The west side of Washington Avenue has changed dramatically over the years, slowly shifting along the industrial spectrum. A hundred years ago, businesses along Washington Avenue were all heavy industrial, with manufacturing mixed with lumber yards mixed with smelting plants. In more recent decades, old warehouses were repurposed and Washington Avenue has become a haven for building supply companies. This has been a boon for contractors, especially as the Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze neighborhoods have experienced so much construction. It’s not as great for the people who live in either of those neighborhoods, as nobody likes dodging a forklift just a couple blocks from their home.
Slowly though, the atmosphere is shifting on Washington Avenue. Restaurants are popping up, like the tasty Cafe Ynez on the 2000 block and the recently opened Chick’s on the 1800 block. Not only are restaurants making their way to Washington Avenue, but other types of businesses have also appeared, targeting residents and not contractors. The north side of the 1900 block of Washington Avenue provides a (very convenient and also a) decent example of the changing environment on the corridor.
Just five years ago, there was a solar panel company, a building supply company, and a kitchen supply company on the north side of this block. The space that had been home to the solar company is now occupied by a business that sells furniture and equipment to beauty shops. So there hasn’t been much change in that space. Next door, the building supply store has been partially converted into a crossfit gym, while the other half had been available for lease and we’ve learned it will become the new home of the BalletX Dance Company. These two uses are definitely trending in the direction we just described. The large building with the blue siding was previously Donatucci Kitchens, but it’s now getting chopped up into smaller spaces.
This is quite a mix. For those that don’t want to look at the signs, we see that multiple tenants have taken space in the building, including a scaffolding distributor, a wholesale design center, a wedding planning company, and a cell phone store. Two of those businesses are for contractors, and two are definitely not for contractors. And while we wouldn’t suggest setting off any fireworks over a cell phone store opening up, we’d still argue that it’s a step in the right direction. And no, we never thought we’d suggest such a thing. Weird times.
Of course, we see all of these businesses as intermediate steps toward the eventual mixed-use redevelopment of Washington Avenue. After years of longing, we’re finally seeing two such projects move forward, at Broad & Washington and at 24th & Washington. As new businesses and these larger projects start to draw people onto Washington Avenue, we can imagine a situation where the corridor becomes safer and more livable, and old warehouses are eventually torn down in favor of taller buildings that can accommodate apartments. Of course, if the corridor were to get rezoned from industrial to mixed-use, this process would probably accelerate. Since that’s not under our control, we’ll be cheered, in the meantime, by these small positive steps.