Neighborhood businesses struggle, close in economic downturn
By Rocio Gonzalez
Capitol Hill, the largest historic residential neighborhood in Washington, D.C., has many things to offer, but the economy is forcing some Hill business owners to fold.
Barracks Row, also known as 8th Street, was the first commercial center in the District of Columbia, according to BarracksRow.org, the Barracks Row Main Street Web site. Here, Washingtonians will find a wide variety of businesses, ranging from national restaurant chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts to a neighborhood hair salon.
Among these businesses is Capitol Hill Bikes, which is being forced to close its doors after a nine-year presence in Capitol Hill.
On a typical day at the shop, there might be some discussions between knowledgeable people about bike building, while a customer decides to buy an extra bike lock as a way of saying “thank you” to the store that has catered to his cycling needs over the years.
“There used to be a store before Capitol Hill Bikes called Metropolis Bikes, and we still have customers coming in that bought their bike at Metropolis Bikes,” said the shop’s service manager, known affectionately to the clientele as “Toast.”
The store is currently only using its service center; the owners have a lot of space but not much to do with it.
“We used to have high-end road bikes also, so we had a fixed studio upstairs … and then people stopped looking for those nice high-end bikes,” said the service manager. “So then we had all this extra space that we were paying for that we weren’t using upstairs.”
The problem is, he explained, that the landlord will not let Capitol Hill Bikes keep a single locale — they currently occupy numbers 405 and 409 on 8th Street — and they cannot afford to keep all the space they do not need.
“We need to close down this location and move somewhere else,” said the manager. He does not know where the store will end up next, but the move-out date is the end of December.
Capitol Hill Bikes is not the only business struggling.
Another popular area of the Capitol Hill neighborhood is Eastern Market, which brings life to the neighborhood over the weekends, attracting tourists and District residents. Here, vendors sell produce and meat in booths and at outdoor farmers’ stands, and over the weekend it becomes the site of an outdoor market.
Across the street, Capitol Hill Books has been in business since 1990, yet according to the store’s owner, Jim Toole, high property taxes make it very hard to stay in business. Toole, who has a master’s degree from American University, has owned the bookstore since 1994, after he retired from the Navy.
Toole has certainly done his best in cramming books into the limited space: right now, the bookstore houses 20,132 books.
“In order to meet the requirements for two rentals — the upstairs and the downstairs — I’ve tried to go and put a book into every nook and cranny I can,” said Toole.
The owner is uncertain about how much longer the bookstore will be in business.
Toole said in addition to the impact of the economic downturn, he was dealt a “double whammy” when property taxes in the neighborhood increased and the clean-up from the Eastern Market fire restricted access to his store.
He said he has to sell 3,000 books a year “just to satisfy the city.”
Toole thinks the store’s future is limited, since he is unable to expand it. “Property taxes will drive me eventually out of town,” he said.
“I’ll be gone and everyone can buy [the books] on Amazon,” Toole said. “That’s what’s going to happen.”