Friday, November 14, 2008

Columbia Heights hurting Mount Pleasant?

I saw this today in the Post and was surprised - there's an article about Mount Pleasant's struggling commercial strip. I read it and thought "what? It's struggling?" The gist of the article, by Paul Schwartzman, is that Mt. Pleasant Street is down recently, thanks in part to the bad economy, DCUSA and other development in Columbia Heights. But I don't really think it's down. In the 8 years or so I've been going there, it seems like there's about the same number of businesses. He talks about vacant storefronts, but when I was up there on Sunday getting some breakfast at Dos Gringo's, I didn't notice any.

As evidence, he cites the palm reader, laundromat, computer center and two food markets as leaving. To me, a palm reader and computer centers really aren't that viable as businesses. The palm reader is quirky, but it's not like I go around looking to get my palms read. Maybe I have a different viewpoint than people who would go to a palm reader, but that's hardly something I'd miss. And what's a computer center? I don't know. Plus I can think of two other laundromats on that street, and as he notes later in the article, another is opening in January.

As for the mom and pop groceries, a local homeowner has an interesting viewpoint:
Sean Flynn, 38, a neighborhood homeowner who teaches law at American University, said the strip has long been dominated by "two kinds of establishments -- laundromats and mom-and-pop groceries that sell to" Latinos.

"I love those things, but I don't need 10 of them," he said. "We've always wanted more diversity in the retail. So, frankly, when some businesses close, we're happy."
Flynn goes on to say that he'd like a "'really cool, vibey restaurant/bar' or a market that sells cheese, meats and wine." But you could argue that Mt. Pleasant already has the former in a few places, like Tonic, Marx Cafe, Radius, The Raven, etc. Another local wishes there were a McDonald's because "it provides a social structure. It's a way to bring people together." What?

Does that mean I support the gentrification of Mt. Pleasant? Of course not. I like its quirky variety, from coffee and breakfast spots like Dos Gringos to kooky dollar stores to dive bars (The Raven) and regular bar/restaurants (Tonic). There's El West, the Latino-focused western store, Asian food, Latin American food, pizza, hardware, and a great bakery (Heller's). I think it's doing well. Is it just me?

Photo by Mike McCaffrey, used under Creative Commons.


  1. Yeah that McDonald's on 18th and Columbia has really brought people together. Wait did I say bring people together? I meant a place for drunk people and the like fumbling for a quarter to use the bathroom.

  2. Not to nitpick, but just because you didn't not any hardly means that its not a problem. I'm totally with you, there is NO need at all for doom and gloom. What's to notice though is how long these places (many are very big/prime spaces) have been empty. To me, this points out some issues more fundamental than those raised in the article.

    Thanks for the good post though - much better than some of the posts/comments I've read elsewhere on the matter (you went through a whole post about MtP St. without mentioning a) why buying in petworth is sooo much better b) disparaging every restaurant on the street because of a bad veggie burger you had once c) panicking about the collapse of MtP d) making sweeping generalizations about some form of yuppie/hipster/central american you once saw in MtP )

  3. I live in an love Mt. Pleasant. While I would not say that it dying, I am concerned by the neighborhood alliance (run by a domineering woman that no longer even lives in the area) that hoists unreasonable requests on local business, lest they complained about to the ANC or another DC gov't body.

  4. Just blocks apart, there is no reason why Mt.Pleasant and Columbia Heights are not better connected. They complement each other and are part of the same "urban" experience for residents and visitors of the new development in the core of the city. DC Government lacked long-range planning and failed to invest in the connecting corridors of Park Road and Irving Street. Similary, it has failed to bring any improvements to the 10 blocks of small and local businesses on 14th street, north of the Tivoli.

  5. If both communities are so close and their business complement each other, why not rename the Metro station: "Columbia Heights/Mt.Pleasant"

  6. Please please do not rename the metro stop. I like simple and clean stop names, not U Street/Cardozo/African American Civil War Memorial or Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter.


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