Old Post Office’s small businesses prepare to make way for Trumps

Evy Mages/for Capital Business - Donita Carlos runs the Panda Cafe at the Old Post Office Pavilion, soon to be taken over by Donald trump. Her mother and two sisters have also owned and managed at the venue.

Plans by Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka to turn the Old Post Office Pavilion into a luxury hotel means it will eventually be moving time for the dozens of small shops and food vendors that currently call the historical property home.

Some have operated on the Federal Triangle site for nearly 30 years.

Though the exact timing of their departure is uncertain, many of the pavilion’s small-business owners are already considering their next steps. Here’s a sample:

City Electronics, Toyland and Video Postcard

Owner Gi Chung has owned his three shops — which sell souvenirs, electronics and trinkets — for the past 28 years, working seven days a week since then. Though he would have liked to keep the shops going another five or six years, he said moving locations “is not easy for a small business” because of high rent outside the pavilion. In his experience, landlords prefer to rent to businesses larger than his. (Vendors at the pavilion pay $35 a square foot, according to the GSA.)

So he’s retiring.

Chung said he’s spent a “lifetime” at the pavilion, but that it hasn’t been easy — many other stores in the building sell souvenirs similar to the ones he sells. During the building’s peak tourist season — spring and summer — he estimates he gets a few hundred customers a day; a typical shopper spends between $15 and $20.

Chung said he isn’t sure what his five-person staff will do, but that they’ll likely have to scramble for other jobs.

Short Stop News

Owner and manager Sung Joo-Young also plans to stop working after running her souvenir shop and newsstand for more than 20 years.

Joo-Young has never hired any other staff for her small shop, and said she doesn’t think it is worth it to move. She’s taking the news in stride. She said she planned to retire soon anyway, and that except for tours, she gets “not too many” customers, especially during the off-season.

Bistro Sensation

Sam Park manages Bistro Sensation, a sandwich and salad vendor his family has owned for more than 14 years.

Closing down the business isn’t an option, though he said, “it could be something else” instead of sandwiches — as long as it’s bringing in revenue for his family.

Park and his family have been looking around Virginia and D.C. for places to move the shop. “But it’s hard. You won’t find anywhere else with this kind of rent,” he said, which he noted was much lower than any other property he’s seen.

Park has been trying to persuade his family to open a food truck because they wouldn’t have to pay rent. But he said he’s worried about the competition their truck may face from other vendors outside the pavilion. Though he said the pavilion’s many souvenir shops are extremely competitive because they all offer similar products, “food’s not as competitive” there.

Indian Delight

Doler Shah, who has owned Indian food eatery Indian Delight for the past 29 years, said she’s worried about retaining her loyal customer base.

Because of its proximity to many government buildings, Indian Delight draws customers on their lunch breaks from offices close by — mainly the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Endowment of Arts, the Justice Department, the Smithsonian and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Shah said.

“All our customers are asking what we’ll do,” she said. “But the rent these days is so high, we don’t know if we can survive” elsewhere.

Shah said her rent currently runs about $2,000 a month, and she expects to pay a few times that much for space outside the pavilion.

Shah said she hasn’t decided if she’ll open another restaurant — she used to own Nirvana in Northwest D.C., which closed in 2010. A couple of weeks ago, her husband opened a food truck called the Chatpat Truck, parking it at various locations in Northwest D.C. during lunch. Shah is considering moving all their operations to the food truck, and hopes to keep her five staff members.

She said it might be good for her business to get out of the Old Post Office, which she said has fallen into disrepair. Aside from the lunchtime rush, “locals don’t come here anymore,” she said, noting most of the traffic was from tourists.

Shah has one other fallback plan if her food business struggles once they leave the pavilion. When business is slow at Indian Delight, she said she sometimes sketches. “I’m also an artist. Maybe this is a cue for me” to pursue art, she said.

Panda Cafe

Donita Carlos, her mother and her two sisters have owned and managed several food vendors and shops at the pavilion for the past 16 years. Carlos runs Panda Cafe, which serves Chinese food.

She and her family are planning to move their businesses, but would like to remain as close to the pavilion as possible because of the tourist traffic through Federal Triangle. Tours of the Old Post Office and its clock tour typically bring hundreds of tourists into the food court during the spring and summer.

“We already have groups that will definitely be here. We can expect people,” she said.

But she said it has been difficult to find one location to accommodate all the family’s enterprises. Having most of her family just steps from her food stand allows Carlos to help out if something goes wrong, and vice versa, she said — but it’s a benefit she’ll have to give up on in the future.

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