Is Wheaton’s Feral Urbanism Sustainable?

Washington CityPaper has a long article today — “Keep Wheaton Weird” — about Wheaton redevelopment and the effect on local small businesses, including restaurants.  Their Young & Hungry section has a shorter follow-up.  Both are well worth reading for anyone who cares about good eatin’ in Wheaton (the state of being, not the blog). In any redevelopment, there is bound to be disruption and not all existing businesses will survive.  One could argue that Wheaton could stand to have fewer Salvadoran, or Latino in general, restaurants; we already just lost a longstanding Thai spot even though, as John Paul Jones might have said, we have not yet (mostly) begun to change. With any luck, lots of restaurants (and other locally-owned businesses too) will survive — the best ones should survive. I know some studies have debunked the idea that office space — and the cubicle drones within — has a positive effect on the local economy, but I still find it hard to believe that adding a thousand workers to Wheaton’s downtown core five days a week wouldn’t help a bunch of local restaurants’ bottom lines.

Will it be possible to stay “weird” (or “funky” as the article says later) and sustain our feral urbanism in the face of redev and change and growth and (cue scary music) gentrification?  I don’t think Wheaton will be all that different in 2015, aside from a tall building or two.  2020?  We’re still a 30+ minute commute from Gallery Place and I don’t think Metro will spring for bullet trains anytime soon, so it’s not like Wheaton will suddenly become the hottest destination in greater DC.  But more people living, and I hope working, here in combination with landscape changes both substantial and cosmetic, should make downtown Wheaton a more vibrant place to live and/or spend time — without totally changing the “funky” mix of ethnic eateries, comic book and toy shops, frame stores, etc. I remain cautiously optimistic. And I’m glad local media is keeping an eye on things.

There needs to be a big party in the triangle when Zombie Safeway comes crashing down in a few months…

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4 responses to “Is Wheaton’s Feral Urbanism Sustainable?

  1. “We’re still a 30+ minute commute from Gallery Place”

    Wheaton’s about as far from downtown DC as White Flint or Rockville, and we’re seeing a lot of (high-rise) development in those areas because people are comfortable living that far out and, besides, you’ve got Bethesda close by. What Wheaton has going for it is being closer to downtown Silver Spring (and also Bethesda) – and if/when that area becomes prohibitively expensive to live in, you’ll see people look up Georgia Avenue. The ICC definitely makes Wheaton a lot closer to both the 270 and 95 corridors (i.e. Germantown and Baltimore), which will make it more desirable. So yeah, Wheaton won’t become Bethesda overnight, but there certainly are a lot of reasons why it could boom, which is a good or bad thing depending on your opinion.

  2. Thanks, Dan. [my original comment has been deleted due to both off-topic nature and ignorance on my part]. I don’t disagree with any of that, I just think it will take quite a while, 10 years at least, maybe more. And probably never to the level of, say, White Flint. Though who knows? I just hope the good eatin’ doesn’t all devolve into a big nasty Red Lobsterama.

  3. Whoops…didn’t see your post before I just did mine. I think that with Silver Spring being as popular as it is and only being a mile or two away, that there’s a huge potential for Wheaton to become more of a destination in Montgomery County.

    Oh, and I agree. There should definitely be a ‘farewell’ party to the old Safeway once demolition starts.

  4. I think the one advantage the Silver Spring restaurant scene has over the Wheaton restaurant scene is the range of restaurants. Want a cheap eat? Both Silver Spring and Wheaton (in spades) can deliver. Want a nicer meal? Silver Spring can offer a couple of places, but finding somewhere in Wheaton might be a challenge. Looking for a proper white tablecloth meal? Silver Spring has one or two places, but I’m pretty sure Wheaton is all out at this point. Admittedly, Silver Spring isn’t very deep at any of these price points, but it can at least offer one or two decent places at every level. I think if Wheaton can strive for that it wouldn’t be a bad thing and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of character (Red Lobster need not apply!).

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