DCentric » Business http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU How a small business can survive gentrification http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/how-a-small-business-can-survive-gentrification/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/how-a-small-business-can-survive-gentrification/#comments Tue, 29 Mar 2011 13:49:01 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4998 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: John Chamberlain

Over the weekend, The Washington Post profiled the transformation of D.C. Councilman Marion Barry’s former east Capitol Hill neighborhood from a nearly all-black neighborhood to one that’s more mixed, both racially and socioeconomically.

The typical markers of gentrification are mentioned — dog parks, the old-timers lamenting no longer knowing their neighbors, and condo buildings. Then came this bit about a local small business:

Shop owners have tried to capi­tal­ize on the new arrivals.

On 15th Street, James Keo, the Cambodian-born owner of Viggy’s Liquor, said he changed the offerings when he bought the store in 2006, selling red and white wines and imported beers such as Peroni and Dos Equis. He also began selling convenience store items such as paper towels and snack food and thought about taking down the glass partition that separates him from his customers. A stabbing across the street made him reconsider.

What has surprised him, he said, is that the neighborhood’s new residents don’t mean bigger profits. In fact, he said, his earnings are down 40 percent.

“They’ve got money,” he lamented, “but they spend less.”

More money in the neighborhood often doesn’t mean more profit for existing businesses, and typically there are more stores that don’t survive gentrification than ones that do, explains John McIlwain, an expert on housing and urban issues and a senior research fellow at the Urban Land Institute.

“It’s quite a challenge for a store owner to change to a very different, significantly different clientele, and it frankly requires more than just bringing in some items they might like. It’s really a whole new repositioning of the store,” McIlwain says. “If the store sends the message that this is a store for the low-income community, most of the new residents… will look elsewhere to shop.”

Some businesses do successfully make the transition and they seem to do it by making a full commitment to reposition, as McIlwain puts it. Take Best-In Liquors, whose owner adapted to post-Whole Foods life on P Street, NW by completely revamping the store, changing inventory and taking down bullet-proof glass inside.

A business owner can try to stick with catering to the original clientele, move toward completely catering to new residents or take some kind of middle-of-the-road approach. Sadly, trying to appeal to both worlds may very well be the most difficult and less successful tactic because “neither party may feel comfortable, as opposed to going to one or the other,” McIlwain says.

Of course there are exceptions to that, too, McIlwain adds. There are the newcomer residents seeking some level of authenticity by patronizing the old neighborhood joints or those who simply want to support the longtime businesses that have been in their new neighborhoods long before they moved in. But many people still feel uncomfortable in settings outside of their norm, McIlwain says, and breaking down such racial and class barriers, even inside of a small store or restaurant, can take a lot of concerted effort.

“If a place is welcoming and the owners make it clear that everybody is welcome, then that starts to break down and change. There are lots of nuances,” McIlwain says.

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The Family Behind D.C.’s Pancakes http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/the-family-behind-d-c-s-pancakes/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/the-family-behind-d-c-s-pancakes/#comments Wed, 17 Nov 2010 19:46:49 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2130 Continue reading ]]> More about D.C.’s IHOP restaurants– here’s a piece about the life of Clarence Jackson Jr., whose son I interviewed yesterday for DCentric. Both men are co-owners of the new IHOP in Columbia Heights:

As a family, Jackson and his two sons, Tyoka and Clarence Jackson III, own the first IHOP franchise in Washington, D.C. at 1523 Alabama Ave., SE. They plan to open a second one in the North West neighborhood of Columbia Heights in October. “If I told you the beginning, you would think you already knew the ending,” said Tyoka of his father. “My father’s story is about overcoming odds. Owning D.C.’s first IHOP in southeast right at Alabama and Stanton is one of the odds.”…

“When we opened the store, we all bussed tables, washed dishes and cleaned toilets,” Clarence Jackson III, remembers. Monique, Jackson’s daughter, serves as kitchen manager and is known in the area for her special recipe for the restaurant’s Fish Fridays. Also on staff are Jackson’s nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

D.C. council chairman and mayoral candidate Vincent Gray gloated over the eatery, which he hopes becomes a landmark. “Mr. Jackson, where do you think these people went before you built this store?” he asked on one of his recent visits to the Alabama Avenue IHOP.

Congress Heights resident Janetta Chambers, 45, answered the question.

She said that the people in the community had grown tired of traveling to Maryland just to have a decent meal.

“We deserve it and appreciate it,” she said.

