Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's Coming to the Dry Cleaners Space? At Least One Person Has a Plan















Ever since the recent announcement that dry cleaners at 14th and Q streets would be closing, rumors have been swirling about what may swoop in to take its place. A recent poll over at Borderstan presents a snapshot of the pulse of the neighborhood, and the type of businesses that people would like to see here (affordable food, please).

Recently, 14thandyou caught up with Linda Welch, self-proclaimed "serial entrepreneur" and owner of such neighborhood businesses as Green Pets and Big Monkey Comics, about what she would like to do with the sought-after space at 14th and Q.

After the closing of Sparky's in 2007, Welch told us, she aimed to replace its presence in the neighborhood with a breakfast/sandwich-type establishment. There's no shortage of places to have a glass of wine and a plate of gourmet cheese, but as Linda said, "I just wanted a place I could have pancakes any time of day!" Mr. and Mrs. 14thandyou would be in hearty agreement there.

Thus, Linda sought out to explore the interest in such a neighborhood gathering spot. What she found, largely through the development of online community Elements (with help from friend Neil Takemoto), was strong community interest in the development of a neighborhood-themed establishment serving vegetarian/vegan/raw food.

The plans for the project are quite substantial: over 6500 square feet in total along with an outdoor space and a LEED-certified building, featuring the aforementioned vegetarian/raw food menu, "holistic" pet food, a "teaching space" including books about gardening and cooking, and a non-alcoholic "night bar" featuring organic juice and coffee.

In addition, Welch says, she would like to make the spot a true "community space," including serving as host to programs for inner city youth.

Welch recognizes that taking the project from paper to reality will require more than just big plans. To begin, the dry cleaners space is a premium location in the neighborhood, and competition for the space will be heated. Welch has held conversations with building owner John Assadoorian about her idea, who is--according to Welch--"interested in the project." However, others rumored to be interested include Constantine Stavropolous, owner of The Diner in Adams-Morgan, who was reportedly looking at the spot as a potential location for a new diner.

Others aren't certain that any kind of restaurant will open up in the space, which will require environmental cleanup due to the fact that a dry cleaners occupied the site for so long--which is further hampered by the presence of a creek running underneath the property, which will make clean-up that much more costly. (Local restauranteur Barton Seaver indicated that he rejected the space due to, among other factors, the anticipated clean-up costs.) Some feel that a non-restaurant national retailer may in turn be a better fit for the space. (Walgreens, anyone?)

Still, Welch is undeterred. She is currently searching for funding sources for the project, and plans to continue drawing interest through the Elements website.

"I think [this project] is sorely needed in this area," she said.

What ultimately happens at the site is, for now, anyone's guess.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Seriously? This is the best idea you could come up with? What are we, Hollywood? Stick to the pancakes people. It's pretty sad when the best sandwhich in all of the U street area resides at Subway.

Jon said...

Allow me to underscore Anon 1000-fold.

"...vegetarian/raw food menu, "holistic" pet food, a "teaching space" including books about gardening and cooking, and a non-alcoholic "night bar" featuring organic juice and coffee."

Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

"...Welch has held conversations with building owner John Assadoorian about her idea, who is--according to Welch--"interested in the project."

Unless this property (1605 14th Street) has recently changed hands it is owned by the same property owner that operates the sex club at 1618 14th Street. I don't fault him for wanting steady rent but he is not interested in the neighborhood impact of his properties. This is evident by both his choice in tenants and the general maintenance of the properties. This makes me worry that Walgreens seems more likely than a vegetarian restaurant.

Alex said...

Despite blog polls,this neighborhood would patronize a Walgreen's 10 to 1 over a vegetarian restaurant.

Mr. 14th & You said...

"Unless this property (1605 14th Street) has recently changed hands it is owned by the same property owner that operates the sex club at 1618 14th Street."

It is my understanding that the property was recently sold. I know that it was owned by the same guy who owns the sex shop.

Anonymous said...

Please, I beg of Ms. Welch, don't do this. Maybe there are some people who want this kind of place (though I don't know any). But I can tell you there are many more who would absolutely love to see a pancake/bagel/sandwich shop there. While the neighborhood keeps getting an ever increasing reputation for being trendy, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people living in the neighborhood who are for a lack of a better word "normal" and they are all being underserved by the opening of all these wine bars and high end boutiques. To them/us, we have never once walked around the neighborhood wishing there was another place we could pay 20 bucks for a small plate of hipster food. But we have asked ourselves a million times why we can't get a quick sandwich or a bagel or gosh forbid a slice of pizza anywhere in a 8 block radius.

My advice - copy the Lost Dog Cafe from Arlington, add in bagels and you'll start printing your own money. I walk by this building every single day, I promise I'll be your best customer.

myper said...

I think it would do great as a Diner by that Trsyt/The Diner chap. As for using it to serve vegan/raw food and organic juices.....awful.

Anonymous said...

According to tax records, the property is still owned by same person who owns the sex club (mens parties) property. Owner's address is in bucks deluxe Potomac -- estate visible via Google Earth. Strange that the sex club property is being taxed at the residential rate, not commercial. Anyone want to call the tax fraud hotline?

