Georgetown Current

Local Businesses Brush Off Blizzard to Serve Neighbors

January 27, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Justin Anderson’s tiny basement apartment in Tenleytown was filled with four of his colleagues on Friday night. One person slept on a futon, another on a couch. Two more rested on air mattresses.

“It’s not the biggest in the world, but we make it work,” said Anderson, manager of Osman & Joe’s Steak ’n Egg Kitchen at 4700 Wisconsin Ave. NW, which promises 24-hour service in all kinds of weather.

Steak ’n Egg was one of numerous local businesses that kept their doors open during the weekend blizzard that blanketed the city under 18 to 24 inches of snow. Anderson’s colleagues stayed with him overnight so they could make the mile trek to the restaurant for work.

The tight squeeze paid off, Anderson said — as of early Saturday afternoon, during the height of the snowfall, between 40 and 80 paying customers had already come in, ranging from snowplow operators to the usual types of passerby. Even the looming threat of a power outage (which never materialized) didn’t faze Anderson, who noted that the grill and other appliances don’t require electricity.

The restaurant has built a reputation in the community for reliable, consistent service, and Anderson wasn’t willing to let a snowstorm ruin that. “As long as we can see, we can work,” Anderson said.

The story was similar at Glen’s Garden Market at 2001 S St. NW in Dupont Circle. Owner Danielle Vogel told The Current she was manning the cash register all day on Saturday alongside four other employees who live near the store.

Some of the market’s prepared food options had to be reduced because of the storm, but brunch continued to be served and groceries sold. The store’s Shaw location was also open on Saturday, with only the three managers behind the counter, Vogel said.

In Dupont, Vogel walked to work from her home a block away, knee-deep in snow. As far as she could tell, her store was the only one on her block to open.

“Everyone’s really happy that we’re open,” she said. “It kind of feels like a ski lodge.”

Over by the National Zoo, the cake pop joint Baked By Yael, 3000 Connecticut Ave. NW, briefly turned into an actual ski lodge. Owner Yael Krigman said one customer, a woman, bought a few cake pops to go and then headed out of the store — on skis.

The snowstorm cut into the small pastry shop’s sales, which have been booming thanks to the public debut of panda cub Bei Bei at the Zoo. But Starbucks down the street was closed on Saturday, so Krigman snapped up customers looking for a hot beverage.

Like Anderson and other employees who made it to work, Krigman hoofed it — her home is a few blocks away.

“It was not that bad. To be honest, I was just really excited about being able to open,” Krigman said. “It didn’t really bother me.”

But walking-distance proximity wasn’t a factor for every business owner who decided to stay open. William Kim, owner of the Mac Market convenience store and deli at 5185 MacArthur Blvd. NW in the Palisades, lives in Reston and kept his store open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Driving home each day was impossible — Kim tried to take his vehicle out to the road at one point but got stuck in a snowdrift, his tires barely touching the ground. For both Friday and Saturday nights, he slept on a small bed he’d previously installed in the store’s office for such purposes.

For Kim, there was no question about staying open. He said he hasn’t closed Mac Market in the 11 years he’s owned it, and had no plans to break that streak for this storm. Customers came in on all three days, knowing the market would be open without having to check.

“The neighbors know that I’m here,” said Kim. “They get used to it and they expect me to be here.”

Meanwhile, some newer businesses used the snowstorm as an opportunity to get more acquainted with their neighbors.

In Georgetown at 1525 Wisconsin Ave. NW, employees at the Italian deli and wine and beer shop Via Umbria stayed at the nearby Georgetown Inn on Friday night so they could get to work safely on Saturday morning.

Via Umbria debuted in its current location two weeks before Thanksgiving, so this blizzard was the store’s first opportunity to establish itself. “We weren’t sure what today was going to look like, but we wanted to make sure we could experience it,” said Lindsey Menard, the store’s hospitality and events manager.

Despite the dangerous weather conditions, Menard said she had a steady stream of customers on Saturday, as well as a large crowd on Friday night, during the first blast of snowfall.

“It’s been really interesting today. It’s fun because we get to see a lot of the neighbors who would usually be working or busy today,” Menard told The Current on Saturday.

The nearby juice and taco bar Jaco, 1614 Wisconsin Ave. NW, is even newer, having opened just two weeks ago. Owner Chris Luceri said two colleagues stayed with him at his nearby home in order to stay open and try to lure new business to the fledgling store.

“We had nothing better to do,” Luceri said. “We figured we’d give it a shot, and so far it’s definitely paid off.”

Luceri says he also gave out free hot chocolate to visiting patrons.

This article appears in the Jan. 27 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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City Studies Dangerous Intersections, Including Wisconsin and M

January 20, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

The D.C. Department of Transportation is working to research and enact improvements for five of the city’s most dangerous, accident-prone intersections, including two in Northwest, according to a new report released Thursday.

The report gathers information from site visits of the intersections arranged by Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh in August and September. The two Northwest intersections are Wisconsin Avenue and M Street and 14th and U streets; the other three sites are located in Northeast.

Cheh, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, selected the five intersections from a list designated “high-crash” by the transportation agency. The report also includes data on crashes at the intersections from Jan. 1, 2012, to Aug. 1, 2015.

Cheh said she organized the site visits with the goal of making the issues at each intersection easy to understand, and to facilitate a dialogue between the government and the public. In previous years, she said, she got the impression the D.C. government made promises to improve traffic safety but didn’t deliver on them.

“The sense was that maybe we don’t focus in particular in a way that allows us to have specific recommendations and actions and a plan,” Cheh told The Current.

