Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Garden District's Long-Term Future Uncertain

Last week, the Garden District--the 14th Street nursery and plant lover's paradise--filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, leaving its future on 14th Street cloudy.

According to Garden District owner Joe Carmack, the store will remain open through Thanksgiving and Christmas (where sales of trees typically provide a needed end-of-the-year boost).   According to Carmack, "Christmas is always an exciting and busy time here, but after that who knows."















Carmack noted that "the economy has definitely impacted our business a lot." The Garden District recently consolidated their operations into a single location across the street from their former space at 14th and S streets, which will help reduce the store's overhead.

As far as the long term future of the store, Carmack indicated that is first priority would be for the store to remain open for business, but that he couldn't rule out the store's potential closure. Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, the U.S. Trustee's Office can shutter the store should payment terms not be met. And the ability to make payments, naturally, depends upon the volume of sales.

Garden District's problems will not affect the pending opening of "Crepes on the Corner," Carmack's new gastro-venture at the former garden District location.

The loss of a longstanding institution (the store was opened in 2002) would be a tremendous blow to the 14th Street retail establishment. However, sources have indicated that it is unfortunately not the only popular retailer along the corridor that is facing financial difficulty.

With the continued troubles of the economy, and commercial lease rates along 14th Street continuing to climb, it will become increasingly challenging for small, local retailers to survive. Thus, it's up to the residents and patrons of neighborhood businesses to do their part to ensure that local establishments remain viable. A truly vibrant commercial corridor means having more than bars and restaurants, however great those may be. It means having a mix of businesses that cater to a variety of needs and interests. Unfortunately, the news for some of our local businesses is grim, which threatens to create an increasingly large hole in our retail scene.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sad to see any business in the neighborhood struggle, but Mr Carmack has only himself to blame. The price point at his establishment has long been at odds with his competition.

Anonymous said...

I hate to admit it, but I agree with the first Anonymous. I also own a small business on 14th and have a vested interest in Joe's success, but even I couldn't justify paying 3x more for an orchid than what they were asking at WF or 2x more for plants than the prices at Merrifield or Johnson's.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing seems too suspicious.... Moves business across the street... Files bankruptcy while starting another business in same location?? Seems too similar to a scam that was popular during the real estate bust.... Buy the nicer house across the street for less than you owe on your current house... Settle and then let the bank forclose on your old house. Not sure if I feel sorry for this guy; I think he's taking advantage of the system.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with the first two posts. Prices are too high, and selection does not seem to reflect the needs of an area where most plants go in very small gardens or balcony/patio situations. Garden District never figured out how to differentiate itself from WF, and that spells doom for any business in the neighborhood.

IMGoph said...

glad to see that someone is talking about the necessity of having more than bars and restaurants to make a truly vibrant city street. the rah-rah about restaurants has led to a lot of people overlooking the fact that retail is struggling greatly in the city.

Shaw Rez said...

WHOA!!! I'm shocked.

Surely the opening -- and the subsequent closing -- of the indoor plant shop at 14th and Church didn't help their bottom line any. That had to be an expensive venture.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately bankruptcy is just a way of making somebody else pay for your mistakes

clay said...

I loved having it there. It was very expensive but not crazy....herbs were 1.89 and 2.49, they had cool planters at all price points...it's hard to compete with Home Depot though. The timing of this with the move and opening of a crepe shop does seem to leave some questions unanswered. I hope they work it out.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention it seems like poor financial planning on his end. I mean he opened one store very close to the other. Perhaps they weren't following the books close enough. It just goes to show....don't go and rush to open a second location. I honestly don't feel bad for im, although it sucks that we are losing a business on 14th.

jburka said...

"I couldn't justify paying 3x more for an orchid than what they were asking at WF or 2x more for plants than the prices at Merrifield or Johnson's."

Sure, that's great...if you have a car and time to head out to NoVa. Garden District is perfect for those of us who like to shop in our own neighborhoods. They showed that they understand their customer base when they made those wagons available for toting your purchases home!

Anonymous said...

ppl found this place expensive and complain that it was a poor business plan yet cheer when another over-priced, overly-prentious wine bar opens on 14th.

$10 for a small plate and $10 for a glass of wine? Get bent.

Where's the good pizza? What about a friggin burrito or, hell, a decent sub that is not a chain?

Hey, what happened to Swann Cleaners on 14th and Swann?

Anonymous said...

I agree.

I hope they don't add another expensive, small plate wine bar in its place...

Shaw Rez said...

Please note that we have a great garden center at Ninth and N in Shaw known as Old City Green. It is currently stocked FULL of fall/winter annuals (e.g., pansies), bulbs, shrubs, and trees.

