading this i am even more thankful.

  • http://twitter.com/SeanGNet Sean Gallagher

    i should say it was U st. same thing.

  • Vze3dnta

    I’ve lived off 14th Street for eleven years, and I think the NYT article got it right. Whole Foods started the wave, and the transformation of the neighborhood has been remarkable so far.  I have given up on preserving and remnants of funkiness, but it’s the price of progress.  I just hope it doesn’t end up looking like the monstrosity that was created in Columbia Heights, which looks like a suburban mall.  

  • RoyBarDC

    Personally I don’t think gritty is a requirement for an interesting place to live. I have been in the Logan Circle community since 1991 and I won’t shed a tear when the last pawn shop and storefront deli leaves (take the Fishmarket, please.) While there will inevitably be some chain retail additions as part of all the new retail space coming on the market, there are still plenty of smaller buildings that will not be suitable to those sorts of businesses that can continue to provide a venue for smaller retails operations. Of course, the increasing rental rates may become more challenging for businesses with smaller margins but we live in a free market economy and unless the district government wants to reduce property taxes for landlords that rent to local, non-liquor related businesses, there is not much to be done other than patronize the businesses you want to survive. And there are other parts of the city 
    that are currently underserved that would welcome new retail operations. That is all part of constant evolution of the city. I think the most important thing is to maintain a presence of the arts in the neighborhood and given the strength of the Studio Theater, the renovations of the Source and the Howard theaters and the presence of many small music venues, the unique character of the neighborhood will likely persist for some time. I plan to enjoy it.

  • That Guy

    Naming it “Malcolm X Park” would be a great way to lower property values. Maybe the neighborhood will become more affordable that way and stop evil gentrification?

  • Navajo

    What a nice photo. What a great building. Is there anyone measuring the effects of such a nice building? Many will look at it and see it as better torn down, with a Target there.