Warning ‘the boom is over,’ DC bars & restaurant appeal to landlords for rent relief

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(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In an appeal for rent abatement or cancellation, a group of over 60 restaurants and bars in Washington, D.C., say they may be forced to close.

Warning that “the boom is over,” a group of independent owners penned an open letter published by the Washington Post that spoke of the consequences if landlords don’t work with them.

After citing better times and their contributions to the city, the letter references the impact of the coronavirus outbreak — interestingly, there is no mention of the Black Lives Matter riots and the ensuing damage to many businesses.

“To achieve our dream, we relied on our partnerships with you, our landlords, to be both long-term and mutually beneficial. And to a point they were,” they wrote in the letter. “But Covid-19 has threatened to end our successful partnerships with our landlords.”

“None of us could have predicted that on Monday, March 16, we would be shut down by the mayor because of a global pandemic,” the establishments added. “The boom is over, and it does not appear to be coming back soon. If hospitality was hard before, it’s nearly impossible now.”

The establishments noted that “some landlords still expected us to pay the rent as if it were business as usual.”

“Many of us are surviving on a sliver of our previous sales, if we have any sales at all,” the letter said. “If, and when, we do reopen, we will be facing a loss of consumer confidence and enforced spacing restrictions because of social distancing measures.”

As the communique noted, bars and restaurants normally operate on “frighteningly thin margins,” and COVID-19 has made the difficult nearly impossible.

“If we do not receive some rent relief soon, landlords’ alternatives won’t be other tenants paying boom-time rents: It may well be no restaurant and bar tenants at all,” they warned. “Nobody wins if D.C. storefronts are left empty and our once passionate and thrilling bar and restaurant scene is no more.”

The letter then outlines what the establishments are seeking:

We need commercial tenants and landlords to act like the partners we signed on to be for each other. A shared rent program for truly independent bars and restaurants based not on fixed amounts but on rent calculated as a percentage of total operating costs could be a vital bridge to our new normal. Eliminating “kick-out clauses” or personal guarantees that would make our businesses subject to the highest bidder or take our personal property would also be a gesture of good faith.

 

Before promising to “happily reserve a seat at our tables” for cooperative landlords, the establishments asked them to “share the burden.”

“Together, we can sustain this city and our vital hospitality industry,” the letter said in conclusion. “But we need landlords to understand that each one of us must take our fair share of the burden. Otherwise, our city’s independent restaurants and bars risk closing forever, leaving a social, cultural and tourism void in the District.”

The online reaction included reminders to the owners that landlords also have bills to pay, and that there are also consequences to electing Democrats to run things.

Here’s a sampling of responses from Twitter:

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Tom Tillison

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