In praise of business

Richard Layman’s Blog Rebuilding Place as well as DCist both posted the email sent out by Politics and Prose regarding a bench outside the independent bookstore targeted by ANC Frank Winstead. The first part of the email struck me as oh so true:

Every once in a while we get an abrupt reminder that we live in a jurisdiction where small business is not respected or encouraged. When we first opened across the street, there was no government agency that could advise us on what we needed to do. Then, after we made the applications we needed to, we could not get an occupancy permit, no matter how many times we called or went down to the office responsible for that. The process simply stopped somewhere in the Office of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs. We were fined and we started over again, but the certificate was never issued at our first location.

I’ve heard the grumbling of another small business owner, who is in the TC, about how they’d love to add more servies and amenities, but taking time off to get the run around from DCRA isn’t worth the trouble. Apparently change for the better (and in some cases, the worse) requires a permit. It would be helpful if things given by local businesses and enjoyed by the community were supported by the city and our political leaders.
Also another strain of thought that has occurred in this blog’s comments and some local listservs regarding small business. Some of you out there have a disdain and just plain hatred of business, regardless of the size. Businesses are no more evil than your regular Jo on the street. Many of them provide a service that is wanted and needed in the community. Small local business can be great neighbors, providing benches, free used coffee grounds, a place to meet and gather, and sponsorship for community, artist and non-profit ventures and events.
When someone asks what’s around here, in that what’s so great about this place kind of way, I point to the businesses. I mention the quickie mart, the dry cleaners, the coffee shop, the organic bodega, the liquor stores (the good and the mediocre ones, not the scary ones) and the bakery. The only non-business things I point out are the metro stations and the bus stops. I’m not sure what category to put the farmer’s market in, as I gather the farmers do drive in to make some profit, but the organization of putting on the farmer’s market is something else. I should mention there was one non-profit I use to point to, Chain Reaction, a wonderful bike sales and repair shop. It went “out of business”.
I am grateful for those business that have opened up in the past few years, and appreciative to those older businesses that have become more customer friendly (taking down the Plexiglas, unblocking/cleaning the windows). Also I welcome any new business that may want to take up residence on North Capitol or at the corner of R and New Jersey.

A bit more helpful than nothing, permits

I once complained that DC wasn’t particulary helpful when it came to making permits public. I compared them to the county office in Florida that linked permits to properties, so the public could see what permits were approved for a house and what was supposidly done. The information would be helpful in helping the citizens help the city monitor whats going on, and help home buyers know a bit more history on their house.
Well, I stumbled upon the DC permit database, while googling a contractor that will be doing work near me. And well, it is a good start. I plugged in an address of a problem property and saw permits going back to 2005, and saw that the owner of said problem house has applied for permits this year as well. I threw in my own address and saw my permits. Now, there is no detail to the permits, only the tracking number what kind of permit, the applicant’s name, and their approval status. I gather I might get more info if I had the projected cost and date. But this is helpful in answering the question if a house has permits or not.


The last post’s comments have gotten way off topic so I’m going to try to move them here.
There is a comment I want to answer in a bit of a longer length.

Are all of these new businesses for the existing residents or to attract new, higher income residents? And if they are primarily to attract new residents, and push out the lower income families and residents who have been living there for decades – well, I think that’s a problem.
My question is what will happen to the ordinary hardworking lower income people as the professionals move in? Ironically, the young urban professionals who move into these areas looking for diversity, often end up driving out the “diversity” by raising the cost of living beyond the means of long term residents.
My question is how to prevent this from happening and to create a truly diverse community, comprised of every income level, educational background, race, religion, etc.?

Regarding new businesses, there was a demand (residents) that attracted the business, not the other way around. This is no Field Of Dreams. Business failure is a very real possibility, and with small businesses we could be talking about someone’s life savings, a mound of debts (business loans) on the hope that the perceived demand is not a load of hype. There was/is a great demand for the businesses in a way that residents go out of their way wooing and supporting (see Queen of Sheba, Vegetate). And in the case of Windows (feel free to correct me Scott) the business was already there, but over time expanded and changed. There were residents, people who’d been here from 20 years to 20 days whose demands for a dry cleaner, a place to go and sit and eat, a place to get a decent wine, etc were not met. So yes, the businesses are here for a portion of existing residents, as well as visitors, and sometimes those visitors decide to become residents.

esse, a commenter, answered the other part regarding long time residents quite well:

On my street, the long time residents are dying.I have lived on my street for 15 years. I have yet to see a single household “forced out”. 5 vacant houses have been renovated and have people living in them now, three houses were owned by seniors that died. Their kids sold the house,because they have their own house in the suburbs. One family did cash in and moved to the suburbs for more room and better schools. I think that many neighborhoods in DC are renovating, rather than than gentrifying.

Parking enforcement

This weekend I noticed a big orange boot on one of the cars on my street. Ah, I remember the days when it took several calls to have the police or DPW or someone to come out and look at a car for possible ticketing. Cars would just sit for weeks, not moving. Now, it seems they are actually paying attention to cars and being proactive. Of course, I could be giving the government too much credit.
Also, on R Street, I’ve noticed some serious enforcement, with towing. I saw the city towing away a car with Florida plates, to clear off one side of the road at about 7:10 am. A quick look at the sign said that the street had to be clear at 7 am til I forget what. Ten minutes, that’s not a lot of buffer time.

