December 26, 2012 at 7:00 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
A look back at the year in local business

D.C. began 2012 as the yet-again winner of the ignoble annual distinction as worst in the nation among state jurisdictions for small business friendliness. Virginia remained best in the area, moving up into the top 10 most favorable enterprise environments, with Maryland again sinking lower toward the bottom.

Both Maryland and the District continued to increase government expenditures and raised tax and fee burdens for both enterprise and residents. Each demonstrated a perplexing propensity for outdated tax-and-spend tendencies and onerous business-choking overregulation. Some things never change.

District residents didn’t need a special designation to know that the city was rapidly renewing its notoriety as scandal capital of the country. A majority of D.C. Council members labored under suspicions of ethical lapses or criminal wrongdoing.

The resignation and jailing of one Council member and the subsequent resignation and sentencing of the Council chairman reduced that percentage over time. However, news reports of new allegations and revelations of potential wrongdoing lost their shock value as the criminal became commonplace in local government. The city’s elected leadership became even more of a “hot nanny mess” in the view of the business community.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington nearly three years ago continued to have far less economic impact than predicted. Fewer than expected have tied the knot, and the contribution to the local economy through ceremony and celebratory expenditures proved to be far less than that of heterosexual couples. Several local LGBT wedding consultants and service enterprises closed up shop.

Many LGBT advocates across the country slid into a big ol’ pile of chicken-you-know-what by rushing to support ill-advised and illegal anti-business proposals by pandering politicians in a number of cities. They threatened to block entry or expansion of Chick-fil-A retail outlets in their jurisdictions until sharper minds in local government legal offices reeled them back in.

The willingness of some in the gay community to promote proposed business bans based solely on the political opinions or contributions of corporate owners was startling. In the end, the fiasco merely created a controversy that eclipsed the intended focus and alienated some supporters of LGBT equality. The national restaurant chain saw sales soar.

Special profiles on two prominent local entrepreneurs, as well as other business owners, were featured. Urban Adventures Companies founder and owner David von Storch, proprietor of VIDA Fitness, Capitol City Brewing Company, 901 Restaurant and Lounge, Aural Spa and Bang Salon announced a new fitness location planned for the rapidly developing Capitol Riverfront area. Level 2 Development’s David Franco, also owner of Universal Gear and a major development influence in the booming Logan-U Street area, detailed his long relationship with the city from early childhood to current contribution.

The local business community reacted negatively to the announcement by the District’s healthcare exchange overlords that all small group plans would be forced into the system and prohibited from participating in the open market. This unpopular decision surprised many, as it broke a major promise by President Obama that those happy with their current health insurance coverage would be able to keep it.

Fear of federal intervention became the trademark of the District’s plodding progress on implementing a medical marijuana program. Patients and advocates remain hopeful that at least a small program portion will become operational in the first half of next year.

Hank’s Oyster Bar chef/proprietor Jamie Leeds again captured the spotlight as an illustration of all that is wrong with the District’s licensing of hospitality and nightlife businesses. Hours before the Pride Parade passed her establishment in the Dupont Circle area, the “Gang of 5” license protest group battling the popular restaurant for seven years succeeded in forcing the closure of half of the outdoor dining area.

The all-summer closure cost the business a small fortune in lost revenue until the restriction was again terminated. Neighborhood outrage over the regulatory incident helped lead the D.C. Council into taking some important first steps last week to curtail the influence of liquor-licensing objectors.

Those were just a few of the topics discussed this year — thanks for reading and all the best in the New Year ahead.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at

  • I was hoping for a review of gay businesses starting up or closing down. Instead, I read a generic libertarian screed. Yawn. (The only newsworthy piece was the economic effect of DC marriage equality.)

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