What's happening to our merchants?
Georgetown has always had its ups and downs. In the 1960s, saloons and nightclubs were a major concern to residents. In the 1970s, crime was running rampant and vendors were setting up all along Wisconsin Ave. in front of stores. But the Georgetown merchants organized and built a strong merchant association that got city hall to pay attention to what was happening to this historic neighborhood. The Citizens Association got involved in fighting crime with increased neighborhood watch programs and increased policing of the neighborhood. The realtors of Georgetown were willing to work with the small merchants. Johnny Snyder, Sam Levy, Emil Audette and other commercial realtors did not gauge the merchants, but set reasonable rents. Rick Hinden of Britches, John Laytham and Stuart Davidson of Clydes, The Georgetowner and Richard McCooey all worked together to form a strong mercantile base for the community.
By the ’80s, Georgetown was in its heyday. Business was strong. Then in the ’90s, things began to change. Rents went sky high, mom and pop stores moved out, foreign money took over the commercial sector, banks (the mainstays of the community) such as Riggs, Washington National and American Security all closed or were taken over by outside interests. The merchant association lost its importance when the BID came about. The Citizens Association became more of a social outlet. All nightlife disappeared as saloons and nightclubs were forced out. Parking enforcement turned many shoppers off. Malls in the suburbs stole business from Georgetown, offering free parking and big movie screens.
All of Georgetown’s movie theatres shut down. The Food Mart, Neam’s Market, the French Market all left. Residents had to drive outside of the community to go grocery shopping. Chain stores moved in. Shoppers did not come back. The same chain stores could be found in the suburbs, where parking was easy and free. And so, here we are today, almost at a stage where Georgetown has to start over. The merchant mix is all wrong.
As the neighborhood’s primary lobbying force, the Georgetown Business Association has to take the lead. The cit council has to wake up and see what is happening to this historic neighborhood and work with the BID and other merchant associations to improve the situation.
Let’s be a little more creative.