But getting through the months of construction has been painful, many neighborhood merchants said. Business is down. Even in the areas where new sidewalks have been installed and the bulldozers have moved away, business has not returned to pre-construction levels, they said.
“It’s very, very difficult,” said James Nixon, co-owner of Toro Mata, a gallery featuring Peruvian art. “You look up and down the streets, and some days it’s a ghost town.”
Nixon has an excellent view of the work — or some might say chaos — from the window of his shop. In recent days, he’s had plenty of time to watch the construction since customers have been few and far between, he said.
Work is now concentrated on 18th Street between Kalorama and Columbia roads NW, the heart of the neighborhood’s commercial district. Many of the area’s most popular and well-known businesses, including Madam’s Organ, Tryst and Amsterdam Falafel, are along this stretch.
Construction workers, bulldozers and other heavy equipment have replaced the cars that used to park along the street. A long stretch of black asphalt has been torn out, exposing the light brown dirt below as workers prepare to repave the road. The sound of jackhammers and the buzz of heavy equipment fill the air during much of the day.
With newly redeveloped areas of the city such as H Street NE, U Street NW and Penn Quarter drawing nighttime crowds, even the most pessimistic merchants acknowledge that the neighborhood was in desperate need of a facelift. That hasn’t made coping with the construction any easier, but it has forced businesses to become creative.
“Don’t let anything stand between you and your fries!” reads the sign in front of Amsterdam Falafel. “. . . crawl right over those construction guys.”
“Yes, we think the streetscape is great, but it’s like getting a root canal,” said the shop’s owner Arianne Bennett.
Nixon, the gallery owner, said daytime revenue has dropped by half. The gallery used to be open from noon to 8 p.m. Now, Nixon said, he and business partner Hector Zarate open at 9 a.m. and stay as late as midnight.
He and other merchants are considering new strategies. Some want to offer free shoe shines for patrons willing to navigate the mess for a meal or some shopping.
City officials said they have kept business owners and residents up to date on the project. A Web site offers weekly information about upcoming construction work and a place to submit comments or ask questions. A full-time community liaison meets regularly with community members to update them on the project’s progress.
Kristen Barden, executive director of the Adams Morgan Partnership, said wider sidewalks, new streetlights and bike-friendly amenities will replace the narrow sidewalks, bad lighting and leaky pipes that have become unfortunate features of the popular night-life destination. In an attempt to counter construction fatigue, the association recently published a fact sheet reminding business owners that the end is near.