A “Dying” Georgia Avenue Block Bodes Ill for the Neighborhood
My colleague Jessica Sidman reports that Fusion Restaurant has just shut its doors on the 4800 block of Georgia Avenue NW, citing repeated break-ins. This isn't big news on its own—restaurants open and close all the time—except that it appears to be part of a pattern. In December, Moroni & Brothers Pizza Restaurant, located two doors down from Fusion, also closed. Fusion and Moroni were arguably the two most popular restaurants in the surrounding north Petworth area, and two of very few sit-down dining options. Lighthouse Yoga Center just moved from the same block after experiencing break-ins of its own, including two in a single weekend last year that cost it not only its computer and sound system, but even all of its soap and toilet paper. The skate shop Art Under pressure also moved from the block last month, to U Street NW.
"This whole block," Fusion owner Barry Dindyal told Sidman, "is pretty much dying."
Lighthouse owner Julie Eisenberg says her yoga studio was broken into four times. "The biggest issue for me was, in part because of the crime and in part because of the fact that the other businesses weren’t thriving, I wasn’t really getting any walk-in business," she says. "People had a perception that the block was really dangerous."
When she opened Lighthouse on Georgia Avenue two years ago, Eisenberg expected more restaurants and businesses to come to the block. "At the time, the block seemed to be on an upswing," she says. "And it’s just gone in the exact opposite direction."
Earlier this month, I wrote about a neighborhood effort to attract new retail to Kennedy Street NW, which has seen an influx of middle-class residents but suffers from high vacancy. A central goal of the neighbors behind the push is to convince an investor to take a chance on a restaurant or two on the street. The expectation is that any new development will likely start at Kennedy and Georgia and slowly spread eastward.
But part of what's holding the street back is the perception of crime, even if Eisenberg and Kennedy Street activists both insist they always feel personally safe in the area. Fusion, Moroni, and Lighthouse are—or were—six blocks south of Kennedy, and part of the same stretch of the Georgia corridor in north Petworth and south Brightwood Park that the city dubs the southern zone of Upper Georgia Avenue. If restaurants and services there are publicizing their crime problems and shutting down, that's a bad sign for any efforts to bring similar retail to Kennedy Street, even farther from the Metro and from the good reputation it's working to earn.
Meanwhile, the principal beneficiary of the flight from the 4800 block of Georgia appears to be Upshur Street NW, Petworth's main east-west commercial street. Dindyal hopes to reopen Fusion on Upshur, where he owns another restaurant. Lighthouse reopened last week on the corner of 9th and Upshur. Upshur is closer to the Petworth Metro station and the heart of the neighborhood's apartment and retail boom, and it's gaining the critical mass that the 4800 block of Georgia has lost.
The move to Upshur is already paying dividends for Lighthouse. "It’s been less than a week, and we’re already getting a lot of new students," says Eisenberg. "It’s a completely different vibe."
This post has been updated to include information from Eisenberg.
Photo via Fusion Restaurant