Lunch With Joe
My column this week is about a few of the issues affecting H Street NE real estate, which is the kind of story that requires a conversation with nightlife impresario Joe Englert. Last week, I found him munching on a sandwich at the Star and Shamrock with Toki Underground owner Erik Yang, and pestered them both for thoughts on things–since I won't have space to give them a full airing in print, here are a few outtakes.
- On H Street property owners having unrealistic expectations of what their buildings are worth: “I’ll say, 'want to sell me your building?' They’re like, 'a million dollars!' I’m like what? 'A million dollars!'..They don’t understand that the residential market is totally emotionally driven. But the commercial real estate market is totally scientific. There’s very little financing, and nothing’s ready to go.”
- On the timing of selling your H Street building: “We’re in the value-added phase, where the only way you’re going to really get any bang for your buck is to make it habitable. We’re soon gonna be in the territory of something for nothing, where the people who are hanging on and not doing anything, they will be rewarded because there’s going to be such a demand that people are going to fall all over themselves to take a 5,000 square foot building, and not expect one penny of improvement allowance. So, ironically, the lazy, the late-off-the-ball property owner is going to be the biggest winner....And then, it becomes the looniest fucker who will not do anything ever. Who’s the dude who’s going to be the Ledo Pizza franchisee wannabe? I think some of these people are now going to say, time to go.”
- On what long-time businesses need to do to adapt to the new H Street: "If they’re in business, they have to get it together, man. Change. You have to keep up with the times. Change. Got to. We have to change all the time. Every six months you’re almost a different business, because you’ve got to have different employees, different inventory, different approaches. Got to get on the bandwagon, new media, whatever you need to get out there. It’s business, it’s not charity."
- On what the city should do to bring H Street into the next stage of development: "I think it would be very prudent for the government to put a cap or a moratorium on how many liquor establishments should be on the length of H. And then, Tommy Wells should get some TIF money to do modern retail, i.e. a classic sort of antique store boutique five-and-ten bazaar type of entity where you have seven to ten thousand square feet with 20 or 25 boutique retailers that are Washington-based, Washington owned. We had planned from the beginning that the only way we were going to have any traction was to have the very young and the very hip come first, followed by the foodies, followed by the diners, until we could get into a different phase, and that phase has come and it’s retail....What I would love to do is buy the gas station, make an indoor-outdoor hip flea market, and push event-driven retail Thursday through Saturday."
- On the hazy future: “I think there’s a lot of clutter and it’s hard to think straight. Here’s what really interesting: You have this really cluttered period where a lot of people are kind of squinting, don’t even know what it is. What is H, right? I think the people that have been here for a long time really know what’s coming, but the majority of people, it’s gonna sneak up on them. Like holy shit, 15 blocks of an amazing neighborhood, I’m jumping in. Hopefully it’s not going to be too late for people who want to jump in.”
- On being blamed for change: “I had people complaining about me for inflation, because back in '68 wings were a buck twenty-nine a pound, and now they’re $9.99. I had no idea I had anything to do with the price of chicken.”