Old City Green will also be selling Christmas trees, wreaths, garland, and artisinal crafts in the coming month.

pandaboy said...

Oh man. I for one am bummed. Yea, they were expensive but they sure were convenient and I always loved strolling through the (outdoor) store. That indoor plant store sure seems like the disaster that's bringing the whole ship down.

Mr. 14th & You said...

I'll add that I think it's unreasonable to expect a store like G-D to compete, pricewise, with the Whole Foods of the world. If that becomes our sole criteria for determining whether to patronize an establishment, virtually no local business will survive.

That said, I do believe there is an onus on small business owners to give us a reason to pay a premium to shop in their stores--simply being a small business isn't sufficient. I am reminded of the disaster that was the 14U coffee shop, a place I desperately wanted to like, but couldn't due to the poor service, selection and quality. That was an establishment that had no place being in business.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to go off-topic, but seems like the right crowd to ask: anyone know a good place to get a juniper bonsai tree in dc? preferably metro rail/bus accessible ... many thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to see Garden District go as well. However, there is a small business in Columbia Heights owned by a guy who works out of his condo that will get you the same stuff for your small patios and courtyards, and at reasonable prices. Check out City Rocks, www.cityrocksdc.com.

Alex said...

I have the same mixed feelings as many others. It's sad to see a local store go, and their leafy presence was always welcome. But there were also times when I'd go miles out of my way to drive to Merrifield rather than shop there due to the high price differential.

Anonymous said...

Garden District has been a wonderful addition to the 14th street corridor (and an early entrant), and I am troubled by the criticism here. The prices are not that much higher than other places. The folks who often complain about the Wal-martization of businesses apparently are unwilling to pay a bit more for convenience, service and quality of product (Mr. Carmack and his staff were always knowlegeable and courteous, and the plants have always been top quality). These small businesses don't have the same purchasing power as Home Depot, and we can't expect the same prices. (It's sad -- it was the same story for Candida's books -- how was she supposed to compete price-wise with Border's -- and our neighborhood is the worse for that loss, too). The indoor store was a great place to pick up a last-minute gift for folks. I truly hope he is able to maintain the store in some form for the benefit of our neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I was the first post, and would like to clarify my remark. I would agree that we should not have expected GD to BEAT either WF or Home Depot on price point. A reasonably higher price I think could have been justified. I shop at MANY neighborhood places and sometimes pay more for the convenience and knowledge of supporting the health and growth of the local business community. I may be able to find a cheaper bowl at Target than Home Rule, but they seem to hit the mark just right on price point, ambience, and convenience. So it IS possible to achieve financial success and compete with the big box retailers. And on a related note, I heartily disagree with the animosity for the new infusion of small plate wine bars. They are a HUGE sign of the desirablility of the hood, and once established, more retail will follow. It's a proven equation. fyi, I have lived in the mid-city area here for 25 years, and am thrilled at ALL of the new development.

SkidroweDC said...

I'm hoping that GD's central problem was the rent at the 14th & Church store. Metropolis pro forma'ed everything at sky-high rates--maybe they gave a modest break to GD, but I doubt it.

I'm hoping this because I like Garden District and spend some of my plant money there (and other plant money at Old City Green and at less expensive places); I completely agree that its presence adds immeasurably to the street. And GD's people are always helpful.

Anonymous said...

I, too, hate to see independent businesses close in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, I didn't have the best experiences at GD... including buying a large expensive plant and making arrangements to have it delivered, only to have a no-show after I stayed home from work to accept delivery. Then it was not easy to resolve the issue. I eventually got a similar plant from Johnson's on Van Ness. Customer service should be one of the attributes for success for local, independent businesses. For that I'm willing to pay extra.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one that is skeptical of the success potential of the crepe restaurant Garden District is opening in his former tiny space. I wish him success, but I'd love to see the business plan.

Mari said...

Sorry to hear, but GD is expensive. I didn't have the greatest customer experience at their indoor shop and preferred their outdoor spot more. For some odd reason the service was way better than the other shop. And someone else mentioned that customer service can justify the higher prices in a neighborhood shop. If I want to not be waited on or helped in a timely manner I can go to Home Depot for that.

Anonymous said...

Hello, people! Joe cannot buy plants at the same discounted prices that Whole Foods or Merrifield or Home Depot can. Those chains buy in huge quantities, which means they get lower prices and then sell them to customers are lower prices than Garden District.

Once again, the lack of people in DC who know ANYTHING about business shows. So, here is Joe, who is willing to take great financial risks and all of you government lawyers criticize him.

