Editorial

EDITORIAL: As More Businesses Fall Along D.C.’s U Street Corridor, Will COVID-19 Have Final Say?

Earlier this week, the District witnessed another example of the devastating effect that COVID-19 continues to have on local businesses. Restaurants and bars have found it especially tough to weather the storm — many having already reduced staff while ramping up amenities including carryout, home delivery or outdoor dining just to keep their doors open.

But with the announcement on Tuesday, Sept. 15 that seven popular bars and restaurants along the U Street and 14th corridors will close up shop on Oct. 31, what’s more foreboding for others within the food and beverage industry, and the District, may rest more with the names of the owners and the locations than the fact that these businesses will soon join an ever-growing list of venues already closed — unable to survive the pandemic.

The Hilton brothers and their company, H2 Collective, have been credited with helping the U Street corridor — once referred to as “Black Broadway” and the epicenter of Black culture in D.C. since the 1920s until it fell into ruin after the 1968 riots — remake itself and regain economic prosperity following the opening of the U Street metro station in 1991. But not even the Hilton’s, long heralded as leaders within the District’s food and beverage industry, could overcome the financial setbacks they’ve suffered over the last six months.

“While we have done our very best to meet [the] challenges, we no longer have the capability to keep that fight going,” the company owners wrote in a statement. “Day after day, we and our staff are operating at loss, under duress and with little relief in sight.” In reference to the difficult decision they have made, closing “for the foreseeable future,” the Hiltons wrote, “we believe it’s the right one.”

The seven affected bars and restaurants represent some of the most financially successful venues in a gentrified neighborhood that, since 2013, has ushered in thousands of “newbies” — mostly white millennials financially able to take up residence in swanky, new apartment buildings while indulging in all that the area’s refurbished and stylishly-eclectic dining and shopping venues have to offer.

The restaurant and bar industry has seen 100,000 businesses close nationwide within the last six months. Three million former employees across the U.S. remain out of work and experts predict that by year end, the losses owners will suffer could exceed $240 billion. Maryland’s first-ever statewide restaurant week, which runs Sept. 18 — 27, and the return of the D.C. region’s Black Restaurant Week, which will operate during the same timeframe, both indicate that owners are still looking for creative ways to jump-start their sales and remain in business.

But as one member of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington said Tuesday to a WJLA-TV reporter, “We need more [financial] relief — not just from the city but from the federal government.”

Winter’s coming and with colder weather in store, the outlook for restaurants and bars appears grim. With many owners having already depleted their reserves, the continued refusal of nation’s leaders to be honest and to confront this pandemic head-on, and with more partisan-based tug-of-wars still going on — holding up legislation that would provide sorely needed financial assistance for entrepreneurs, we shudder to imagine what lies ahead.

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