Georgetown retail "hanging in there" as 2010 trends better

Earlier this year, there was plenty of speculation that Georgetown's retail scene was in dire straits. Neighborhood blogs were reporting one store closing after another, usually with grim commentary about the recession's toll on local business, and it was difficult to walk up Wisconsin without seeing 'going out of business' signs. In January, local business leaders said that in the first quarter of 2010, Georgetown businesses did just about as poorly as other commercial centers across the country.

How does the picture look now? To find out, the Dish called up the Georgetown Business Improvement District's President James Bracco and Marketing Director Nancy Miyahira.

"I think businesses are hanging in there probably as best they can. Retail in general is still pretty shaky right now," Bracco said, "but I think we're beginning to see more people walking around Georgetown, and it's helpful to see more people walking around."

He cautioned that beyond promotional events and keeping up the appearance of Georgetown, there is little the BID can do to help retailers improve their business, although earlier this year, the BID switched out the contracter that ran the Rosslyn to Dupont Metro Connection for a company that has done a better job of running the fleet. The BID is also in the midst of a project to 'rebrand' Georgetown. Finally, there is some hope that the new Circulator route through Georgetown from Dupont will bring in more foot traffic, but, Bracco says, "the proof will be in the pudding."

One thing that has not helped Georgetown's commercial district from recovering fully from the recession is the ongoing melee over the Shops at Georgetown Park. So far this year, the embattled Georgetown Park has nearly been sold twice in auctions that were cancelled at the last minute, leaving prominent developers Anthony Lanier and Herbert S. Miller to spar over its ownership in a highly-publicized duel.

"It's not been helpful to have considerable business owners chronicled going back and forth with each other in the Washington Business Journal," Bracco said. "Thirty percent of all store changes are because of the Mall. It's going to be very beneficial to have that situation squared away and resolved."

2009 is looking brighter, at least in terms of store closings, now that some time has passed. Bracco pointed out that while 40 stores closed and only 25 opened in the area last year, there are around 470 stores and restaurants in the area, putting Georgetown's business loss at about eight percent. The D.C. metropolitan area lost between 22 and 23 percent of businesses.

"Nobody wants to lose any businesses, but we fall way behind the regional average, much less the national level," he said. "When we take a look at what we have for 2010, we have 31 businesses either opening or to be opened, versus 20 that are going by the wayside. 2010 is going to trend better and we're following that trend."