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H Street NE business owners: Streetcar hasn’t made good on promise

By Kandace Brown/Howard University News Service
On March 14, 2016

“All people do is ride by,” said Carolyn Thomas, owner of The C.A.T. Walk Boutique. “They do not get off to check out the businesses here.”
Credit: Kandace Brown/Howard University News Service

Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials promised it would spark business. Supporters said it would generate a special buzz around H-Street that would create excitement and people from around the city to the once riot-torn street.

One week after the launch of the DC Streetcar, however, most store owners and businesses along the H Street corridor in northeast Washington said they are seeing little to no change in business.

Instead, they said, riders use the streetcar to get to the Metro station at Union Station while rarely stopping off at the businesses along the way.

“All people do is ride by,” said Carolyn Thomas, owner of The C.A.T. Walk Boutique. “They do not get off to check out the businesses here, and there are a lot here on H Street.”

The streetcar, which cost nearly $200 million and encountered numerous delays and setbacks, opened last week to much hoopla with a special opening-day ceremony and hundreds of curious riders from across the city who wanted to be the first aboard the new mode of transportation.

Some businesses did see an uptick in business the weekend it began when people from through the city flooded the area for the launch.

But not for Domencia Tyler.

Tyler, owner of The Chic Shack, a consignment shop on H Street near 13th Street, said the streetcar caused her to actually lose money on its first day because the ceremony blocked potential customers’ access to her store.

The city blocked off the street part of the day to create a space for the mayor and other city official’s speeches. Consequently, Tyler said many customers could not attend her special all-day sale, and the streetcar didn’t help out during the week either.

“I haven’t really seen an increase in business since it started running,” said Tyler. “The few that do ride aren’t really getting off at stops. It seems a lot of people use it to get to Union Station.”

Down the street, at The C.A.T. Walk Boutique, Thomas said a few more people did come in the first weekend of the train because she had a friend volunteering with the DC Streetcar who encouraged people to stop in.

Since then, she said, the streetcar has not brought many more people into her store.

“Maybe tourists will ride it and get off to go into stores,” she said. “The people who live here could not care less. That does not bring more people in here.”

Sandra Kim, an employee at Madison’s Cleaners, said that she has not seen much of a difference in business since the streetcar opened.

Since most of her customers live in the neighborhood, Kim said, they can get to the cleaners faster by walking than using the streetcar.

“I think it could help businesses here,” she said. “I am not so sure by how much, because there never seems to be many people riding it.”

At Susan’s Fashion, Jas Simpson, a sales associate, said that the streetcar was somewhat helpful to business opening weekend, but not much anymore.

Simpson said that during the week, she does not see many people riding it.

“On weekdays during lunch time, we get busy,” she said, “but that is not because of the streetcar. That is because it is lunchtime.”

David Lutz, owner of Thrift, a thrift store, said so far the streetcar has been good for him. Lutz said he saw a big impact on business the weekend the train began, and a little impact the following weekend.

“If I had to guess, I would say over the week I’ve [seen] about maybe 5 percent increase in business,” he said. “From a business standpoint, that is a lot.”

Lutz said although ridership has seemed to go down since opening weekend, he still thinks the streetcar will be good for his business.

“It’s only been a week,” said Lutz. “But I think there will be more people coming through because they have more access.”

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