Sixty-year-old Grace Jones has lived in the neighborhood for 26 years. “I am glad that he did come and is building up this community. This is a start for us,” she said. “It’s like you’re human again.”

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IHOP: “We are here for this community.” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/ihop-we-are-here-for-this-community/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/ihop-we-are-here-for-this-community/#comments Wed, 17 Nov 2010 15:58:13 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2117 Continue reading ]]>

When our server walked up, she put this coaster down next to our coffee pot.

Yesterday, I visited the new IHOP in Columbia Heights. It was opening day and despite the oppressively gray sky and fat rain drops, the place was almost full. I reviewed the food and wrote about my first impressions, here.

At the end of my late lunch, Briana– the most pleasant server I have encountered this year– brought over her towering boss, Clarence Jackson. He was so tall that my neck cracked from looking up at him and I was relieved when he cordially asked if he could sit down. I immediately realized that this was the “cop” whom people had commented about online, who owned both this IHOP and the one in Southeast. Suddenly, I was much less worried about hordes of marauding teens Metro-ing up from Gallery Place to invade Columbia Heights. As Briana had merrily said earlier when I asked her about potential rowdiness, “See that 6’7″ man over there? He’s my boss. And he’s a police officer. We’re not worried.”

I asked Mr. Jackson how his newest endeavor’s first day was going.

“I am very pleased.”

He inquired about my meal (and was the sixth person to do so, at that point) and I told him the truth; that it was better than I had expected and that the service was wonderful, too.

If I had to nitpick, the only thing I could possibly complain about is that when I had cleaned my plates of scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes, they hadn’t been cleared as swiftly as everything else had been executed, up until that point. But to be fair, while I was done, my dining companion was not, so it’s possible they didn’t want to be intrusive. See? There was really nothing to be unhappy about. Jackson was pleased at this response but I wanted to make sure I asked him about what was on everyone’s mind, before he politely excused himself to tend to other duties on opening day.

“I read online that the store is not going to be 24 hours until–”

“Thanksgiving. We need a few days to ramp up, but we are open until 11pm.”

“Sure, totally understandable. But when you are open 24 hours a day, especially in a neighborhood with no late-night dining options, you’ll probably attract a very different clientele than this”, I said, gesturing at the tables filled with polite people of all hues and backgrounds, who were eating quietly.

Jackson smiled broadly. “First of all, I’ve been a police officer for 23 years. I’m not going to allow it to happen. Do you know where my other restaurant is? Alabama avenue. Southeast. I don’t have any problems there– I’m not worried about this neighborhood.” He made it sound like there would be security in place, and that he wasn’t concerned about crazy drunks or people addled on other substances, either.

“Fair enough. What about the reception from the neighborhood? I’m not sure if you read certain blogs, but it’s…interesting to see how some people reacted to an IHOP coming here.”

Jackson smiled again and looked down for a moment, then shook his head slightly. “You know, when we were training the staff, we had two of our team members outside asking people if they’d like to come in for some free pancakes, to help us prepare for our opening. This man from across the street–”

“Highland Park?”, I clarified.

“Yes, Highland Park…this man walked up to us and started complaining loudly about the noise we were making. He yelled that he paid too much in rent to live across from an establishment like this and that if this was how noisy it was going to be, and if these were the type of people who would always be around, then it would be a problem.”

“To what noise was he referring?”

Jackson looked genuinely confused. “I’m not sure. The two employees were just talking to each other, we were training everyone. What I don’t understand is, right before he complained, there were sirens and a huge truck came down Irving and started honking and making all sorts of noise– but he was fine with that. We were the only problem. I couldn’t believe it. This street is so loud, it’s not like it was quiet before we got here.”

“Why do you think he complained? What ‘type of people’ do you think he meant?”

“Well, since we weren’t making noise, I have to wonder if it was really about him not liking the kind of people who were outside. They were one color, he was another. The sad thing is, if he had been polite, I would’ve let him come in and give us a try, on the house. He wasn’t interested in that.”

“That’s unfortunate. I can tell you that there are plenty of people in Highland Park who are more than willing to have another option for food…who are probably happy to have this empty street fill up, finally.”

“Or maybe they’d rather have Ellwood Thompson’s?”, he joked.

“I think most of us have given up on THAT.”

“Did you think we’d be the same way? Put a sign up and then…?”

