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Columbia Heights’ DC-USA Retail Center Proven to Have Been Catalyst for Area’s Rapid Change and Magnet for Business

Accompanying images can be viewed in the August 2016 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

Editor’s note: What follows is the concluding part of last month’s lead story,  “Columbia Heights Retail Center That Opened in 2008 Sustains Itself During 2016’s Challenging Retail Environment,” July 2016 issue.]

DC-USA can take a bit of credit for the surroundings. The east side of the 3100 block of 14th Street, NW is solid with a pleasant mix of local businesses —  Cava Mezze Grill, The Heights, d’vines, Kenyon Cleaners, as well as regional and national ones such as BB&T, Chipolte, Starbucks, and FedEx.

Washington Sports Club agreed early in the game to anchor DC-USA’s third floor .  Since this was new construction, WSP wanted a pool. Part of the neighborhood agreement was to include a full gym and a child care center. This Columbia Heights location is one of the busiest in DC with over 5,000 members and caters to the community unlike some of the downtown centers that cater largely to office workers. This  gym the only one that is not only convenient for residents of Columbia Heights, but also for those of the Park View, Petworth, and Mt. Pleasant. WSC’s Business Manager Gerald Martin mentioned to this reporter the gym’s special programs at this location for children, such as swimming lessons, hosting birthday parties, and other child-focused activities.

DC-USA’s presence has also had an important and positive impact by making possible the cluster of small businesses that line the south side of the 1400 block of Park Road.

The DC Office of Planning and Economic Development provided a block grant to improve these store fronts. Besides Mattress Discounters, these small businesses include Alpha Express, Los Hermanos Dominican restaurant, New York Fashions, El Pollo Sabroso, Mi Cuba Café, and Pho 14.

Los Hermanos is a Dominican restaurant; Mi Cuba Café welcomes customers with Spanish music and a tropical décor; Pho 14 has often been selected as among the DC’s top DC restaurants for its Vietnamese cuisine.

What is the future for DC-USA?

Generally, most neighbors believe it is a bright one. Many of those who subscribe to Nextdoor.com’s Columbia Heights social networking portal have posted comments about the vacant spaces, some of which had apparently been vacant since the beginning in 2008.

Rosalind believes Modell’s is the best store, quality -wise; Mary wants more “community space”; Lorea, although not favoring it in the beginning, enjoys the convenience but DC-USA but laments that it has not created “a village”-like experience; Seth Morris was hoping for “nicer stores”; Rachel declares that DC-USA has made 14th Street safer and now easy access to “basics for the family”; Justin Dalia realizes that retail is struggling but was hoping DC-USA would be a bridge to development farther north on 14th Street; and Emily Sale wants more clothing stores beyond the “Target” brand.

Long-time resident and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A member Richard DuBeshter urges Grid Properties to re-open the negotiations with Ellwood Thompson. Richard asserts, “The community would be thrilled with this addition. The Staples vacant area would be ideal.”

Philadelphia-based discount retailer Five Below has opened its 300th outlet inside the retail center, selling a wide variety of merchandise from sunglasses to  electronics accessories to yoga mats to dog sweaters, to much more. Co-founder David Schlessinger told this reporter that declared that for eight years they searched for their ideal first DC location.

Despite the increasingly healthy economy, Minneapolis-based Target reports that, company-wide, consumers are not spending; sales last quarter increased by only 1.2 percent making it the slowest growth over the past six. The center’s new CEO, Brian Cornell, says the slowness this year began following Easter.

At the Columbia Heights location, however, there does seem to be an uptick in foot traffic. This might be a result of Target having sold its pharmacy business to  CVS and now there is a CVS inside the Target store.

And with reference to the store’s food offerings, Cornell says they will working to better match those with the needs and refernces of the community.

An especially popular destinations inside DC-USA is local, minority-owned Magic Ground indoor park  for children and families. The business was made possible with funding from small investors at a total cost of approximately $600,000. It includes a restaurant featuring salads, flatbread pizzas, desserts and paninis that is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 3:00 and 8:00 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10L00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Events Coordinator Nela P. Mora states, “We believe the community appreciates the arrival of Magic Ground as an additional indoor option to spend valuable family time. [DC] . . . has improved playgrounds throughout the city, but indoor parks were only available outside the beltway. Magic Ground aims to satisfy the needs of families that reside in [DC] that value time and every opportunity to share good moments with their children. Magic Ground offers a comfortable, fun, and safe environment for children to play, engage in art & craft activities, get face painting, try costumes and play in a pretend beauty salon, and play carefully selected video games.”

Editor’s Note: For a comprehensive report on the then brand new DC-USA complex and its welcomed arrival when it opened eight years ago, see “Major Retail Center Finally Opens in Columbia Heights; Great Excitement Generated in Neighborhood and Citywide,” InTowner, March 2008 issue pdf, page 1.

Author’s Note: Special thanks for taking the time for interviews in preparation of both parts 1 and 2 (July and August) of this report : Grid Properties Principal Drew Greenwald; former Ward 1  Councilmember Jim Graham and staff member Jason Yuckenberg; current Ward 1 Councilmember Briane Nadeau  and her Deputy Chief of Staff Tom Fazzini; 62-year neighborhood resident George Porter; ANC1A-06 Commissioner Richard DuBeshter; Ellwood Thompson Grocery owner Richard T. Hood; Black Chamber of Commerce founder Dee Hunter;  Whole Foods’ Marc Katz; Magic Ground’s Events Coordinator Nela Mora; Washington Sports Club Business Manager Gerald Martin.

*Larry Ray, a resident of Columbia Heights, is a Senior Lecturer at The George Washington University School of Law and Senior Trainer with the American Management Association. He is a former four-term Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and has served as President of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association.

Copyright © 2016 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.