Recap of Retail Mix Forum and Thoughts on a Moratorium

Last night, I attended ANC 6B’s Special Committee on Retail Mix forum to discuss whether a liquor license moratorium is appropriate for Barracks Row. Xavier Cevera, owner of Molly Malone’s, Lola’s and the Chesapeake Room, was the only Barracks Row restaurant owner that attended and was thus the only panelist for the first half of the meeting (Mr. Cevera also plans to open Pacifico, one of new liquor licenses being protested by ANC 6B). Two retailers – Kathleen Clayton, owner of Labyrinth Games & Puzzles on Pennsylvania Ave. SE, and Manuel Cortez, owner of Groovy DC Cards & Gifts on Barracks Row – shared their thoughts on a second panel. Here are a few of the key points made by the panelists:

  • In general, they did not support a liquor license moratorium on Barracks Row. Noise and safety do not seem to be major issues.
  • Parking is a major problem. Potential solutions discussed included encouraging more customers to use the parking lot under the freeway, providing a trolley to take customers from the freeway lot to the 400 and 500 blocks of 8th Street SE, and providing incentives for restaurant employees to park in the freeway lot.
  • Mr. Cevera said that Barracks Row is a “different animal” from the Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle neighborhoods. He continues to open restaurants on the row because it serves an “older, more mature, more adult crowd.”
  • While they would like to see more retail on Barracks Row, panelists said that the rent levels, building size/space and a lack of foot traffic beyond the 500 block of the row are obstacles to retail on the row.
  • Landlords seek out restaurants because restaurant owners can pay higher rents than retailers. Tax credits or other incentives for retail could help “level the playing field.”
  • Ms. Clayton said that her research determined that her business could not be successful on the 700 block of 8th Street SE due to a lack of foot traffic.
  • Key Hill organizations – Barracks Row Main Street, CHAMPs, the BID – need to work together to improve advertising and create a sense that Capitol Hill is a destination. More signage that encourages people to visit retail and restaurants on various blocks would be helpful. 

Overall, it was great to hear the perspectives of the panelists. I exited the event even more convinced that a liquor license moratorium is not the appropriate solution for Barracks Row. The obstacles to more retail on Barracks Row – the higher rents that restaurant owners can pay, the size of the space available, limited parking and the lack of foot traffic necessary to make retail successful – would not be addressed by a moratorium. Instead, a moratorium could halt the substantial progress we’ve seen on Barracks Row. A better solution is for ANC 6B to work with Barracks Row businesses and residents to address concerns about noise, crime and parking and to encourage the city to consider tax incentives that level the playing field for retail. 

What do you think?

For those of you who haven’t been following this issue, I’ll post some background information shortly.

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