It was my turn to laugh. “No. I actually believed that this IHOP would open. I had more faith in that than an upscale grocery store. It’s rough right now, for businesses that want to expand. I think people forget that and assume that there’s all this credit floating around and so any business which declares interest in expansion will absolutely come through…but people are struggling. I wish people would realize that a new business on this street, even if it’s not one they’d prefer, still helps people–”

“It’s sad that some of our neighbors are unhappy because we are here for this community. We are a part of it. We hired 130 people to work here, and 100 of them were jobless before that. 90% of our employees live here, in Columbia Heights. They can walk to work. I used that Community Center over on Girard to have a job fair.”

“That’s huge. One of the biggest reasons people who work in retail or service industry jobs get in trouble is because they don’t have reliable transportation to get them to work on time.”

Jackson nodded. “You know, some people are upset that this is an IHOP, that it isn’t something fancy…but the owner of that building, came here to eat!” He had pointed across the street, at Highland Park.

“Chris Donatelli?”

“Yeah, Donatelli. He called up the Mayor and said, ‘Meet me at IHOP.’”

“Mayor Fenty ate here with Chris Donatelli?”

“Yes. They didn’t seem to mind it, at all. They were happy to eat here.”

“What did the Mayor order?”

Jackson laughed. “Before I forget, please write this down– On November 23rd, we are going to give a free short stack to the first 1500 people who show up to give us a try. IHOP Corporate will be here, Jim Graham will be here…make sure you let people know that. I know we put up a flier at Highland Park about it.”

“There is indeed a flier up.”

Jackson asked me if I thought the take-out option would be popular; I told him that I didn’t even realize they’d offer it. “It’s not the sort of thing I associate with IHOP…getting food to go…but I could see it coming in very handy, I said. “Tons of people in that building get take-out, every night. It might just be a question of getting the word out that it’s even possible, because I don’t know that people associate ‘to-go’ orders with pancakes.”

“You know, my store on Alabama Avenue is the ninth in the nation in terms of carry-out orders.”

“Wow. But isn’t that also because it’s an under-served area? It makes sense, in that context.”

“People used to have to take a bus or drive to Maryland to sit down to eat. Now they have an option right in their neighborhood. Maybe once we’re up and running, and 24 hours a day, people here will see what we’re all about. We’re going to liven up this street and make it safer.”

I immediately thought of an ugly incident that had occurred on Monday, and began recounting it. “I have a puppy and she was whining to go out at 1 am…it was raining, so I thought no one would be outside. I took her out and I noticed that the concierge had stepped away from our front desk. That made me nervous but she really had to go. So I take her out, and this drunk guy comes up to me and starts talking to me and distracting my dog. I politely tell him that I’m not interested and he gets angry. He starts to threaten me. I look around and realize that there isn’t a single person around to help me. I try to rush back in the building, and he follows me…he’s doing vulgar things with his hands and other body parts. I barely made it in the lobby and slammed the door behind me–”

“And you know what you would have done, if we were here? You would have walked across the street and been safe. That’s what the Alabama Avenue location has become– a safe place. When people are in trouble, they come in and get help because they know someone is always there. When we’re open here 24 hours a day, if someone bothers you or is threatening you, come right in. What night did this happen on?”


“Things are that quiet on a Monday?”

“Yes. On Fridays and Saturdays, people are walking around until 3 or 4 am…but on the other nights it can get very quiet. Everything here closes early. Tynan? 8pm. Pete’s 10pm. Five Guys? 11pm. Once they’re closed, unless people are walking home from somewhere else, this block of Irving is empty.”

“What about on a Thursday?”, he asked.

“Maybe it’s a little bit better. But Sunday through Thursday, as soon as the businesses close…the last time something scary happened to me, it was on a Sunday night.”

Jackson shook his head. “That’s going to change. We’re here now.”

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“Speak properly, be attractive, stylish and professional.” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/10/speak-properly-be-attractive-stylish-and-professional/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/10/speak-properly-be-attractive-stylish-and-professional/#comments Mon, 25 Oct 2010 16:58:47 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=1609 Continue reading ]]> If I’m not out trying to track down a story, I spend the majority of my time reading. Everything. That’s why I noticed a comment left at the Washington Post– but first, some context. Last week, in this morning roundup, I mentioned that a developer wanted to bring a luxury hotel to the heart of Adams Morgan (and that he might get quite a tax break for doing so). Today, the Post reported:

For the past six years, developer Brian Friedman has been pushing a complex project that he says would reinvent Adams Morgan as a bustling attraction at all times of day, not just in the evenings. He has proposed transforming a historic church, formerly the First Church of Christ, Scientist, into a 174-room luxury hotel. His plan calls for preserving the church building and constructing a 10-story connecting building behind it, where there is now parking.

