2000 Penn vendors question how planned renovations will impact business

Media Credit: Graeme Sloan | Contributing Photo Editor

MRP Realty, a D.C. real estate company that signed on to develop The Shops at 2000 Penn in May, is proposing plans to upgrade the building to resemble a public market with smaller and more vendor spaces and a refurbished exterior.

A local real estate company laid out initial plans to revamp The Shops at 2000 Penn, but store owners and employees said they are still unsure how they will be affected by the renovations.

MRP Realty, a D.C. real estate company that signed on to develop the retail space in May, is proposing plans to upgrade the building to resemble a public market with smaller and more vendor spaces and a refurbished exterior. Store vendors said while conversations with MRP about the project are still ongoing, many are optimistic that renovating the space will bring more “foot traffic” to the complex and increase business.

Kirk Francis, the founder and co-owner of Captain Cookie and the Milkman, said that since moving into the space almost four years ago, the store has continually attracted between 1,000 and 2,000 customers a week.

Francis said he is “in favor” of MRP’s plans to renovate the complex because updates to the building will likely attract more customers. He said that over the past year, he has noticed “a lot of turnover” in the complex, adding that a lack of variety in stores does not attract students.

The complex has historically struggled to keep vendors as businesses scrambled to keep up with rent costs and slow sales. Johnny Rockets, which operated in 2000 Penn for more than eight years, closed in 2016, and Cone E. Island, an ice cream and frozen yogurt business on campus that was open for almost three decades, shuttered two years before. MRP officials said at a local government meeting earlier this month that cutting the size of vendor spaces would help business owners meet their rent.

Francis said MRP has “stated explicitly” that Captain Cookie’s physical space will not be affected by the changes, but he is concerned that construction could “turn off” customers. He added that once renovations start, the company plans to post signs around the building saying the store is still open.

The initial phases of the project are expected to be completed by 2020.

“I do think it’s going to be a challenge for customers and therefore will probably result in lower sales for us, but it’s something we’re willing to put up with because I do think it’s going to spur more foot traffic after that,” he said.

Patrick Coyne, the owner of Laoban Dumplings, said his store – which opened in November 2017 – attracts between 500 to 1,000 customers each week. He said that over the past year, there has been a “deliberate effort” to bring new vendors to the complex, which the renovations could promote.

Coyne said he has discussed renovation plans with MRP, but the development company has “not really” given him a timeline for the project because it is “pretty fluid.”

He said MRP is “still working through” whether Laoban Dumplings’ location will be physically changed or affected during the renovation process and whether the store will have to close at any point during the project.

He declined to say how much the business pays in rent and whether the store has struggled to pay.

“The physical structure around it is going to be changing,” Coyne said. “There’s going to be certainly a change to the way people are able to walk around and access the space but plans are still kind of taking shape.”

Frances Nepomuceno, the manager of Bindaas, which also opened in November 2017, said about 300 to 400 people enter the store every day through the restaurant’s entrance on 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

She said it would be better “long-term” to bring more businesses to the less-frequented interior of the mall, which she said is often used by visitors as a hallway between stores rather than as a place to dine.

“In the winter time, it is very difficult to tell people, ‘Enjoy the mall side and walk around while you are waiting for a table,’ because it is not really welcoming,” Nepomuceno said.

John Hannah, the kitchen manager at Bertucci’s, said owners of the Italian chain restaurant have not told employees what conversations they have had with MRP and have not disclosed how the eatery will be affected by the renovations. He said the revamped complex will be “great” exposure for the restaurant.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s a destination place, but it is a place that if you know Bertucci’s or any other establishment that you want, then you come here,” he said. “If the changes do come, we would definitely welcome the foot traffic.”

Amy Lanctot, the senior manager of public relations for CVS Pharmacy, said the company “remains committed” to serving customers and looks forward to the renovations. She said CVS does not disclose “operational costs” for individual stores.

Representatives for MRP Realty, Paul, Perfect Pita, Au Bon Pain and Chipotle did not return multiple requests for comment. A representative for UPS declined to comment.

Representatives for Expressions, a clothing store in the complex that recently closed, and Kiko’s Shoe Repair could not be reached for comment.

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