Three new businesses are looking to hang a sign in Glover Park (remember to get that sign permit), two have packed up and left, and a whole bunch of buildings remain in limbo awaiting tenants. Home furnishings and décor seem to be a rising trend in the neighborhood as “furniture row” expands (take that Georgetown). Keeping and attracting restaurants still pose challenges, with one stuck in red tape at the moment. Can someone explain the economics behind leaving seven good commercial properties vacant, in some cases for many years?
Laliguras, the Nepali/Indian restaurant that held so much promise back in 2019, closed up for good in November 2022. The extended construction process and then the bad timing of two years of Covid followed by a fire in 2021 deflated their hopes. They tried to supplement the income with an after-hours nightclub but it didn’t quite work. Yet, they still run their original Connecticut Avenue restaurant in case you get that unique Nepali food craving – I’m sure they will deliver. The double-wide 4,000 square foot space at the Calvert Center, nestled between Domino’s and the Post Office, is available for $55/sf (that’s $220,000 to you and me, or half for half the space).
Sweetgreen at 2200 Wisconsin closed in October of last year. Last summer the company, started by Georgetown University students in 2007, undertook a profitability plan by closing stores and cutting its workforce after weakness in revenue, while extending the Outpost delivery model for office buildings. Their IPO opened at $52 to great fanfare a little over a year ago, but has since dropped as low as $8 recently with no sign of profitability on the horizon. Still, they have 11 stores in DC including the Georgetown location and an extensive delivery network, so you can keep buying the salad but maybe not the stock.
Anatolian Art Gallery quickly grabbed the Sweetgreen space, with its impressive wall of windows on the corner, and they plan to open soon. The ground floor of 2200 Wisconsin is a great spot to advertise their handwoven Persian, Oriental and Contemporary rugs. They began selling rugs in 1945 in Van, Turkey. The business complements “furniture row” across the street, which includes Theodore’s, Ligne Roset, Room 22 and the newly opened Saka Home Furnishings. Anatolian Art also will offer rug cleaning and repair.
Binova is coming. Petra, the developer of the 27-unit moderate income senior housing building at 2430 Wisconsin opening soon, is partnering with an Italian designer to fill the ground floor commercial space with an expansive kitchen showroom. Petra often uses Binova of Milan, Italy for kitchens in their DC developments and now they will have the space decked out with up to six complete Binova kitchens for customers to browse. The Scava, the Avola, the Bluna, the Mantis, the Regula, the Ono – now you’ll have the opportunity to see these in person and touch that Italian stone and wood first rather than making major design choices from an online photo. Binova follows Architessa, which opened a tile showroom at the new 2208 Wisconsin Avenue building last year.
Aladdin: You might remember the debacle when Café Romeo’s at 2132 Wisconsin was raided in 2019 for health violations as well as for not-so-disguised marijuana parties (that was no oregano in the pizza advertising). The store has sat vacant since then, but now an enterprising restauranteur has recognized the utter lack of availability of kabobs and gyros in the neighborhood and plans to jump in and offer both! Aladdin House of Kabobs and Gyros has hoisted a vinyl Coming Soon sign, though they are a bit snagged in red tape at the moment. Nabila Kauser and Konstantin Silov, doing business as Kabob and Gyro DC, applied for a Certificate of Occupancy which was rejected by DCRA (now called DOB) last week. The existing C of O is for a 49 seat restaurant, but their application is for no seating, with 25% carry-out and 75% delivery. This constitutes a change in use which requires a new application and review, and considering the MU-27 zoning does not allow this type of fast-food establishment, their application has been rejected. Hopefully they either can re-think their model or get a zoning variance (not likely, as the ANC then will weigh in). Now I’m craving a gyro, so I hope it gets resolved soon…
UP IN THE AIR
Now for the painful part. How can the neighborhood resolve all these persistent vacancies? And can someone please explain to me the economics of paying top dollar and then keeping a property vacant for years? Tax benefits?
2348 Wisconsin Ave
The former Bourbon restaurant building owned by Bill Thomas of Jack Rose Dining Saloon has sat vacant for over 7 years now. He has battled the DC Office of Tax and Revenue to dodge the crushing vacant property tax and eventually submitted plans to convert the building to a single family home over a year ago, but the plans have gone nowhere and the building sits vacant and dilapidated.
2400 Wisconsin Ave
Heritage India vacated the space over 6 years ago and it has sat vacant ever since. It’s a good space for a restaurant but it is large (3800 sf) and expensive. The owner avoids vacant property tax since the building is partially occupied by In Bocca al Lupo and Dumplings and Beyond.
2408 Wisconsin Ave
The building has sat vacant for almost 5 years after Thomas Tsianakas purchased it in 2017 with promising plans to get a restaurant that would be a good fit for the neighborhood after the sports bar Mason Inn threw in the towel. The owner has been hit with punitive vacant property taxes this year which will amount to around $97,000. Hopefully those economics don’t make sense and it will get leased, which is the point of OTR’s crushing tax rate.
2332 Wisconsin Ave
Laliguras withdrew a few months ago and the space at the Calvert Center can be yours for mere $220,000. That’s a lot of dinners and drinks to sell.
2340 Wisconsin Ave
The former site of Social Beast and Town Hall now has sat vacant for 1.5 years. It’s a tough space to rent considering it is so large (5800 sf) but has such a great courtyard. The food hall collective didn’t work, but maybe Covid was to blame. It has been actively marketed continuously by H&R Retail (price undisclosed) but no takers yet.
2134 Wisconsin Ave
Field English Custom Tailors vacated about a year ago (see prior article) and a German developer purchased the building. No plans have been submitted yet, but likely it will be a small mixed-use condo/retail building at some point.
2251 Wisconsin Ave
The former Rite Aid space (over 13,000 sf) below Washington Sports has been vacant for 5 years now after fleeing the CVS competition. No sign of a promising tenant yet. Sigh.