Ballpark’s Early Birds Patiently Waiting For Retail and Restaurants

by Rebecca Cooper

Justin’s Cafe

It seemed like a smart move. The city government had just signed a deal to bring the Nationals to DC and build a state-of-the-art stadium in Southeast that would surely be surrounded by a hot new neighborhood full of hotels, bars and restaurants. Who wouldn’t want to get in on that?

David Wissman was one of those that jumped at the chance; he bought a unit at Capitol Hill Tower in 2006, shortly after the city inked the deal with the Nationals. He was attracted to the project’s proximity to his new office — he works for the Department of Transportation — and to the prospect of the fun, new neighborhood springing up.

However, five years later, Wissman is still looking hungrily at the barren spaces around his building. “I thought the street going to the stadium was going to be filled with restaurants by now,” he lamented.

Wissman is not alone. Many of those who bought early on have watched as existing retail spaces have remained empty since they purchased. It’s been a long few years, and residents have had to get creative — ordering delivery food early from Capitol Hill that can take upwards of an hour to arrive, or making sure to have a “robust home food operation,” as one of the people UrbanTurf interviewed put it.

Lot 38

Adam Froemming works for the Nationals, and lived in the neighborhood from 2008 until this past May. His commute to work was a breeze, but he and his wife were still walking to Barracks Row three or four nights a week.

“8th Street is only seven blocks away. We kind of viewed it as an extension of the same neighborhood,” Froemming said. But he understood that new home owners were probably eager to create a neighborhood identity of their own, and he welcomed the arrival of Justin’s Cafe, a local bar and grill at 1025 First St. SE, when it opened in April 2010 and became the first sit-down spot in the area.

“It was frustrating as a resident to see people everywhere, but not see an entrepreneur, an investor, or a restaurant chain willing to come into the neighborhood,” Froemming said.

Justin’s was the first, and in the past several months there have been other glimmers of retail/restaurant hope. Several eateries have supposedly committed to opening in the new Boilermaker Shops just east of the baseball stadium. A brand new espresso bar, Lot 38, is currently under construction and aiming for a December opening.

And there is clearly a need for more restaurants, coffeeshops and bars. Justin’s owner Justin Ross said business has exceeded his expectations — but then again, it’s hard not to be busy when you’re the only bar around. On a recent weekday afternoon, there were more than a dozen people there.

“The reason I opened up here is that I’m from DC, and I saw what the Verizon Center did to Chinatown,” he said. (Ross has since moved to the neighborhood.)

Boilermaker Shops

Still, one restaurant amid scores of empty retail space does not a scene make. “Probably a half dozen restaurants slash bars could move in overnight, and I’d still feel like we’d need more,” says Ben Fischer, who moved to the neighborhood in the summer of 2010.

And that growth, while universally welcomed among residents, would mean competition for Justin’s, which hasn’t had to work too hard to corner the market. “I mean, it’s not a bad bar; I’ve had a good beer there before,” Fischer said. “But if it was on Barrack’s Row, I wouldn’t even know it was there.”

But Ross isn’t too worried about the competition that will inevitably move in.

“I think anything that brings people to the neighborhood is going to be good for business,” he says. “Right now, we have people come in all the time. Hopefully they’ll remember that we were here first.”

And until the doors of those other places open — there are seven restaurants predicting openings at various points in 2012 — locals aren’t holding their breath. “You don’t want to be a pessimist, but for three years they’ve been saying [the Boilermaker Shops] are going to happen,” says Froemming, trailing off. “I’ll be glad when they open the doors. It’s certainly been a long time coming.”

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ballparks_early_birds_still_waiting_for_retail_and_restaurants/4612


  1. jag said at 11:49 am on Friday November 18, 2011:

    Sucks for the buyers down there. There was a lot of hype built into the prices to start with, which seemed absurd to me at the time and now it must be pretty painfully for anyone who bought a few years ago. Hope they’re Nats fans and enjoy easy access to the games, at least!

  1. Mike said at 2:34 pm on Friday November 18, 2011:

    The recession hit at just the wrong time.  However, it’s turning, and the Boilermaker shops and Harris Teeter will make a big difference.  This time next year momentum will build.  I’d like to see a row of bars on Half Street going into the park (more than just the outside ones that are there now).

  1. MP said at 4:11 pm on Friday November 18, 2011:

    Supposedly Gordon Biersch is going in the bottom of one of the office buildings over there.


  1. Anon said at 6:01 pm on Friday November 18, 2011:

    Justin better step up his game. Once the big league operators arrive people will forget his joint in a heartbeat. The fact that he was there first will mean nothing to 90% of his local patrons. Just a fact of life. Look at 8th street SE. Some places are packed regularly. Others are nearly empty.

  1. Piere said at 1:23 pm on Sunday November 20, 2011:

    Well, next summer/Fall there are so many business that are projected to open. The canal Park (the three acre) great park, The boiler maker which several restaurants, Gorden Biersch at 1st and M street SE, the foundry loft by the water is already leased 43 percent and will open next month for move in. I think this will attract so many people and business. I own a condo at the Velocity and I am sure the value of my property will appreciate the next 5 years.
    There are also two high rise apartments that will start construction any time soon. Harris Teeter will open in 2013 and there is a potential whole foods coming to 8 and M street SE.

  1. xmal said at 1:25 am on Tuesday November 22, 2011:

    Are many of the old buildings in the neighborhood still standing, or is it all new construction over there? Is it possible that high rents in the new buildings are keeping new businesses from opening up?

  1. GH said at 1:12 pm on Tuesday November 22, 2011:

    @Piere Don’t hold your breath on Whole Foods. That deal fell apart a long time ago. http://wapo.st/j6kM9M

  1. Piere said at 2:48 pm on Tuesday November 22, 2011:

    @GH That was on New Jersey avenue on the William C. Smith new apartment. What I was talking about is the car barn on M and 8th SE. http://www.madisonmarquette.com/portfolio/property/property:174

  1. Nomo said at 8:44 pm on Friday November 25, 2011:

    The economy is not “turning” in any way except maybe for the worse. There is no sign of growth and unemployment will only go up especially in January when seasonal jobs end. However, I know that won’t affect this area and those places really should be here by next Spring.  That’s good but there is only the Nationals and their stadium to thank for that.  It wouldn’t happen in almost any other neighborhood or any other town for that matter nowadays.

  1. Kelsey Thompson said at 5:54 pm on Tuesday November 29, 2011:

    I’m disappointed to hear there’s still a stigma that the ballpark doesn’t have enough to offer in the surrounding area.  There’s tons of stuff coming in by the Nat’s stadium, not just ‘supposedly’ as it states above. Maybe you should check your sources or do some research before assuming something?

    For clarification, read this instead:

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