Monday, July 25, 2016

Does Starbucks Signal a New Takoma?

Starbucks is coming to Takoma, to a storefront location at Carroll and Maple Streets, NW. Expect the company's latest outlet — number 24,000-and-some — to open this fall.

Starbucks will arrive soon in Takoma soon, at Carroll and Maple Streets, NW
We've debated benefits and concerns. Negative responses to a late-2015 Old Takoma Business Association poll were illuminating, but didn't deter Starbucks. Preferences for independent rather than chain businesses, expressed for instance in POPville blog comments, are noble but ultimately moot.

We're now beyond speculation substantiated only by construction-worker chatter. A June 9 construction permit application, posted online at, reveals plans for a 2,055 sq.ft. space with (up to) 50 seats and 94 "occupant load."

I asked the company about plans. Received July 21: "We are happy to confirm that we will be opening a new location in the Takoma community, at 232 Carroll St NW, Washington DC, this fall. While we don't have an exact opening date just yet, feel free to check back in the coming weeks."

What does Starbucks' arrival mean for Takoma?

Urbanizing Takoma

Starbucks will offer Takoma residents and visitors a new third space — neither home nor office, less formal than a restaurant, large enough to serve as a drop-in place to meet or work or just hang out. Takoma is short on this sort of community space. We have only one, the very popular Capital City Cheesecake. Based on CCC's draw, I expect Starbucks to similarly attract a strong daytime crowd.

La Mano Coffee Bar has obvious cause for concern. La Mano is a small, independently owned business, down the block from the Starbucks site. La Mano does have a couple of significant assets. La Mano's coffee and food are far, far better than Starbucks'. I'm confident local fans will remain loyal. We'll do our best to make sure that La Mano survives.

Reality is that a few chain outlets won't harm our community, particularly when contained within a neighborhood friendly shell, as the Carroll Avenue Starbucks will be. Contrast with the CVS directly across the street, and with the nearby 7-Eleven: Both surrounded by parking, with out-of-place suburban-sprawl designs. The existence of those poor-fit chain outlets hasn't destroyed Takomaness, nor will Starbucks.

Fortunately, new Old Takoma construction, in recent years, has respected our urbanizing business district. The Takoma Central building, with Busboys and Poets sidewalk seating, is a positive addition to the neighborhood. The proposed Neighborhood Development Company building in Takoma Junction, despite the possible undesirable compromise of streetscape space for truck unloading, will revitalize the junction as an attractive commercial destination.

I'd welcome more of the same, business-district commercial and mixed-use development, that is. I suspect that we're going to see it in the coming years, in Takoma DC in particular. Quite a few low-density commercial parcels are in very close proximity to the Takoma Metro station, a transit hub, therefore attractive targets for redevelopment.

Candidate #1, for me at least, would be the properties directly behind the commercial strip stretching from new Starbucks locations to the railroad right-of-way. Check out this photo, with the Elevation 314 apartment building, shown from the rear, to the left. Imagine a new, multi-story, office/commercial/professional building — think new local employment and business-opportunity space, steps from a transit hub, utilizing the 50-foot height allowed by the site's C-2-A zoning — replacing the current low-grade, low-density use.

Low-density, low-grade commercial use a block from Takoma's Main Street, Carroll Avenue

There are other candidates. The current Barac rental office on 4th Street NW, a single-story building with a surface parking log, underutilizes close-to-transit commercial space. So does the Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home on Carroll Street Street NW, which seems to host very few funerals.

Slow to grow

Takoma commercial-district growth has been slow.

Rumor has it that Starbucks' or similar designs on Takoma Junction led the City of Takoma Park to buy the property there that's now slated for redevelopment. The site's high volume of vehicle traffic would surely have been an attraction. I shudder to think that the business might have included a drive-up service window in their building, to harvest all that traffic. If so, that's a bullet we dodged, and now we have a site-appropriate redevelopment project underway.

Supposedly Starbucks looked at the former Taliano's restaurant space on Carroll Avenue — Old Takoma Ace Hardware opened there in 2009 —but shied away because of low daytime traffic. But that was nearly a decade ago.

Since then, Takoma has added many hundreds of new residential apartment units. The 99 Willow & Maple units are steps from the new Starbucks location, and Takoma Central, with 150 units, is directly across the street. (The planned Takoma Metro development project appears to have stalled, however. Developer EYA did not respond to my request for an update.) The addition of new residents provides the daytime numbers that justified a Starbucks bet, I'd infer.

Yet many Takoma storefront locations remain vacant. They include Takoma Central retail space and large spaces in the Willow Street NW building owned by Douglas Development.

Otherwise, Old Takoma storefront vacancy rates are generally low, excepting spaces in Takoma Junction that are in transition. Some businesses do face patronage challenges. The restaurants in the stretch from Horace & Dickie's and Evolve on 4th Street NW, to Republic and Roscoe's on Carroll Avenue, by way of Busboys and Poets, Mark's Kitchen, and the Middle East Cuisine, aren't doing anything close to the weekday lunch and afternoon business they could. That's because employment-wise, Takoma Park — Washington DC's first instance of transit-oriented development — is a "bedroom suburb." Residents commute elsewhere to work. Business-district urbanization, focused on Takoma DC, close to the Takoma Metro station, will change the equation.

New commercial/office/mixed-use development would be a strong positive, boosting local businesses and providing local, transit-friendly employment and business-creation opportunities. I read the Takoma arrival of Starbucks, a business that relies on daytime patronage, as a bet on that future. I'd prefer our new business neighbor were other than Big Coffee, but I welcome Starbucks' vote of confidence and the future it signals.


For the record: Starbucks' construction permit filing, downloaded July 18, 2016 from Click to view the full image —


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