Clayton Bacchus watched the news and ate a Jamaican patty while he waited for customers.
It was almost dinnertime, and not one person had entered Flavors of JaGuya on Georgia Avenue in hours.
Since Walter Reed Army Medical Center closed in August, the slow sales have forced Bacchus to make changes at his Caribbean restaurant in Northwest Washington. Most days, he closes earlier than the usual 10 p.m., and he doesn’t even open on Mondays now.
“After Walter Reed closed, the business slowed down tremendously,” Bacchus said. “Sometimes, we have eight to 10 customers a day. . . . We used to have 40 to 50.”
Walter Reed merged with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda as part of the military’s Base Realignment and Closure plan. Now the medical center’s 6,000 staff members are gone. So are the thousands of service members, retirees and family members who visited or received treatment there each year.
Neighbors say they have seen several stores close in the past three months, including a medical supplies shop and a liquor store. Across the street from Flavors of JaGuya, lunch sales are also down at Ledo Pizza. The owners of Geranium Market, a convenience store at Georgia and Geranium Street, say they are considering selling. Charlie’s Bar & Grill, which used to have a lively crowd for breakfast, is now empty in the mornings. And lottery ticket and other sales are down more than 60 percent at Mayfair Liquors, owner Katie Singh said.
“You buy one box of chocolate and it is sitting there the whole month,” said Singh, who has been in the Georgia Avenue location for seven years. “I don’t know how long I can struggle and sit here.”
For about six years, the owners of the small businesses knew that the closure of the 113-acre facility between 16th Street and Georgia Avenue was coming. But several say the loss of revenue has been more than they expected.
“We looked at it as not being our sole source of business, which it wasn’t. But, that said, it is a huge demand generator in our back yard,” said Tim Shuy, who with his wife, Kelly, owns Ledo Pizza. “Lunch has dropped significantly. Our dinner and weekend business is fairly steady. But when you serve two meals . . . and one is down pretty strongly, it impacts your business significantly.”
Domingo Vargas, manager at Silver Sands Restaurant and Bar on Georgia Avenue, said fast- food restaurants probably have suffered more, but his business has seen a drop of about 15 percent.
“The saddest thing is not knowing what’s going to happen or how long we can survive in these circumstances,” he said.
Jose C. Sousa, a spokesman with the District’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development, said the city is moving forward with redevelopment plans for Walter Reed, which would bring more potential customers back to the area.
The city is expected to receive about 67.5 acres of the facility, and the State Department is in line to get the other 45.5 acres for an International Chancery Center.
The process for the land transfer, however, could take up to 18 months, Eric D. Jenkins, director of the Walter Reed Local Redevelopment Authority, said at a recent meeting about the plans.
The redevelopment authority has been looking at potential uses, including retail, office, housing and public spaces, and a vote is expected in January on a final plan. It could be years, however, before any construction begins, and the city projects that complete redevelopment could take up to 25 years, Jenkins said.
Shuy, who opened the pizzeria in 2006 and serves on the Walter Reed LRA Committee, said he is hopeful but concerned about the timing of planning and construction. “In the meantime, the businesses are suffering,” he said. “The likely outcome is that a good percentage of the businesses will not be able to function in the current state and will just have to move out.”
Business owners are lobbying the Army to open the Georgia Avenue gate so that people still at the installation can have better access to the businesses, Shuy said. Traffic to the site, which is undergoing environmental studies, is through the 16th Street gate.
The slow economy hasn’t helped, either.
“Let’s face it: There is an economic crisis in the country,” said Bacchus. “People are not spending as much as they used to.”
He has been changing the menu at Flavors of JaGuya and reducing prices to attract more clientele. Meanwhile, he is making ends meet by catering.
“I am a very optimistic person, and I have a lot of hope,” he said. “I just think things will get better, and if it doesn’t, then I will have to find something else.”