‘Wild West’ actions in DC shutting down eateries

Capitol restaurateurs are lamenting exorbitant costs for security as others are forced to close due to soaring crime: “It’s like the Wild West.”

With only days remaining in 2023, the year continued a trend of losing businesses as owners sought safer climates beyond the borders of the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C.. Tuesday, the DCist/WAMU reported that restaurant closures had surpassed the 48 in 2022 at 52 and, along with inflation, blue state crime was a leading factor.

In early December, restaurateur Bo Blair spoke with Axios about the exorbitant costs surpassing $450,000 for the year for his Washington, D.C. venues “all impacted by crime, some on a daily basis.”

This included spending $4,000 a week for security at a 24-hour taquería to which he said, “Think about it, private security at a taco stand. It’s like the Wild West.”

Hardly a unique case, fellow D.C. restaurant owner Aaron McGovern had explained to DCist/WAMU that he had to shutter his Biergarten Haus over the summer and he “said his business struggled for a number of reasons, including never fully recovering from the COVID pandemic. He also said he had many regulars from the suburbs who stopped coming to H Street NE because of their perception of crime in the District.”

The proprietor owned several establishments in the capital, “but by the end of 2023, he will own none.”

McGovern told Axios in early December that he had looked into Reimbursable Detail Officers (RDO) from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to act as security after burglaries and assault of employees had cost him tens of thousands, but the losses could not be justified.

“Why am I paying for more police presence when I pay it in taxes, and I pay a lot?” he wondered.

During a presentation to local businesses, MPD RDO coordinator Brenda Smith explained of the partially subsidized program, “At times an officer will be assigned to an establishment, but because of this crime spree they’ll be called to another location.”

“Or they may have to sit or patrol an area where they expect a lot of crime to occur. There will be occasions where there will be no-shows,” she continued.

Despite declaring public emergencies over the surging crime, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser saw fit to travel abroad to the United Nations Climate Change Conference at the end of November with a stop along the way to promote the nation’s capital “as a destination for investment and tourism…”

Coupling the loss of businesses, not enough new establishments were opening to cover the losses as only 72 restaurants opened in 2023 compared to 74 in 2022 and 77 in 2021. A report by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) polling nearly 300 area restaurants noted more than a third had faced a significant drop in sales and traffic throughout the summer and fall; anywhere from 30-40%.

RAMW president Shawn Townsend, a political consultant and husband of MSNBC host Symone Sanders, spoke with optimism as he told DCist/WAMU, “At some point the dust will settle. Things will get back to some type of new normal.”

As of Dec. 27, there had been 271 homicides in D.C., increasing by 36% compared to the year prior and property crime had climbed 24% according to MPD data.

Meanwhile, Townsend had remarked to Axios in November, “Restaurants are still hurting…We need help, period.”

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