The Wisconsin and M intersection, in the heart of Georgetown, serves as a hub for private vehicles, buses, pedestrians and bicyclists. Between 2012 and Cheh’s site visit, 36 injuries were reported at the intersection from pedestrians and bicyclists alike, including two disabling injuries, according to the Transportation Department report. The intersection is also notorious for a 2005 fatality, when volunteer police officer Joe Pozell was struck by a car while directing traffic.

Causes for the congestion and confusion at the Georgetown intersection include quick intervals between signal switches; frequent crossing outside the crowded crosswalk lines; and pedestrians running for buses along both streets. Multiple instances of cars running red lights and drivers becoming confused at the turning options also contribute to the high risk, the report says.

The document lays out some potential improvements, like temporary curb extensions, expanded crosswalk boundaries, red light cameras and further deployment of traffic control officers.

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans said in an interview that he jogs through that intersection every day and often drives there as well.

“The biggest issue as a driver is when you’re going south on Wisconsin. It’s virtually impossible,” Evans said. “They have people walking at the same time as the right signal. It’s so crowded that you can’t make the right turn.”

Evans said he thinks the recently installed left-turn signal on the eastbound side of M Street has helped. He also supports the idea of more traffic control officers.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said the crosswalk has been problematic for many years. He believes traffic control officers and red light cameras are particularly critical as solutions. “They do help in calming things down and making things safer for pedestrians,” Starrels said.

Meanwhile, the 14th and U intersection is the crossroad between two bustling commercial and nightlife-centric corridors. Two fatalities have occurred in this location since 2012. Half of the more than 200 collisions at the site happened between 7:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., the report says.

In terms of solutions, the intersection will be part of the $10 million 14th Street streetscape project, which will outfit the corridor with new lights, sidewalks, ramps, traffic signals and pavement. The project is set to begin construction this fall, according to the report.

The document also lists several potential short-term fixes that will be discussed during the next couple of months and implemented by May. Options include exploring photo enforcement of traffic violations; improving enforcement of bike lanes to prevent errant vehicle parking; and evaluating the potential for installing high-intensity activated crosswalk, or HAWK, signals in the area.

Cheh’s office arranged the intersection visits with representatives at various levels of D.C. government: Metropolitan Police Department officers, the Department of Transportation, advisory neighborhood commissioners, D.C. Council staff, and advisory councils for pedestrians and bicyclists. Members of the public were also invited to join in and share the issues they faced while crossing.

“It was this exchange of information back and forth,” Cheh said. “It was really very valuable, and I think people really enjoyed the opportunity.”

In the coming months, Cheh said she’ll do her best to keep the public abreast of agencies’ progress on specific reforms at hand. In the past, she said, recommendations without in-person site visits have tended to be too general.

“People don’t become mobilized unless they have a specific plan,” Cheh said. “That’s what I was hoping for with this. And so I’m optimistic.”

The other intersections the report identifies are 1st Street and Massachusetts Avenue NE; Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue NE; and Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE. The full report can be viewed at tinyurl.com/DDOTReport.

This article appears in the Jan. 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Design Panel Opposes AMC Theatres Plans at Georgetown Multiplex

January 13, 2016

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

AMC Theatres is in the early stages of planning interior and exterior renovations for its Georgetown multiplex, according to a recent presentation before the local advisory neighborhood commission.

For the exterior, AMC’s architects are planning three major changes: a new AMC streetfront sign to replace the misleading “Loews Theatres” sign that currently tops the 3111 K St. NW building; a new sidewalk “blade sign” to advertise the redesigned theater to passersby; and a reduction in the number of doors entering the building, from six to three.

An architect from the Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber firm presented the exterior concepts on Jan. 4 to the neighborhood commission, which voted to oppose the designs and request revisions. The interior matters are not subject to commission approval. The Old Georgetown Board, which deals with preservation issues for the historic neighborhood, followed suit a few days later.

Neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels, at the Jan 4. meeting, raised objections to all three aspects of the exterior proposal. He shared concerns about what would happen if theatergoers were forced to squeeze through only three doors in case of emergency. He also pointed out that the proposed AMC sign would exceed Historic Preservation Office guidelines for signage height of only 1 foot.

“The logo is too large and not in keeping in any way, shape or form with the standards of Georgetown, especially this location across from the waterfront park,” Starrels said.

Neighborhood commissioner Tom Birch confirmed to The Current on Friday that the Old Georgetown Board suggested a smaller sign and opposed the plan for fewer doors and a blade sign at its monthly meeting on Jan. 7. The doors were a particular sticking point for both the commission and the board, Birch said. The three doors would be situated on the left half of the front entrance, with a solid glass wall lining the right side.

“We felt at our ANC meeting that that really detracted from the clean, modern look that the theaters have had since that building was first up,” Birch said.

The AMC representative at the neighborhood meeting also described plans for an interior makeover for the theater, bringing plush lounge seats, an updated lobby and alcoholic beverage offerings. The number of seats in the theater will be reduced from 2,900 to 1,300, he said.

AMC’s corporate office declined to elaborate on the plans, offering in an email only that the theater chain is “exploring [its] options” at the Georgetown location, which opened in 2002.

Birch speculated that the theater’s plans are an attempt to make the Georgetown spot more competitive with other upscale movie theaters in the city, including those owned by Landmark. Several of those theaters boast features designed to elevate the comfort and luxury of the moviegoing experience.

“My assumption is that the AMC theater in Georgetown wanted to be able to provide the same kind of accommodation that other movie theaters do now and patrons presumably expect,” Birch said. “They want to have more than just a ticket stub. They want refreshments and a comfortable seat.”

This article appears in the Jan. 13 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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