The Wash

Business openings and droves of visitors launch Georgetown out of the pandemic blues

Georgetown business owners and employees are optimistic as new businesses open and visitors surge back to the area.

Business in Georgetown is on the road to recovery after a tumultuous year of closures brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the country, retailers, both large and small, were forced to close their doors, either temporarily or for good. But as more new businesses open in Georgetown, and visitor numbers surge toward pre-pandemic levels, business owners and employees remain hopeful for a prosperous year ahead. 

A total of 21 businesses opened their doors this year in Georgetown, and 16 businesses are slated to open soon. A 2020 report from the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) shows Georgetown suffered 63 business closures last year during the height of the pandemic. But so far this year, there have only been 12 closures, a steep drop from the year before.

Jamie Scott, the Director of Planning and Economic Development for the Georgetown BID, said the 2021 business report is looking optimistic.

“The difference between 2021 and 2019 has gotten smaller, and smaller, and smaller as the year goes on,” Scott said. 

Consumers gradually flocked to the historic neighborhood this year, inching closer to pre-pandemic numbers. Scott said Georgetown saw 10 million visitors by the end August in 2019, then the pandemic happened, and visitors plummeted to 4.6 million in 2020. But this year, visitor numbers jumped back up to nearly 8 million, proving Georgetown is making a comeback. 

And yet, despite the gradual return of shoppers and diners, businesses in Georgetown still suffered during the pandemic.

The Lantern Bookshop opened on P Street NW back in 1996. All profits from The Lantern go to financially assist women attending Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. The bookshop, which sells used and rare books, is operated by volunteers, most of whom are Bryn Mawr alumnae.  

Susan Flinn, the president of The Lantern board, said the bookshop was closed between March of 2020 and May of 2021. Unfortunately, The Lantern was unable to make any financial contributions during 2020 due to the mandated business closures; but they’re turning that around this year.

Flinn said she’d seen an enthusiastic response from customers since reopening. Sales are up by 25% compared to an equivalent pre-pandemic period, and Flinn said she’d received a host of new volunteer requests, too.

“I think one benefit of COVID, such as it is, is that people have really noticed what they’ve been missing during the shutdown. For our book-loving customers, being able to come back to our quirky shop has been a delight,” Flinn said.

The Lantern Bookshop officially opened on P Street NW in 1996. (Mike Pesoli/The Wash)

Down along the bustling M Street NW sits Allbirds, a sustainable shoe and clothing outfitter. Allbirds opened its doors in February of 2020. One week later, the pandemic slammed those doors shut. The shop would not reopen again until August later that year. 

Jordan Piha, a store manager at Allbirds, said business this year has been going strong since May.

“It’s definitely not back to normal as we know it,” Piha said. “But it’s on the uptick.”

Piha told The Wash he’s happy about college students returning to campuses across the district because they’re applying for jobs that Allbirds needed to fill. 

Restaurants in Georgetown were thrown a life raft when a sidewalk widening project was executed last year. The project’s mission was to provide more space to consumers walking along Georgetown’s narrow sidewalks and to help local restaurants create or expand outdoor dining spaces to boost business during the pandemic. The project cost approximately $1.3 million, with $500,000 coming from a DC Council grant.

Clyde’s American Bar, located on M Street NW, has multiple locations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The restaurant and bar specialize in American fare and specialty cocktails.

Bryan Trotter, the general manager of Clyde’s in Georgetown, said the restaurant benefited greatly from the sidewalk extension project.

“It helped us a lot with people who weren’t comfortable eating inside,” Trotter said.

Around Christmastime, a government mandate shut down indoor dining at restaurants throughout the district. The sidewalk extension allowed guests at Clyde’s  to dine outside surrounded by heaters. Trotter said this was better than nothing.

But now that indoor and outdoor dining are back, Trotter said weekends at Clyde’s are back to pre-pandemic business numbers.

“We’ve been busy again,” said Trotter. “It seems like people are coming back out, and enjoying dining out again, and feeling more comfortable. So it’s definitely looking up for everything.”

The most comparable market to Georgetown is Tyson’s Corner, located in Fairfax, Virginia. Tyson’s is an indoor shopping center with 290 retail spaces, compared to Georgetown’s 446 retail spaces. Density of retail space and high-end retail offerings make the two markets comparable. But Tyson’s indoor retail experience is a stark contrast to Georgetown’s outdoor offering. Tyson’s and Georgetown have seen similar visitor numbers this year, but by the end of August, Georgetown surged past Tyson’s with more than 100,000 visitors. 

Jamie Scott, from the Georgetown BID, said multiple factors are at play when measuring Georgetown’s recovery.

“The outdoor environment, density of retail, international reputation, and the physical quality of the neighborhood all mean that Georgetown is well-positioned to have people come back,” Scott said.

With fall weather and the holidays around the corner, businesses remain hopeful that the upswing in visitors continues.

Scott told The Wash the Georgetown BID will publish its 2021 business progress report in the forthcoming weeks.

 

Mike Pesoli

Mike Pesoli

Mike Pesoli is a graduate journalism student at American University. He is a broadcast journalist and digital storyteller. Mike is passionate about local news and community reporting. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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