Monday, March 9, 2015

Washington Social Diary: Permission to Inhale ...

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, being interview by CJ, at The Q&A Cafe, where she talked about standing up to Congress.
by Carol Joynt

You may have heard that it is now legal to possess a small amount of marijuana in Washington DC. Small amount translates as 2 ounces, which is really not that small at all (unless you’re a dealer). Residents may also grow a few plants in their homes. Only a few, and in their homes, not out in the garden. One more thing: while it’s legal to possess weed, and to give one ounce or less to another person, it is not legal to buy or sell weed. So, it’s a very loopy law but it’s something.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah sent a letter to Mayor Bowser saying to go forward with legal weed in DC was a "willful violation of the law."
Here’s the news, it’s been more than a week since the law went live and so far the city has continued to hum along. We may now have permission to inhale our own marijuana, but as far as I can tell we haven’t turned into a populace of rampaging zombies. That fact is one that won’t impress House Republicans.

As you may know, Congress is mandated to oversee the laws and finances of local Washington. Wikipedia uses an apt term: “supreme authority.”  In other words, they are up in our business. Inexplicably in the year 2015, DC is still denied statehood and voting rights, but then DC residents were denied the right to vote for President until 1961 and the passage of the 23rd Amendment. If you think this puts us in the position of children with a stern “nanny,” you are about right, but we are children who are expected to pay taxes.

Which brings us back to the House GOP and specifically the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and its chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. He and some of his GOP colleagues were not happy that the DC government went ahead and enforced this marijuana measure that was overwhelmingly approved by voters.

Chaffetz threatened to have Mayor Muriel Bowser thrown into jail. So far, that hasn’t happened. Only a couple of months on the job, she stood up to Congress, citing the will of the people. “I have a lot of things to do in the District of Columbia. Me being in jail wouldn’t be a good thing,” Bowser said.
In the interview, Bowser said though it didn't happen she prepared to be arrested for enforcing marijuana legalization, and even dressed comfortably for the day legalization happened.
But we probably haven’t heard the last of House unhappiness with DC for trying in this one small way to enforce its own laws and control its own destiny. Interestingly, though, House Speaker John Boehner has stayed out of the dispute, focusing instead on his own survival in the face of a cranky Tea Party.

If you come to Washington will it be like visiting Colorado, where you can shop for a weed at a weed store? No. Will it become that? Unlikely in the near term, if ever. Is the new law sane and fair? It seems so, a beginning at least, because the arrest rate for possessing small amounts of pot, at its height, was ridiculous and unfair. 
Mayor Bowser, announcing that marijuana legalization would happen, citing the law and overwhelming approval by DC voters. (Photo courtesy of WUSA)
If you would like to know more about the campaign to legalize marijuana, on Friday, March 20th I will have an evening conversation with Adam Eidenger of the DC Cannabis Campaign, who was the force behind the ballot Initiative 71. He has quite a story to tell. The location is The George Town Club and you can call for a reservation: 202-333-9330. We’ll start at 5, serve cocktails and food but, alas, no cannabis.
Adam Eidinger of the DC Cannabis Campaign, will be the next guest at The Q&A Cafe, on Friday, March 20 (all are welcome).
Adam Eidinger, campaigning for Initiative 71. (Photo courtesy of NPR)
In 2012 Adam Eidinger owned the head shop Capitol Hemp. It got raided by police. He was charged with a crime. It closed. That was then. Now it's legal to sell cannabis paraphernalia in DC. (Photo by Ben Droz)

The talk of the town in Georgetown is more or less what it always is – about real estate. Who sold what, who bought what. In the last month it has focused more on commercial real estate and the sale of two buildings that represent a fabled moment in time. But it also includes big names: Under Armour, Serendipity III, and a New York real estate enterprise, Sivan Properties. A lot of people are invoking the phrase end of an era, but let me add another: things change.
Not a unique site in Georgetown, a former small business, closed, the space for rent.
The emotional part of this narrative involves two businesses, both family owned, both in their time primal to the life of Georgetown and Georgetowners. One of them, a market at Wisconsin and P, was owned by the Neam family. They named the market Neam’s. For a New York context, its connection to the immediate community was comparable to Eli Zabar’s EAT, or Lobel’s or Greenberg’s Bakery. 

The other was owned by my family, Nathans, a bar at the corner of Wisconsin and M. It was a quintessential corner pub, but one where a lot of the patrons had trust funds.

