WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — D.C.’s three giant pandas got an emotional send-off Wednesday, leaving behind a big hole at the National Zoo and in Woodley Park.
The neighborhood has embraced its unofficial mascots for decades, with panda statues, panda decor, and panda art sprinkled up and down Connecticut Avenue.
Businesses near the National Zoo have long cashed in on the “panda-monium” and made the neighborhood’s famous black and white bears part of their identity.
Baked by Yael sits right across the street from the Zoo’s main entrance. If you step inside, you can’t miss the six-foot stuffed panda rocking one of the bakery’s pink panda t-shirts.
Their famous neighbors may be gone, but the bakery’s mascot is here to stay.
“They are gone physically, but not in spirit. We love the pandas and we have a lot of them here. It’s part of our brand, we sell the panda pops. They’re on our t-shirts and our postcards. Those pandas aren’t going anywhere,” said Craig Fifer with Baked By Yael.
Businesses nearby were optimistic about the future, but owners did say that losing the Zoo’s star attraction could slow things down.
“About 80 percent of the foot traffic in the neighborhood comes from the Zoo. Nobody quite knows what the impact will be. I think we’ll start to see that around the spring,” said Robert Meins, the executive director of Woodley Park Main Street.
Business owners & partners say foot traffic in the neighborhood typically picks up around the holidays, with special annual celebrations set to get underway there later this month.
“ZooLights is coming up, and that’s one of DC’s favorite holiday lights festivals. It never really slows down. We’ll miss the pandas, but the Zoo’s not going anywhere and neither are we,” said Daniel Kramer, a managing partner at Duke’s Counter, a nearby restaurant with a neon panda in its front window.
Both Kramer and Fifer have seen their businesses last through big changes in the neighborhood before.
Both the bakery and the restaurant stuck it out through the pandemic, which caused closures and reduced visitors at the National Zoo, and reduced foot traffic in the neighborhood in general. The Zoo was affected by government shutdowns in recent years, which also slowed business nearby.
The pandas’ sudden departure marks the start of a new era for Woodley Park, but some say it may let other great things about the Zoo and the neighborhood shine even brighter.
“The Zoo does so much conservation and education work,” said Kramer. “With the pandas gone, maybe people will find another fun Zoo animal to make our new mascot.”