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I had such high hopes for the Roadside Cafe, which opened last April with Jamaican food and outdoor seating on a stretch of Benning Road NE that doesn’t have much of either. Earlier this month, it quietly closed, and last weekend I noticed a sign announcing the imminent arrival of tires.
What went wrong?
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa White says that Roadside wasn’t behind on rent or utilities, but had signed a triple net lease—-agreeing to pay for all building costs—-and couldn’t handle the taxes. The property taxes were actually lower in 2011 than the previous two years, though, and have been paid on time since 2005, so that doesn’t appear to have been the issue.
Roadside’s real problem might have been the new landlord: Taxi baron Gerry Schaeffer, also the owner of the Ward 5 Walmart parcel and formerly of the H Street Murry’s location, bought the property last May. He’s now leased the lot to Million Man Tires, which has another location on Georgia Avenue NW. It’s a loss for that fragile corridor. New businesses are canaries in coal mines, and their success attracts others, while failure warns them off, and it may take the streetcar’s long-delayed arrival to bring them back.