And I love the comment here about the ridiculously priced food and wine. I agree. Yet you all come down on Joe. What's your problem, people?

Anonymous said...

One more thing to add to my comment directly above. If Garden District doesn't make it and chain retailer of some sort comes to the space, the same people here bitching about Joe's high prices will be DEMANDING that a locally based store open instead.

Use your brains, people. If you want locally based stores, then you are going to pay higher prices in many instances.

I haven't heard anyone complaining aboout those ridiculous furniture stores up and down 14th, by the way.

14th & You said...

I appreciate what folks here are saying about supporting local retailers. However, I think that the problem is not price; it's perception of value. The reason Logan residents and visitors pay to dine at Cork or buy furniture at Vastu is because they see something unique and desirable about the products there. For whatever reason, the same people with money to spend did not perceive as much value at GD. In my opinion, either this business was not something the market valued or the owner failed to respond to the market. Plants are a commodity. Potential GD customers have to see that there is something unique and wonderful (service, selection, overall shopping experience) about that shop over its competitors in order to want to go there.

Anonymous said...

I remember the wrecked car dumping ground that the Garden District displaced, where every weekend a new round of damaged cars would get dumped on the lot and on the streets around the site, thank you Joe for converting it overnight into an urban garden oasis of green.

His old site is maybe 1/3-1/4 of the new corner lot he is on, which ought to make the outdoor business much more successful as they will be able to order more and serve a much greater demand. I doubt if it is a long term lease as I would imagine the site would be developed, sooner rather than later. This is a very legitimate business model for purposes of Chapter 11, this is a good restructuring.

I hope he is out of the 14th & Church lease totally. I agree with the writer above about how much of a drain this space had to be on so many levels, it just didn't work well, particularly for such a large space at the prices it would have cost.

I do wonder what he is still doing with at the original site. Given that his landlord at 14th & R is the notorius Welch family that was forced to sell all their residential properties in DC to avoid jail time in the slumlord case at 1418 W a few years back, they are likely to want to milk that site when they get it back in their control.

So I am glad that Joe would try to utilize the site for the term of his lease, at what are probably very reasonable rates in today's market, but Crepes, outdoors? Can't really start that business until next Spring and unless its a passion, there have to be some other business types that might thrive on a fenced in site like that.

I know I will be getting my tree there and walking it home on one of the wagons and I hope that he does come out of this and that GD is around for a while more.

Anonymous said...

The dilemma is that people want the charming neighborhood store, but with Walmart prices. I hope it work out. I always enjoyed the greenery the store added to 14th street.

Anonymous said...

BANKRUPTCY SALE! STARTS TODAY!

50% OFF all perennials, trees, shrubs, outdoor bulbs and organic fertilizers.

Chartible donations, for schools and giving organizations, please fill out a donation form on our website.

Best deals are to be had now as we make way for our Christmas Trees arriving November 22nd. Plus we need the money to pay for them! I'm like 28k short right. It's a great day to garden and get great deals on plants for the garden.

Questions about Chapter 11 Filing, can be posted on our open Community Forum at gardendistrict-dc.com.


Thank you for all your support.

Anonymous said...

IMGoph - Thank you! I was going to write something snarky about how now the talk on this blog will be about the cherry flavored imported beers that will be put in the new inevitable restaurant that goes into that space. "Long standing" establishment? Since 2002? THAT is long standing?????

ron said...

Garden District had a very nice urban feel about it but prices were too high. Granted Whole Foods has a lot of buying power that they don't but they never seemed to give us a reason to buy there over the WF. Their products didn't excite like say Home Rule does over Target.

Wish they could figure it out and stay around though.

Mr. 14th & You said...

""Long standing" establishment? Since 2002? THAT is long standing?????"

Compared to a number of other businesses that are operating on 14th Street, sure. It's certainly not THE longest standing establishment here, but with the breakneck pace with which businesses open and close around here, remaining in business for over 7 years qualifies as rather impressive in my book.

Brandon Green said...

It seems strange, but I'd say that since 2002 is longstanding.

Mr Optimism said...

Hope that the community will rally around this business and that these guys will make it. Maybe they can revise their business plan to cut costs and somehow become more competitive. Their stuff is really good quality.

Anonymous said...

Well, now there is a sign over the Crepes on the Corner sign that says "office space for lease". Maybe GD is not current on there rent and the landlord is trying to pull it from under him. Money talks....

Mr. 14th & You said...

FYI everyone: I don't like rejecting comments, but I just did so for one that got way too personal. Please, no slanderous/insulting posts about any individuals in the comments section.