Garden & dinner

Big O’ Berry
Originally uploaded by In Shaw

Today I made a lemongrass tofu dish for dinner using peas growing in the yard. Drank it down with a glass of water with spearmint leaves from the front yard. For dessert I had chocolate pudding I made some time back (it really needed to get eaten before it went bad) topped with alpine strawberries freshly picked from the back yard.
The little patio tomatoes are hinting at flowers, and there is some basil in there somewhere. So I’m looking forward to a summer with tomato and pasta dishes.
I’m probably going to have to do arugula again, as the plants from the seeds I put down last month have bolted and are going to seed. So far I’m fine on salad greens. The tender leafy ones haven’t gone bitter yet and the little corn mache rosettes are coming in. The purslane is so-so right now.
Onions would be doing better if the seedlings were not periodically attacked by the G-d-dang squirrels. F’in’ tree rats.

Fun with Redfin: Houses Under $200K

Seven years ago, when I started looking for a place to buy, the RE market was starting its roller coaster ride up to crazy. In the “better” neighborhoods houses didn’t stay on the market very long and there were bidding wars. I was looking for fee-simple places under $125K, which was hard but not impossible. The third house I looked at, was way less than $125K and on a street I liked, so I bought it.
Fast forward, the roller coaster has gone up, and now it is heading down. Playing around with Redfin I decided to see what was out there and lo and behold prices that start with a ‘1’ are back. Just not a lot of them.
There are a bunch of under $175K condos over in the Petworth and Fort Totten area, if we want to limit this to NW DC. Bump the search up to $200K and a house will appear in Columbia Heights.
Expand the under $175K search to NE DC and more houses do appear in Frozen Tropics’ Trinidad.
The point is that the affordable house I believe is coming back. Right now it’s a handyman special or a about to be foreclosed condo. It’s not luxury for cheap but something to start with.

BA&NA Meeting

| Blagden Alley |
| and |
| Naylor Court |
| Association |
| |
| Monthly Meeting |
| |
| THURSDAY, May 22, 2008 |
| 7:30-9:00 pm |
| Meeting at the |
| Hal and Marthlu’s |
| 905 M Street, NW |
| |

Election of officers, a dog park and maybe more
on the kiddie park, police, and more.

The newsletter is at

I called animal control

Wasn’t the first time.
Around about 5 something in the morning, around about the time I wake up before the radio alarm comes on, I heard the low sorrowful howl of the dog across the alley. The howling didn’t wake me up. He’d been howling long since before I went to bed. So I opened up the window and spoke to him, which quieted him for about 2 minutes, and went back to bed. When I opened the window I realized it was raining.
It isn’t unusual for the people of the house across the alley to just leave their dog, a beige and chocolate husky of some sort, out side for the whole weekend, or several days on end. He sits on the deck, howling every time a siren wails. Howling at night. Howling in the rain. That rain we had a week or two ago, he was out in that. I don’t know how his fur works but he never seems drenched. He could be going under the deck periodically, but most of the time he just paces on the deck staring at the kitchen door.
Regardless, I called the city 311 number, who then transferred me over to the 24 hour animal control number. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. I was told, I was the second person to call this morning about the dog.
Back during the flood watch, I called animal control and they did send someone out to check on the dog. By the time they showed up, it stopped raining and the dog was just sitting on the deck, all calm like. Nothing happened. I don’t know what to expect when several neighbors call because his howling is so loud and so sad. He doesn’t bark, but rather belts out a low deep ‘arrooogh’.
Animal Control called me back and said there was a call 2 weeks ago about the dog. They checked it out, contacted the owners, and told them they needed a dog house for the dog. Today, there is a dog house under the deck, and so animal control seems to be satisfied with the situation. Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t spend any time near or in his house.

Dirt on the Dollar Store

Dollar stores have their place in the universe. Today it was place to grab ever disappearing bobby pins. I don’t know where my pins go, but half a pack grew legs and walked off, thus a need to head over to the dollah sto’ on the 1500 block of 7th.
I got my pins, but a walk around to see what there could be used or repurposed revealed dirt. Not plain dirt but 8 lbs of organic garden dirt from Clinton, CT. Several bags of if hanging out in the rear of the store.
I was a bit surprised to find potting soil at the dollar store, but a grabbed a bag. I hoped it would be a dollar. Wrong. It was 2 dollars. The woman ringing me up asked if I was sure I knew I was buying dirt. Apparently the stock of soil she has was a mistake on her part. I don’t know what she thought she was buying.

Bank Sale

Originally uploaded by In Shaw

I don’t know a thing about this house, but whoever listed it, listed the location as “Truxton Circle” and because of that, it’s gettin’ featured on the blog. This bank owned foreclosure @ 119 Bates St is (when you throw in a 100 dollars) $300K. It’s been on the market almost 90 days. And I’ve got an oriental runner bigger than that front yard. But hey, it’s a yard with a southern view.
There are several bank owned houses in the hood, but they don’t seem to be moving quickly. Someone mentioned one reason why, people won’t leave. Well in one instance. I don’t know how widespread it is. I’ve also heard that banks are slow as molasses at moving on offers and are still too focused on how much was owed for the property as opposed to the amount someone is willing to spend to take said property off the bank’s hands.
But the bank is no different than other investors or people who are trying to sell remembering too fondly the prices of yesteryear. But the market has changed. There are too many great looking deals out there. If I weren’t broke….. Yeah, I daydream about selling the crumbly pile of bricks and buying another (but larger with a bigger yard) crumbly pile o’ bricks fixer upper. But not now. I’ll wait for the next downward cycle.