If You Build a Coffee Shop, Will the Gentrifying Hipsters Come?

by Mark Wellborn


DC’s big retail news of the week was the opening of Big Chair Coffee ‘N Grill, widely reported to be the first bona fide coffee shop in Anacostia. But is its arrival a sign that the neighborhood is now set for bigger and better things?

Well, it would not be the first time that a caffeine outpost was credited with spurring the trendiness of a DC neighborhood. Big Bear Cafe has done a lot to bolster the reputation of Bloomingdale, and Busboys and Poets on the ground floor of CityVista in Mount Vernon Triangle is one of the main things drawing people to the neighborhood centered around 5th and K Street.

Also, following in the footsteps of renamed neighborhoods like the H Street Corridor and NoMa, much of the area east of the Anacostia River has been rechristened River East, a name that sounds like it was created by a band of industrious real estate agents.

However, every DC neighborhood that has undergone a change for the better has needed an influx of “pioneers” to help kick start change. The H Street Corridor’s transformation did not happen overnight. Rather, a critical mass of new residents (not to mention a popular bar or two) was needed in order to put it on most people’s radar. In a post on DCist about Big Chair Coffee’s grand opening, the author overheard a customer explaining that developers won’t build out River East “until the white hipsters move in.”

Perhaps this is the sad-but-true reality. What do you think? Voice your opinion in the comments section below.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/if_you_build_a_coffee_shop_will_the_gentrifying_hipsters_come/1674


  1. anacostia_res said at 1:30 pm on Wednesday January 13, 2010:

    i am hoping that good things are on the way. the arrival of big chair is “big” step for the neighborhood, and I am hoping that some tasteful development will follow.

  1. SamJams said at 2:36 pm on Wednesday January 13, 2010:

    Development would be a nice by-product of the arrival of Big Chair, but I really hope that this is just the beginning of more resturants, bars and retail coming to Anacostia.

  1. Tom A. said at 3:30 pm on Wednesday January 13, 2010:

    Big Bear Cafe has only been open about 2 years.  I don’t think it created any wave of hipsters moving to the area.  Nor will this coffee shop.

  1. DB Cromwell said at 9:08 am on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    Coffee shops are inviting for young white folks who are in grad programs or simply unemployed with a laptop or the young couples who bring their children with a belief that kids would also enjoy hanging out in a coffee shop on a sunny Saturday morning. On the contrary to Tom A., I’ve noticed markets like Timor, LeDroit Market, and Windows pop up. Residents can also proudly proclaim that a junior farmer’s market is held once a week in front of Big Bear Cafe. Fixed gear bikes buzz through the neighborhood traffic with messenger bags (aka fakengers like myself). Some view it as an avalanche effect. Whether you agree with the development of Bloomingdale or not, can a similar trend transpire in Anacostia? Personally I was born an optimist due to my mother’s generosity of extensively breastfeeding until I entered jr high. Anacostia reminds me of Williamsburg in NY. My theory is that hipsters have to enter the less desirable neighborhoods first, then the coffeeshops will open, which will attract wannabe hipsters with stable salaries. If any developer would like to speed up the development process, I would suggest hiring my company that employs white undergrads who are dropped off in sketchy neighborhoods to jog; thus creating an illusion of safe atmosphere for potential white buyers. Let’s get the development in Anacostia perculating.

    Good title to the article. Now only if Kevin Costner would come out of the dark alleys as I’m typing this outrageously long comment in a coffee shop.

  1. DG-rad said at 10:31 am on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    “this section of Anacostia is already being rechristened River East”

    Bzzt. Wrong. You have it flipped.

    River East describes the whole area of DC east of the Anacostia River.  Wards 7 and 8.  Anacostia is only a small neighborhood in River East.  It is Not the name of the entire area.

  1. anacostia_res said at 10:45 am on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    This section is part of River East. That is what the article is saying.

  1. DG-rad said at 10:49 am on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    I wish that’s what the article were saying.  but the fact of the matter is that this is the Only section of Anacostia. Anacostia doesn’t have sections.  River East has sections.

  1. Duh said at 12:33 pm on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    Really tired of folks making that mistake. Anacostia describes a specific neighborhood in D.C., just like Columbia Heights or Logan Circle or Georgetown. It is NOT the entire part of southeast east of the Anacostia, and “River East” is NOT a ‘section’ in Anacostia…

  1. Mark said at 12:46 pm on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    Apologies, duh and DG-rad. You are correct. Article has been revised to reflect your comments.

    Mark W.

  1. Janson's Frestelse said at 1:53 pm on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    Though it might often seem like it, gentrification is not about race, it’s about income, and it happens when a cohort of people with higher incomes are squeezed out of their own historically appropriate neighborhoods and start to encroach on neighborhoods most recently priced for lower incomes. The strange thing is that the mechanism is probably an increase in property taxes (triggered by higher market values for real estate). Since DC property taxes are based on a three year average value, it takes a good bit for those gentrifying forces to really kick in (but those developers could really give it a shove if they want, by randomly paying high prices for few crappy houses). So it’s going to be a while before affluent Hispanics (race (Latino is ethnicity)), Blacks and Whites start displacing lower earning people in Anacostia. (Unless the market is entirely rentals, in which case all of the above is garbage).

  1. Frederick said at 5:29 pm on Thursday January 14, 2010:

    Big Chair coffee shop is an important beachhead in this area, which has been under-served forever.  While in itself it isn’t the biggest deal, what it will do is spark the meaningful series of conversations that will be necessary to activate the tipping point in this area (Conversations like this one!)...I think, relatively soon, we will look back and see this huge tract of land, only 10 minutes from downtown DC, as the one of the single, most undervalued deals left near this great city.

  1. Simon Landau said at 6:07 pm on Friday January 15, 2010:

    Thought-provoking article, as there are definitely some interesting aspects of this coffee shop being thrown down in the middle of Anacostia.  We will have to wait and see as to whether or not this a sign of things to come, and 2010 should provide us with a lot of answers.

  1. Que said at 8:58 pm on Friday January 15, 2010:

    @ Janson’s Frestelse

    There is no such thing as a Hispanic race; your wrong the race your speak of are Mesitzos or Amerindian depending on the background of the individual

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