Don’t Price Gouge Georgetown’s Iconic Shops Out of Business
By February 8, 2023 0 801•
It’s been a rough couple of years for businesses with the pandemic shut-downs and restrictions. Remote work and remote buying hit Georgetown’s small single-owner in-person stores and eateries particularly hard with labor shortages and falling sales. Yet most survived.
While chain stores like the Gap, 7-Eleven and even Brooks Brothers were shut down by their corporate owners because of falling profits, many of the small one-of-a-kind shop owners took from their personal savings, decreased in size and service, and did it all 24/7 with little or no staff. Georgetowners responded: ordering take-out, eating outside under heating lamps and umbrellas; dropping by retail stores if just to chat.
Now, it’s 2023, and most pandemic restrictions are gone. Even parking is coming back. The light seems to be brightening at the end of the long Covid tunnel.
So, it has been somewhat of a shock that in just the past few weeks, The Georgetowner reported on the closing of some of Georgetown’s favorite small businesses. One featured this week was the charming Chinese tea room that had been a treasured jewel of tranquility on Wisconsin Avenue for 25 years.
“I thought my landlord was proud to have me and my beautiful business here. People loved it. It was always full and I finally had it decorated [at her expense] just the way I wanted,” owner Hollie Wong told The Georgetowner. “But suddenly the landlord raised the rent for the next year 48 percent! 48 percent! I can’t do 48 percent. I can’t add more tables and ruin the charm. I can raise the prices a bit but not 50 percent.”
The tea room closed by Feb. 1. And so will a few more Georgetown favorites soon. The Georgetowner will report about them sadly. But here’s what we really think: This is price gouging! A 48-percent raise in rent in one year is the definition of price gouging. D.C. doesn’t allow it for single-family renters. Ten to 12 percent-a-year rent increase is considered reasonable — especially if there are long-term capital improvements scheduled. But 48 percent? Individual home renters are protected by D.C. regulations from price gouging; they can appeal and negotiate.
We suggest that D.C.’s neighborhood single owners of long-time businesses should be protected from price gouging as well. Also, consider how after a treasured business is kicked out, the building stands empty for years while the landlord waits for even bigger long-term renters. Individual business owners should have a legal process to complain, appeal, negotiate and be protected from commercial price gauging.