At a time when the nation has grown used to businesses and people retiring before their time, a shuttered store might mean little, and one moving to a nearby location even less. And yet, the empty socket where Union Wine and Liquor sat for about two decades before it was forced to move to a less desirable spot in the station has not gone unnoticed — or unlamented.
Commuters and other small-business owners view the move as another blow against the station’s mom-and-pops, which have seen their ranks weakened in recent years while nationally known operations have opened in their places. For them, the change is not just about the loss of a convenient fix, which, let’s be honest, has been missed. It’s about what Union Station — described in anticipation of its opening more than a century ago as “the finest station in the world” — should offer the nearly 100,000 people who pass through it each day.
“It’s just turning into every middle America shopping mall,” said B.J. Taylor, 34, an editor of a health-care publishing company. “People don’t come to D.C. to see Chipotle and Victoria’s Secret and Potbelly. They come to see the unique stores. There are still a couple of those stores, but who knows how long they’re going to be there.”
For 12 years, Taylor has taken the MARC train between his Laurel home and the station, and in that time, has formed friendships with other commuters. About a dozen of them have grown so close that they have a tradition. Each night, they meet in the same train car at the same time and share a drink. Always, it’s been from Union Wine and Liquor. “They know us by name, and we know them by name,” Taylor said.
While many passersby have noticed the store’s absence in the past few months — questioning nearby retailers about its move — Taylor said he and several others grew concerned enough about its fate that they went one step further. They called the New York-based company that took over the station’s lease five years ago to ask about its vision for the future.
Where, they wanted to know, was the station heading?
Union Station Investco, an entity of Ashkenazy Acquisition, bought the 99-year lease to the government-owned building in 2007. At that time, the neighborhood around the station had changed dramatically, and the company had to assess how best to cater to commuters, visitors and locals, said Stephanie Mineo, vice president of leasing for Ashkenazy. One need was for “hipper food offerings,” she said, and as a result of bringing in several, the station has seen increased retail visits.