Ward 4’s Commercial Sector Still Waiting for Gentrification to Bear Fruit

Like most urban areas, Washington, D.C. has seen its fair share of development over the past few years. But the extent to which the development has penetrated varies greatly from quadrant-to-quadrant and ward-to-ward. While the housing and commercial markets in southeast and northwest have benefited tremendously from the bearings of gentrification, the northeast quadrant has not fared so well. Similarly, at the ward level, northwest’s ward 1, where the lively Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights neighborhoods can be found, has seen a tremendous amount of growth in the housing and commercial sectors. Ward 4, on the other hand, experienced a significant spike in housing development prior to the mortgage crisis, but business development remains at a stand still.

An apparent growth in ward 4’s housing market that has yet to lend itself to significant commercial growth has left local business owners scratching their heads in confusion. DeQuerne Paulemon, who owns One-Hour Dry Cleaning on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Rittenhouse Street, suspects that the new home and condo owners in the neighborhood might be patronizing their former neighborhood businesses. “I have seen no growth, no more profits than before, maybe they’re spending in their old neighborhoods, said Paulemon. “It was actually better at one time – it’s not what it used to be.”

Charles Aneke’s optometry office at Georgia Avenue and Ingram Street opened five years ago and Emanuel Aneke, his optometry assistant, insists that business is okay but that it has definitely been the same for the past five years. “We moved here from Howard University, same clients and some new, but no significant changes, “said Aneke.

The newly established and welcomed Meridian restaurant, which sits on side of the very busy Georgia Avenue & Missouri Road intersection, opened its doors to ward 4’s residents on January 25. While the owner, Rodney English, is pleased with the response and attention the restaurant has received from the neighborhood, he expected there to be a little more foot traffic when he started making plans to establish the restaurant four years ago. “I thought there would be more progress. When you open a restaurant, you’re looking for critical mass,” said English. When I look outside, I see the same things I saw four years ago.”

English makes a valid point. The Georgia avenue stretch in Ward 4, which stretches from the top of Petworth to just a few blocks passed Walter Reed, has seen minimal business development. There are still a number of vacant buildings, and the liquors stores, take-out food restaurants, nail shops, hair salons and beauty supply stores still have a very strong presence.

On the other hand, Delia Lopez, who owns the DC Quality Upholstery Services and Furniture Store, says she has to relocate because her landlord is selling the property. Delia admits that her business has seen some growth since she started three years ago, but is troubled that she cannot find another location on Georgia Avenue that she can afford to rent. “I may have to work from my home, it’s too expensive now to find another place on Georgia avenue,” said Lopez. “I think I have established good relationships with my clients so hopefully they will continue to do business with me.”

Perhaps there’s a reason for ward 4’s business owners to weather the storm. Rents are climbing for commercial properties at a time when mortgage values are falling. The promised redevelopment of the Georgia avenue strip could very well be on the horizon.

In the meantime, Meridian Restaurant owner Rodney English remains optimistic. “I’m being told I’m a pioneer in the movement, so we’ll see,” said English.