Circle of Life for Local Businesses

Well if all goes as planned my hairdresser will retire and sell her building at the end of this month. She’d been in Shaw since the 1970s, which is around about the time my aunt started working in DC. My aunt recommended the S&M Salon to me back in the 1990s when I moved here for work. I do not look forward to finding another hairdresser.

Wonderbread DouglasBut that’s the circle of life. Local businesses start, fail, succeed, merge, get way too big, move, and eventually close. Sometimes it’s a couple of months, years, or decades.

The Eckington business Workafrolic, which was an awesome idea of workspace, workout space for parents, is closed. I saw on the Bloomingdale parent’s list that this Saturday, (12/15/18) between 11am – 2pm they are selling off their inventory of yoga mats, toddler stuff, bouncers, etc. Cash or Venmo only. Maybe it was the location. North Capitol Street is a tough road.

Richard Layman had a post about the revitalization of 9th Street, that reminded me of businesses gone or moved that helped make that foodie part of Shaw (I’m ignoring 14th St) what it is. Anyone remember Vegetate? They had to battle the churches (Shiloh) for their place on 9th over liquor licenses. That battle needed to happen. Queen of Sheba was part of it, and it remains. In 2010/2011 there was Rogue 24 hidden in Blagden Alley. Now that was some fancy expensive eatin’, and it still is with the Dabney. But I guess I should credit one of the earlier 9th Street restaurants, Corduroy, who is still there and managed to open Baby Wale nearby. Now there are wonderful restaurant options in walking distance should I chose to spend $30-$80 on babysitters.

I’m just thankful entrepreneurs are taking a chance over and over in the eastern parts of Shaw (east of 9th & Truxton Circle), Bloomingdale, LeDroit and Eckington. Some will do okay, some will fail, and others will become so much a part of the neighborhood it will seem that they’ve always been there.

Commerce was part of our history

In the past couple of weeks I have been in contact with people in the commercial sphere about history, and this had me thinking. If you were raised in a place, maybe a suburb, where commercial buildings and activities are segregated from residences, you might be under the impression that this is the way things are supposed to be. It might even cloud your view of history.

The wonderful things about cities, older East Coast cities, is that there was mixed use before things like zoning. People lived in close proximity to their jobs and the businesses they used. A building could house a family and a store, or a one time be a store and then maybe later a residence.

The map above is just of stores. It does not point out the warehouses around Hanover Street and the working dairy where Mt. Sinai and the Northwest Co-op sit, but you can see their outlines. The other thing to take into account is this is 2 years after the 1968 riots, many businesses did not rebuild or return, depressing the neighborhood even further.

When I moved into the neighborhood in the early aughts, there was annoyance at the types of businesses that were filling the commercial corridors of Florida Avenue and North Capitol and spaces in between. Those businesses were liquor stores (brown on the map) and beauty parlors (red on the map). Those were pretty much the only things taking up spaces left empty 30 years prior.

Reading post-riot reports where business owners had an opportunity to say something, the area had problems before the riots. The riots just made a bad situation worse, and businesses, along with residents began to leave. Now contrast that with today, where businesses want to come to Shaw. The number of  sponsors for the Shaw Main Street’s Art All Night was an embarrassment of riches, a testimony of how far the 7th, 9th and U Sts commercial corridors have come.

Shaw’s rising from the ashes of the riots was not just from people moving in and fixing up houses, it was also businesses coming in and taking a chance on the neighborhood.