What Sends It Up, and How It’s Brought Down
I recently took a stroll down 14th street; a road I walk frequently, but often in a hurry, trying to get here or there on time. But I had no appointment, and was interested in taking a close look at what’s been happening.
There’s a few new(ish) things – restaurants mostly, none of them new or stellar enough to merit mentioning. And of course, we do have holes in the ground – and cranes overhead. At least four, just in a small strip along 14th from around R up to Florida. There’s promises of more to come – the Utopia complex at 14 & U, the Level 2 intern condo 1/2 block over; a new “Matchbox”.
But I was also looking at what wasn’t there anymore. El Paraiso – the most authentic Salvadoran cuisine this side of Columbia Heights – was a stalwart and fed us well for years. But they’re gone, as soon will be the odd Masons hall that I’ve never set foot in, yet always found a curious addition. Dogs by Day and the neighboring pet store are gone – moved on elsewhere where rents are cheaper but foot traffic is slower – as is the Big Monkey comics store. We all miss the irreplaceable Noi Chudnoff, and now we miss her store, too…closed for good. Pulp, always good for a gift, a card, a little scope-age, and big welcomes is welcome here no more it seems. At least, the economics of the area are forcing its shutdown in the near future.
Garden District helped many of us dig, plant, mulch, fertilize, grow, and just pretty-up our neighborhood, all without needing a car. That’s gone. So is HR57, a genuine club in the legal definition that hosted music just OK to kick-ass, consistently mellow crowds, and that feeling of just being a little bit somewhere-else by merit of their membership-to-drink policy. Now they’ve gone somewhere else.
There’s a lot of other places too; admittedly, not all of them losses. Was I sad to see Paradise Liquor close up shop? Mostly not – the days of super-angry Korean shop-keepers yelling from behind plexiglass are probably a thing best left in the past. The Yums? There will be no ironic tears or kitschy send off when that place shuts – they were sloppy neighbors, never shoveled their walkways, and didn’t give a damn about anything.
But for every Paradise Liquor, there was a Ruff and Ready – a treasure of a place that just might have a certain treasure for your house, if only your were persistent and open-eyed enough to catch it. Want a one-of-a-kind piece? Well now you can get one hand-crafted, from reharvested forests, all for only 100X the price at any of our high-end shops.
High-end seems to be the aspiration these days…although plenty of people are actually doing it and making good coin. The Ellington selling for $100 million dollars to TIAA-CREF? View 14 – try $114 million. Developers are making big money by digging for gold in our streets – and as developers earn money, so, too do a lot of people with hands out — including politicians. Everyone wants a taste of that sweet pie.
Pro-development-at-all-costs types argue, incessantly, that more housing necessarily equals lower cost of living. It’s an elliptical argument that assumes a sort of perfect supply-and-demand world that only exists in text books and theorists heads. Real life is much sloppier, and rarely cheaper. Each one of those closed shops closed for particular reasons, but there’s no doubting the cumulative financial pressures forced many, if not all their hands. And for each of these new mega-buildings – those who don’t live here say that more housing will drive prices down. Funny, exactly the opposite has always happened here. Craig and I, and many of our neighbors, have lived here long enough to see a steady and inexorable progression: more units built, more people moving in, higher prices to live, around and around. Today’s shoe-box jr. one-bedroom for an intern will price that intern out of the market within two years.
Leaving what behind? Fewer stores that are naturally of the community and more that are for outsiders. Band & Olufson? How many $15,000 TV’s have been purchased by our neighbors? St. X? A gem of a place that used to have room for us now is squeezed at nearly every hour by people driving in from Montgomery or Fairfax county.
I like living in a place where I can walk the dog to my vet. Pick up mail around the block. Get yelled at in a run-down liquor store, find the gayest possible gifts in a store that feels more college than city. Some development is clearly good: Hello Yes Market! But some local institutions – like the Saloon – are literally irreplaceable, whoever moves in next to cash out.
It’s just a thought. But perhaps development isn’t always good – for the neighborhood, for the people wanting to move in, or for those living or working there. That’s why those who hurl the ‘NIMBY’ slur will always be wrong: because we’re not, and just perhaps, some of our backyards are OK as they are.