As of a few weeks ago, the owner of Swing’s Coffee — a Washington haunt for caffeine and political chatter since 1916 — thought he would have to close up shop.
The building at 17th and G streets NW where Swing’s slings joe from the first floor to White House staff and countless other feds will be gutted and renovated over the next three years so it can serve as the headquarters of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The building’s owner, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, began warning retailers that they would have to leave to make way for the construction.
Mark Warmuth, who purchased the M.E. Swing Co. from Patricia Swing, the granddaughter of co-founder Michael Edward Swing, in 2006, said he had begun planning to move on from G Street 20 years after Swing’s first opened there.
The closure would have left downtown without a Swing’s location for perhaps the first time since the Woodrow Wilson administration, when the company opened Mesco Coffee Roasters on E Street.
“Initially we had been told by the OCC that we were going to have to vacate. We were dead set on having to leave our space behind,” he said.
Other tenants put in peril by the coming construction include G Street Food, CVS, Met Café and an optometrist’s office. Some of the business owners told the Washington Examiner in April that, with the building facing a complete overhaul, they were similarly worried about getting the boot even if they had years remaining on their leases.
Swing’s was in particularly dire straits because Warmuth’s lease there is set to expire before the end of the year. He also has a coffee bar and roasting facility in the Del Ray area of Alexandria.
But the OCC has since changed its tune, Warmuth said. He and other tenants received a letter in May saying they would be given the opportunity to remain in the building. “As of a few weeks ago, letters went out to all the retailers saying that if they want to stay, we’d all be given the opportunity to stay,” he said.
A spokesman for the OCC, Bryan Hubbard, confirmed the letters. “The terms and conditions of the leases shall remain in effect,” he said.
Though the OCC owns the building, construction of a new headquarters for the CFPB has drawn criticism from some House Republicans for being overly costly. Having to work around the retailers during such renovations typically adds to construction costs.
Although staying will likely mean fighting for customers during three years worth of construction dust and noise, Warmuth said he plans to negotiate a new lease and said he believes many of his neighbors will try to stay as well.
“I think that most of them will stay but I think some will go,” he said. “The goodwill that’s built up over all that time — it really means something.”
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