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H Street NE is indisputably the city’s hottest new commercial strip. The street, ripped apart for years as new utilities and streetcar tracks went in, is now whole again (though actual trolleys will take at least another couple years to appear). Every week, it seems, liquor license placards go up in old storefronts, and major developers buy up remaining plots of land.
It wasn’t always that way. While the eastern end of the corridor developed a thriving cluster of bars and clubs, the midsection between there and Union Station languished. Part of the problem: All that hype about a bright future. The blocks looked dowdy, but landlords still asked astronomical prices, content to sit on buildings they figured would soon be worth millions more. That’s not a bad business decision, but it has led to some bizarre development patterns: In going from “very cheap” to “overpriced” without stopping at “pretty good buy,” H Street skipped the usual gentrification progression. If you’re still hoping to find a spot to open up your small business, look somewhere else; it’s not as cheap as it looks here anymore.