Anonymous said...

Favor -- can you add a link to the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association to your list of links? Many thanks! I didn't know how to e-mail you. Here's the link: www.meridianhilldc.org

Anonymous said...

I don't see her idea as being econimcally feasible? She would be out of business in a couple of months. I like the Diner idea. We need a goddamn diner!
PS- Anon @ #1--I think Quizno's is better than Subway.

U St Denizen said...

I would be thrilled beyond belief to have a vegetarian/vegan/raw food/fresh juice restaurant in the hood. I would also love to have some of the other things that people mentioned, like a Lost Dog Cafe type place and/or a place to get a fresh, real bagel (although bagel places have closed all over the city--I presume there's no money in it; or I also read something about it being difficult to staff such places). There's room for it all. This is no comment whatsoever about feasibility, just what I would love. But do look at how well Sticky Fingers Bakery is doing up in Columbia Heights.

Anonymous said...

vegetarian/raw food menu, "holistic" pet food, a "teaching space" including books about gardening and cooking, and a non-alcoholic "night bar" featuring organic juice and coffee.

wow this sounds horrible. why not just fill the space with poo and light it on fire?

CAHBF said...

I laughed at the description. She should consider adding a solar-powered theme park, tattoo parlor (using biodegradable ink), and mushroom farm to round out this meandering mishmash of a business plan. THen again, Busboys and Poets's business plan probably sounded unfocussed too.

Incidentally, PERC (drycleaning solution) is one of the most difficult carcinogens to remediate. So good luck with that.

In other news, Room & Board has gone full force on their renovations at 14th and T so a March opening loks actually feasible.

Brandon Green said...

The architecture almost looks perfect for a White Castle.

Jenna Kozel said...

I think Ms. Welch is misguided... I'd rather a big neighborhood breakfast place.

john said...

Holistic pet store, vegetarian/raw food-that's ridiculous. I've lived in this neigborhood for over 5 years and I can tell you that the residents are clamoring for moderately priced, decent,non-trendy restaurants or a diner that we could patronize on a weekly basis without breaking the budget. The entrepreneur who opens one will be on easy street

old timer said...

First of all, the existing building is most likely not salvageable. ANYONE who buys this site will want to maximize the zoning envelope and build a new structure. It will most likely be mixed use. Seriously. And there are several other developments in the hood. The empty lot at 14th and R is imminent. The old Whitman Walker Clinic space has been well documented and will certainly have first floor retail. And why all the hate on “yuppie wine bars?” The overall neighborhood is better for ALL new development. I think there’s room for ALL stripes. FYI…ACKC at 14th and Q has GREAT sandwiches and other take out. Also, the “Mens Parties” space was in fact raided a few years back (well reported in the City Paper) over zoning use and tax status, and clearly they prevailed.

14th and Corc said...

question for Old Timer regarding the sex club... I could not find the story in the City Paper you mentioned. I recall the club had a fire a while back that triggered some city review but I don't remember a raid. I live on that block of Corcoran and have always been curious how it is able to not have to register as a business.

Blue Specks said...

it would be nice to have another spot like Loeb's in the city... Can't find a decent deli anywhere...

Blue Specks said...

btw, I would also take a White Castle! A "nice" one. In a pretty new development. so I might be the wrong person to ask...

Anonymous said...

Sorry it's not quite in the same discussion, but any idea what will take the place of "Mega Motors" -- the used car lot which has just vacated its space at the southwest corner of 14th and S?

Mr. 14th & You said...

Anon, I don't know that anything has been announced for that space. My understanding is that the car lot was shuttered as part of the mayor's crackdown on independent car lots throughout the District. That initiative has claimed several auto sales lots up and down 14th Street.

M said...

K I am sure I am in the minority here..and while I do like the variety of restaurants in the hood, I think the neighborhood could be well served by an affordable option. $15 small plates is not an every night kinda thing. I know most people get in an uproar about the mere mention of any sort of national chain here, but why not a 24 hour Denny's/IHOP/HOJO's or something along those lines. Between the Sunday/Wednesday church goers, the late night bar patrons, etc...I would think the place would be packed....and more importantly affordable

Ryan Anderson said...

Thank god the commentariat seems to resoundingly agree that a breakfast/diner/sandwich kind of place would be best suited for the space. For years I've wanted it be a diner (doesn't it look like a classic diner already?) and it fits with local demand. There's no reason the cheap-eats focus couldn't offer a lot of vegetarian and vegan options. Pretty easy, in fact.

FYI, the online community "Elements" that supposedly reveals community interest in a vegetarian/vegan/raw food restaurant is... an online community of people who are trying to create a vegetarian/vegan/raw food restaurant. Talk about a selection bias in gauging community needs.

Anonymous said...

While there is no doubt a need for a breakfast/lunch/inexpensive sort of place, you'd better hope that the bad service and so-so food of Tryst/The Diner doesn't infest your neighborhood.

Paul said...

I agree DC is lacking in the cheap food department. We have a few places but a nice Diner (open late night) would probably do well here.

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