I closed Nathans in 2009, after 40 years, and then the New York ice cream parlor Serendipity III briefly moved in, and to a not very warm welcome from the community.
The story of Wisconsin and M : As it looked as Nathans.
As it looked repainted white and bubble gum pink by Serendipity.
In contrast to its enduring appeal in New York, Serendipity never got traction here, suffered poor reviews, and to the extent it got any press it was either about a prohibitive $1,000 ice cream sundae or unrest between the two owners, including a barroom fist fight that reportedly had to be broken up by the cops. There were restraining orders, and rumors of financial shenanigans, and it closed. The building was sold to Kevin Plank, the founder of the sportswear giant Under Armour, and himself a Georgetown resident, and his company will put an Under Armour store in the Nathans building.
As it looks today.
Under Armour will probably do a fine job renovating the building (and it needs it), and this brand makes a fine product, but locals lament that one more prime location will become retail.
As it will look as rendered by the Under Armour architects.
The Neam’s Building is just up the street. When Neam’s Market closed several years ago it was a jolt for the community. But at least it was followed by another food operation, Marvelous Market, which started as a bread bakery, offered fresh pizzas, roasted chickens, some produce, a sandwich bar, coffee, beer, wine, desserts and a place to sit. It wasn’t Neam’s, but it was okay, useful and popular. It closed last year.

After that, the Neam’s Building sat empty. There was one near sale that fell through and then last week the Neam family confirmed they had sold the building to Sivan Properties of Port Washington, NY, who have been investing in DC real estate. There’s no hint of their plans.
The Neam's Market Building, just sold, future to be determined. (It comes with a priceless parking lot).
Neam’s and Nathans represent what’s quickly become an almost sepia-toned era when Georgetown was still “ma and pa” in its commercial areas, and when the businesses catered almost solely to the residents, with first-name relationships between customer and patron, house accounts, of course, and home delivery – from dry cleaning to caviar.
The Neam's Building at the corner of Wisconsin and P.
But dead malls became the trend and their fleeing tenants, the impersonal chain stores, sought fresh oxygen. They came to Georgetown, to M and Wisconsin, where rents were not an issue and the little guys couldn’t compete.

The change happened over the decade of the 90s. One by one they fell, an eclectic but authentic mix – the electric store, the hardware store, the locally-founded men’s clothing store, a game arcade, a lesbian steak house, a gay corner grill, book stores, a couple of Indie movie theaters, a candy store, a nearby lumber yard, and any number of wild and crazy bars and discos.
Despite an influx of stores escaping the dead malls, Georgetown still looks quaint, especially in the snow.
This M Street mall in Georgetown escaped death by gutting itself and reopening with twice the parking, a bowling alley, as well as big box and other chain stores. Next, the "new urbanism?"
What replaced them? T.J. Maxx, DSW, H&M, Forever 21, Restoration Hardware, Abercrombie, Nike, Zara, North Face. You know the brands. They are ubiquitous in major cities and have set up shop at the best addresses. I'm not entirely negative on this. I shop at some of the chains: Dean and Deluca, Cusp, Loft, Barney's, and, most definitely, Apple. But their days may be numbered in this form, too, as the shopping style du jour transitions into the "new urbanism," or the open-air "mixed use" complex that is as much a lifestyle event as it is a consumer experience. Miami's Bal Harbour Shops, for example. Even the new CityCenter in DC, with luxury shopping such as Hermes, and celebrity-chef dining, Daniel's Boulud's DBGB, above condos and rental apartments. The key is that the shopping areas are walkable and intimate; auto traffic is limited or diverted entirely.

One of the more thoughtful Washington developers, Anthony Lanier, an Austrian transplant – who grew up with walkable shopping districts – has tried for years to transform the core Georgetown commercial area into an open village center with wide sidewalks and few cars, but many places to shop, walk, sit outside, live. We’re still cheering for him.
On M Street, in the heart of Georgetown.
If we’re lucky, something fresh will come along. Entrepreneurs will jump in. The key is for local governments to find a way to make it inviting and profitable for an inventive sole proprietor to give it a go in the high rent district. Having the smaller and interesting shops and restaurants in the commercial mix helps to break up the monotony of the big box stores, the discounters and the other chains. The little guy helps to bring the shopping experience to the human level. It means so much to shop at a store where an owner is behind the counter.

If none of this works out, we can stay at home, light up and chill – legally.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt