The August 2022 issue of Architectural Digest included D.C.’s Union Station in the magazine’s list of most beautiful train stations in the world, calling it a “Beaux Arts wonder.”
But lately, the marbled halls of the station have been but a dreary backdrop to empty stores and hallways, amidst safety issues and a slowly returning crowd.
Jamia Grinage has worked in the Blue Mercury store at the station for nearly a year.
“It’s kind of hard for the tourists to walk through the (station’s) hallway because it’s a little dark,” she said.
Since the pandemic, the station’s hallways, which were peppered with lively retail outlets and restaurants, are now just empty storefronts with no replacements.
“Me personally? I wouldn’t want to go into a dark hallway. So, me not seeing the H&M and the Victoria’s Secret at the end of the hall is kind of like…ugh,” she added.
But hallways dulled by absent stores aren’t the only problem at the station.
A recent shooting in the station’s west hall left one injured and has restarted the conversation around safety issues at the station.
“Like it’s kind of just the thing. You just know that Union Station is sketch,” said Hannah Reeter, a regular rider of the Metro.
Earlier this year, Starbucks announced the closure of 16 stores nationally, citing safety concerns. The store at Union Station was one of them.
Safety at the station was the recent topic of discussion at the September Advisory Neighborhood Committee meeting for Ward 6C, with newly appointed CEO and President of the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) Doug Carr in attendance.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the conversation was “regarding the need for law enforcement at the station, loitering and food waste in the front portico, homeless persons and people with mental health problems, and issues contributing to an unwelcoming atmosphere at the station.”
“I know there’s homeless people here, but I’ve never felt unsafe,” said Sahar Curtis, a commuter at the station.
“It is a matter of safety concern because you have some of the homeless population, and they can be a bit uneasy, and they can be a bit rowdy, you never know if they’re going to snap. We deal with that a lot,” said Marissa Wood, a longtime worker at the station’s The Body Shop.
Wood said she’s dealt with people wandering into stores yelling and screaming, but explained that it usually doesn’t escalate due to the heavy police presence at the station.
The police jurisdiction of Union Station is split among multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), the Amtrak Police Department, United States Park Police, Metro Transit Police Department, and the United States Capitol Police.
“The MPD is constantly connecting with the community so that we’re constantly aware of safety issues around the station,” said an MPD spokesperson about its jurisdiction. “There has been no upward trend in crime around Union Station.”
According to MPD crime card data, the incidents around the station have only slightly increased as compared to last year. There have been 36 incidents around the station this year.
Statistics from Metro Transit Police’s jurisdiction paints a similar picture. This year, it shows only 14 incidents in the District’s Metro facilities, with only one so far in October.
The Park Police have also been involved in maintaining safety in some areas of the station and just recently cleared a homeless encampment at Columbus Circle.
When asked if it has improved safety conditions around the station, most are conflicted.
“They’re not trying to solve the problem, just trying to get it out of our rear view,” said Grinage.
Wood was glad they finally moved it, calling it a “very unattractive sight.”
But for others, the concern around the station is no different than safety concerns over crime in the entire district.
D.C. Real Time news, a twitter account covering police, fire and emergency medical services news in the District, tweeted out a resigned “UNBELIEVABLE” on Sunday after three separate shootings involving teenagers happened across the city.
UNBELIEVABLE, a horrible Sunday with 3 teens shot in 3 separate shootings in D.C. today. @AnnaLysaGayle @DCNewsNow https://t.co/zMpgD2scDj
— DC REALTIME NEWS (@RealTimeNews10) October 9, 2022
“I don’t know if it’s any better or worse,” said Karl Fitzke. “Not necessarily right here, no more than other spots in D.C. I’m not overly concerned. I mean, you hear about shootings all the time.”