Sept. 21, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

H Street Merchants Hope Construction Completion Will Bring Business

File Photo
H Street business owners are yearning for the idyllic streetcar to replace the construction bustle that has plagued the corridor as streetcar tracks are laid.

The week before, the construction cut off her water supply. She says some of the crew brought her 5-gallon jugs, but she couldn’t do pedicures in cold water. So she had to turn away customers.

And at SOVA, the morning coffee-and-pastry business is down. Hankins says many of his customers like to pull up and park in front of the cafe, but because there’s no parking on his side of the street, many of his regulars just drive on by.

Austin Young, who waits tables at the H Street Country Club and manages Dangerously Delicious Pies, says business at both of his places of employment has taken a hit. At one point, pedestrians were blocked from crossing the street at one end of the block, he says, all but cutting off the businesses.

“Cars are getting booted,” he says, “which is a big deterrent.”

While many business owners are skeptical of the city’s promises, most are encouraged by the pace of the work going on outside their doors. The merchants agree that the crews have been hard at it, even in the recent heat wave.

Lisle says the official deadline named in the contract with the construction company handling the project, Capitol Paving, for completing the work isn’t until October, but Gray moved it up in a gesture of reassurance to the business owners and residents impatient for results.

There’s no contractual penalty if the work isn’t finished by June 30, he says, but DDOT is working with the contractor to speed up the process by expanding the area the crews are permitted to work on at once.

Hope for the Future
Feldman says the merchants shouldn’t be surprised by the inconveniences.

“It hasn’t been great for business,” he says of the construction. “But we all knew it was going to happen, and in fact, many of us came here based on the fact that there would be construction.”

Many were lured by the city’s vision for the corridor: a well-lit, attractive setting where customers from all over the city feel comfortable and can easily reach even the farthest businesses using a nostalgic mode of public transportation.

Getting to this point has been a bumpy ride. The most recent streetcar drama unfolded last year, when the D.C. Council approved a budget with little money for the cars, at then-Councilmember Gray’s suggestion, effectively killing the project. But in a quick turnabout after outcry from constituents, the council found $47 million to complete it.

Lisle estimates the track-laying along

H Street and nearby Benning Road has cost $12 million. The H Street streetcars, all told, will cost $30 million, he says.

And more than the promise of an end date, merchants say the vision of a finished H Street has kept them optimistic. Many are already seeing encouraging signs, such as the tidy look where the construction has been completed, allowing customers to comfortably traipse the street, which boasts thriving business blocks at both ends but a relatively empty middle stretch.

“Hopefully soon, it will look more like what everyone wants it to be,” Young says as he eyes the orange cones outside the window of the pie shop, “which is a more refined area, a place where people just want to hang out.”

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