Barracks Row in Washington, DC
District of Columbia | 2005 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/9/2005
Barracks Row (DC Pop. 600,000) is the oldest commercial corridor in Washington, D.C., located near Capitol Hill. Once the capital city’s main business district, the six-block-long corridor links Pennsylvania Avenue with the Washington Navy Yard and the Anacostia River waterfront. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson established barracks at this prime location to house Marine Corps. One- to three-story brick buildings constructed from the Federal era to the present line the street, reflecting its 200-year heritage.
The Barracks Row, flourished for years as Washington developed. But after WWII, jobs were lost at the Navy Yard as ammunition production ceased, and by 1955 suburban flight had set in. Two final blows hit Barracks Row. In 1962 a raised highway bisected the district and the riots of 1968 led many business owners to close shop and never return after severe looting.
Eighth Street had been struggling despite a few attempts to revitalize the area, including the creation of the Barracks Row Business Alliance and plans to build a pedestrian mall to compete with shopping malls. Finally, in 1998 a $2 million building renovation provided hope for this long-forgotten corridor and brought the arts to Barracks Row. The Shakespeare Theater bought and renovated the abandoned Odd Fellows Building – the tallest and grandest structure on Barracks Row – for administrative offices and a classical acting academy.
In 1999, the Business Alliance and citizens sought the help of the National Trust and created Barracks Row Main Street to capitalize on the neighborhood’s historic assets. Three years later, the city formed the DC Main Streets program and designated Barracks Row an official Main Street program.
Barracks Row Main Street has forged partnerships with organizations ranging from the Capitol Hill Restoration Society to the U.S. Marine Corps and with the Cultural Tourism DC office, with whom they created a Neighborhood Heritage Trail to attract some of the city’s 20 million annual visitors to Barracks Row. It successfully partnered with the D.C. Department of Transportation to create and implement an $8.5 million streetscape project that has made Barracks Row a pedestrian-friendly and ecologically smart urban corridor that blends with historic Capitol Hill. Since its completion, 18 new businesses have opened in the commercial district.
Barracks Row Main Street has worked to improve the business climate on a number of fronts, including creating a business resource center and other mitigation efforts during the 15-month streetscape construction; hiring a dedicated small business developer to address merchant needs and identify local residents to fill vacancies; a sign and window improvement program; and helping merchants leverage local and national business development resources.
Since 1999, there have been 51 facades restored; 40 signs replaced through private dollars; 40 net new businesses, including nine new outdoor café expansions; 198 net new jobs; three new traditional buildings have been constructed; and a self-guided history trail established.
Barracks Row Main Street has taken advantage of the district’s dramatic transformation by creating signature events to attract more shoppers, including its successful Barracks Row Fest with 81 vendors, 5,000 patrons, and $15,000 from sponsorship and vendor fees.
Today, Barracks Row has become a destination district. Residents, day-time workers, and tourists enjoy the 17 charming retailers, 25 restaurants and taverns, and countless services that meet all their needs on historic Barracks Row. The total amount of public and private funds reinvested in the community has been $19 million. Businesses are moving in, not out.