The first public meeting of the Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street took place Thursday evening at the Fourth District Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters Community room. Community leaders, business owners and residents gathered to discuss their thoughts on the priorities, challenges and opportunities for making the commercial corridor of Georgia Avenue NW from Eastern Avenue NW down to Missouri Avenue NW a vibrant place to live, work and play.
What is the Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street (UGAMS)?
You may be wondering, “What exactly is a Main Street, anyway?”
Thankfully, The Center provided a handy FAQ sheet with a helpful definition:
The Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street is a community-based organization that will utilize public-private partnerships and community volunteers to build on neighborhood assets and implement strategies to support and improve the business corridor in the neighborhoods within its boundaries. This will be achieved through retaining and revitalizing current small businesses, recruiting other small businesses to the neighborhood corridor, beautifying streetscapes to encourage commercial uses, as well as engaging community members and District agencies.
The Upper Georgia Avenue corridor is a unique challenge because it is an exceptionally long, 2.5 mile stretch of roadway that is home to about 200 businesses.
Bribe Me With Food
This event got off to a terrific start because they fed us real food, y’all! Courtesy of J & J Mex – Taqueria (6231 Georgia Avenue), we were served an impressive spread of burritos, quesadillas, salad, rice & beans and more.
While everyone enjoyed their delicious meals, the meeting kicked off with a welcome from Glen O’Gilvie, the CEO of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement (The Center). Mr. O’Gilvie explained the purpose of The Center and how it would help to establish the Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street. The first task on their to-do list is to hire an Executive Director to run the day-to-day operations of the organization. They are currently screening applications. A decision is expected in mid-February.
Next, we heard from Ms. Jennifer Prats, the DC Main Streets Grant Manager at the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development. Ms. Prats explained that the Main Street model has a four-point approach, which is encapsulated in a handy acronym, D.O.P.E.:
- Design: What is the feel of the corridor? Are we attracting people from the street into our businesses?
- Organization: Do we have experienced and effective leadership to guide the effort?.
- Promotion: How do we brand Upper Georgia Avenue? How do we make it a destination?
- Economic Vitality: We want to ensure the businesses that are here already stay here. We want to find the gaps of businesses that aren’t meeting the needs of the community and recruit businesses to make this a thriving community.
She continued to explain that this four-point approach is incremental and can appear slow. The goal for the first two years is to build stakeholder engagement.
Open discussion was facilitated by a moderator. She asked the audience several questions to gauge the level of residents’ current engagement with Georgia Avenue businesses.
Former ANC Commissioner Andre Carley summed up the majority view with his statement. He said, “One of the biggest problems is the lack of diverse businesses that people want to patronize. There’s a general lack of beautification and curb appeal. We’re going to have to find a way to make Georgia Avenue more attractive to people.”
Other respondents sounded similar notes.
Another question was directed to the business owners in attendance. They were asked about their experiences. Che Tabisola, co-owner of the BBQ Bus Smokehouse said that delayed development and vacant properties surrounding his store have hurt foot traffic and negatively impact his business. The owner of J&J Taqueria said that they do good business at lunchtime, but at night, the dark streets and excess loitering keep patrons away.
Business owners were also asked what kind of technical assistance they could use. KuKu Smith of KuKu’s Beauty Supply (7327 Georgia Avenue) shared her current business flyer and indicated that she could use help with marketing and letting residents know that her shop is open for business.
Small Group Discussion
Following the open discussion, each table broke out into small group discussion. The question my table received was, “Do you perceive the corridor as a vibrant place to live, work and play? Why or why not?”
My table neighbors and I had a mixed response to the question, but the consensus was that no, the current state of the corridor is not vibrant. There are no entertainment or true family dining options. Truthfully, the most dynamic experiences are the two big box retailers at either end of the corridor.
While recognizing that there are hidden gems along the avenue like Teddy’s Roti Shop, Wapa Café and Ritchie’s Café, many 30- and 40-year residents who were present had never heard of these shops. One resident wondered aloud whether the businesses meet the needs of the neighborhood.
Corridor Priority Ranking
In the final section of the evening, we heard the results of a priority ranking exercise that each attendee submitted. While recognizing that the avenue could use improvement in all areas, resources are limited. The Center and the Board of the Upper Georgia Avenue Main Street may use these results to inform some of the early decisions that have to be made.
Here are the rankings, from highest to lowest priority:
- Public Safety
- Clean Up
- Branding and Marketing
- Curb Appeal
- Exterior Signage
- Customer Service Training
Overall, this meeting was a good beginning for the effort to energize this vital commercial corridor. Flanked on all sides by neighborhoods filled with households who have disposable income to spare, Georgia Avenue is a sleeping giant. With good planning and active participation of both businesses and residents, we can create an environment where our existing small businesses can thrive and integrate seamlessly with the behemoth development at Walter Reed.