by Elizabeth Wiener
Current Staff Writer
Cheh worked with Ward 5 member Kenyan McDuffie to get the areas designated via an amendment to the council’s budget support act. A second vote on the act will take place next month [June].
The District’s retail priority program is part of a multi-agency effort to help revitalize neighborhood business corridors. The two strips will be the first in Ward 3 to win the designation. Commercial areas previously designated include Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and South Capitol Street SE, Minnesota Avenue NE and SE, Georgia Avenue and 7th Street NW, and H Street NE. Grants from the program have been used, for example, to help a bike shop renovate its facade, a furniture store improve signage, and a pet store maximize use of existing space. The Barracks Row Main Street also won support for technical assistance to area businesses under the competitive grant program.
Cheh, in a brief interview, said that while the two strips in her ward are “not hurting,” the business districts “could use sprucing up.” She noted that as demographic changes take “energy and activity” to other parts of the city — the Southwest Waterfront, U Street NW, H Street NE and other recent hot spots — she wants to make sure that businesses in Ward 3 are not left behind.
“We’re not jumping the queue, just making grants available,” Cheh said. “I think there’s a need in our part of town.”
Van Ness has long been thought to lack the pedestrian traffic, attractive retail and historic charm that keeps customers coming. Business owners have tried to create a business association, but there is currently no organized group to speak for retailers.
Cleveland Park is more lively, but business owners say it could always use a little help. Susan Linh, who owns the Wake Up Little Suzie gift store at 3409 Connecticut Ave., is co-president of the Cleveland Park Business Association, formed a few years ago when the recession left some storefronts empty. Linh said there’s now only one vacancy on the strip.
“We’re little small stores and restaurants, in tiny spaces, really supported by the neighborhood,” said Linh. “People want us to stay what we are.”
But Linh said Cheh already helped the group obtain a $1.5 million grant for plantings, lighting and other streetscape improvements, and any additional help would be welcome.
“That’s fantastic,” she said of the retail priority program. “You do need to pay attention, and I think she does.”
The commercial area “has vastly improved in the past four years,” said Susie Taylor, president of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. “It is vibrant, it looks better and is safer” thanks to the grant and efforts of the business association. “Do I think there is room for improvement? Of course. Would additional funds be helpful? You bet.”
Reprinted, with permission, from the May 29th issue of The Northwest Current.