Georgetown Business Forum displays delicate balance between community and local business
In Georgetown, business always tends to be a balancing act. When your neighborhood is a college town, a high-end retail district, one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Washington, and home to a vibrant nightlife scene, it can be difficult to move around without stepping on anyone’s figurative foot.
On July 13, the Georgetown Business Association and the Georgetown Business Improvement District hosted Georgetown Business Forum on D.C. Nightlife and Hospitality. The Forum included community and business leaders from all sides of the Georgetown Nightlife industry from business owners and District government, to neighbors and Georgetown University. In addition to being very informative about how all these parties interact in this area, the forum highlighted the many different parties and voices that have a stake in the nighttime hospitality industry in Georgetown.
After the panelists introduced themselves, Georgetown business leader Janine Schoonover led a discussion that highlighted the current state of business and relations between community leaders. Concerns about regulation, competition with new developing neighborhoods, fake IDs, and the future of Georgetown were leading topics of discussion.
To set the tone, Anthony Lanier, president of EastBanc said “All I know is that my grandmother told me never get involved with a business that takes place in the dark.”
Skip Coburn, Executive Director of the D.C. Nightlife Association believes that collaboration is essential to retain the balance between those who live in Georgetown and those who come to Georgetown. “We all have to pitch in to make this successful,” he said.
In a statement made on July 23, Coburn wrote, “There are certain neighborhoods in the city in which the pendulum has perhaps swung way too far toward having too many ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control Board] establishments at too much expense to the residents, with resulting traffic, parking, noise, and other problems. There is an economic development aspect as well. Do more ABC establishments attract customers and business to a neighborhood? Or, do newer, more-creative, imaginative, higher-quality ABC establishments attract business patrons to a neighborhood?”
In the past decade, other neighborhoods in Washington have developed their own nightlife scenes; U Street, H Street, Gallery Place, and Logan Circle attract a quickly growing group of young professionals living in the city. Reliable standbys can retain a clientele, but it can be hard to compete when new neighborhoods with exciting new restaurants to be explored.
Paul Cohn, President of Capital Restaurant Concepts which includes Neyla, Paolo’s in Georgetown and Georgia Brown’s, thinks that Georgetown needs to loosen up or risk losing business to other neighborhoods. Cohn discussed how the voluntary agreements restrict restaurants, and that it can be easy to break the law without trying. He also said that it is too difficult to physically get people in to Georgetown, and its lack of Metro is a handicap. He also does not want Georgetown to be a tourist trap.
The regulation of licensed bars and restaurants was a large point of discussion. Leading off, Fred Moosally, director of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Association, stated that his main concern is controlling underage drinking and fake and fraudulent ID usage. ABRA also stays on top of businesses so that establishments licensed as restaurants meet the requirements of one. Captain Gresham of the Metropolitan Police Department in Ward 2 echoed Moosally’s concerns, stating that proper education about spotting fakes is essential as fake IDs become more sophisticated. This February, approximately 20 fake IDs were seized at Third Edition.
Business leaders like Britt Swann, owner of Rhino, Modern, Serendipity 3 and Sign of the Whale, brought up concerns that the regulation of fake and fraudulent IDs is too harsh on businesses, and not hard enough on those using them. Swann stated that the costs of dealing with a fake ID charge can reach up to $6,000. “We have to be responsible for other people’s behavior,” he said.
“Restaurants are made to pay a heavy price for something happening on their turf that is not condoned, approved, endorsed or in any way desired by the business,” wrote Greg Casten, operations director for the family-owned Tony & Joe's, Nick's Riverside Grille and Cabana's, in a statement on July 22. It is most important that a spirit of accountability should be taken with the individual. “This would be wonderful to begin seeing - the perception now is the restaurateur gets punished and treated like it was his intention to serve the minor, like he has criminal intent in mind when serving such.”
Cohn believed that Georgetown is doing well as it is now. “We’ve matured,” he said. “We used to be edgy.”
According to Jennifer Altemus, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, there were approximately 102 restaurant liquor licenses in Georgetown when ABC put its liquor license moratorium in place in June 1988. For example, Wendy Furin, co-owner of Furin’s Bakery on M St., says that there was concern of so many bars and restaurants being close to the Washington International School, which then occupied the Philips School at 2735 Olive St. The moratorium was “a much needed step to halt the rapid deterioration,” wrote Altemus.
Last June, ABC ruled to continue the liquor license moratorium for five more years, but added seven liquor licenses to raise the total number to 68. According to ABRA’s ruling, ANC2E stressed the importance to preserve the moratorium in order to “preserve peace, order, and quiet in the neighborhood.”
A variety of different businesses applied and received these new licenses. Existing businesses, like Tackle Box and Puro Café, are now able to serve alcohol in their current establishments. The owners of Café Bonaparte will be opening Lapis. Other new licensees include Spin DC and Paul’s Bakery, a café on Wisconsin Avenue that is currently under renovation.
Perhaps the most interesting on the list was Hu’s Wear, a designer clothing store on M and 29th Streets. Eric Eden, co-owner of the shop, says that when they heard about the additional liquor licenses, they sprung at the opportunity to apply for one, which, at the current rate, was nearly once in a blue moon. Eden says that they will be opening a restaurant and bar next door within a year in the location where Bartleby’s Books stood until a few weeks ago.
Other voices from the community understand that doing business in Georgetown is tough, but that such care is needed to protect the neighborhood. “We can be successful while being mature,” said Linda Greenan, associate vice president of external affairs at Georgetown University.
ANC2E SMD 05 Commissioner Bill Starrels says that Georgetown has evolved greatly over the years, and that the community is strong.