The D.C. streetcar system accepted its first passengers on Feb. 27, but the system is not standing up to previous expectations, according to businesses on H Street.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials promised residents that revamping the city’s streetcar system would spark business. Supporters said it would generate a special buzz around H-Street that would create excitement and attract people from around the city to the once riot-torn street.
One week after the launch of the D.C. Streetcar, 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 Union Station metro and rarely stop 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 setback, launched last week 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 during the opening weekend when people from throughout 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,” she said.
Down the street, at The C.A.T. Walk Boutique, Thomas said a few more people did come in the first weekend, because she had a friend volunteering with the 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.”
David Lutz, owner of Thrift, a thrift store, disagrees. He 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 been 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,” Lutz said. “But I think there will be more people coming through because they have more access,” he said.