And he is asking for the city’s help, suggesting that the new hotel not be required to pay property taxes for 15 years after opening.

This article inspired a commenter named MadasH to write (and I really wish WaPo gave us a way to link to individual comments):

Do not give this development any DC tax incentives unless they promise and keep the promise to hire a high percentage of DC residents.We are sick and tired of subsidizing businesses in DC that in return bring all of their out of town friends here to work in jobs that should go to Washingtonians.

…to which tsqnova replied:

The jobs should go to people who are QUALIFIED. Potential employees should be polite, speak properly, be attractive, stylish and professional. This is no Howard Johnson’s — Ian Schrager’s hotels don’t just hire anybody to work there. He brands an IMAGE, one of luxury.

The interesting thing (to me) is that four people have recommended tsqnova’s comment and zero have endorsed MadasH’s. Yes, comment threads are cesspools and are often overrun by trolls and are therefore usually indicative of nothing…I get it. But I think that ignoring them is wasteful, especially when I have often heard sentiments similar to those expressed by tsqnova. The term “speak properly” feels especially-loaded.

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On Re-branding Midcity http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/09/on-re-branding-midcity/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/09/on-re-branding-midcity/#comments Wed, 01 Sep 2010 15:00:55 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=425 Continue reading ]]> At a well-attended meeting last night at Busboys and Poets, local business leaders and citizens gathered to discuss branding the area around 14th and U as “Midcity”, to create a more cohesive, arts-centric identity for neighborhoods bordered by 7th and 15th Streets and Florida and Rhode Island Avenues, NW. During a question and answer period, concerns were raised about the lack of inclusion of the area of Columbia Heights above Florida Avenue (too poor?), and the focus on theaters and galleries vs. restaurant and retail establishments. The City Paper was there, and they captured some of the skepticism:

“I have nothing in common with a business down at the Convention Center,” Fales said, noting that she wouldn’t necessarily even recommend someone walk that way at night. “I don’t want to be part of an arts district, because I’m already part of something–the Midcity Business Association.” Applause came from the back of the room.

For those wondering if Midcity is as contrived as “NoMa”, see this post by DCist about the term’s history; it contains a picture of a map from 1937 utilizing the designation.

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SportsZone is Coming to Columbia Heights http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/08/sportszone-is-coming-to-columbia-heights/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/08/sportszone-is-coming-to-columbia-heights/#comments Thu, 26 Aug 2010 17:25:45 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=281 Continue reading ]]> 3571353311_5c01187d38_m

Sheeds/Air Force 1s. SportsZone is known for sneakers.

DC USA, the crowning retail establishment of gentrification-central (Columbia Heights), is about to get another new business (finally). Prince of Petworth has the scoop:

I’ve just learned that the newest tenant coming to DC USA will be a SportsZone. They are a sports and apparel company with locations in MD, VA and DC. They’ll be located between the Lane Bryant and Staples on the 14th St, NW side. They are looking to open by the end of Nov.

SportsZone is a local chain. Some of you may know its flagship location near Wisconsin and M St in Georgetown; it’s the store with the massive photographs of athletes in action displayed above its doors . Their other DC locations include Howard University, H Street NE and Alabama Ave SE. I have fond memories of SportsZone because a decade ago, they helped me locate three pairs of my favorite running shoe, ever.

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Speak Up for Food Trucks http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/08/speak-up-for-food-trucks/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/08/speak-up-for-food-trucks/#comments Thu, 26 Aug 2010 16:30:53 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=265 Continue reading ]]> Breakfast from Sauca

Sauca, one of many mobile purveyors of food in DC.

If you are enjoying the diverse array of food trucks which currently dot DC, especially around lunch time, you may want to speak up– by 5pm today. Yes, the deadline to comment has been extended. The Washington Business Journal explains why you’d want to:

D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs recently proposed regulations regarding the city’s many food carts, as part of a general overhaul the department has been doing regarding street vending in the city. But some business owners are against the regulations, and the food trucks in general, saying they create unfair competition for the existing businesses which draw lunch crowds.

These food trucks often travel to under-served parts of the city, where workers have few choices for dining. They change locations regularly and yes, they are popular, as our post on the Lobster Truck indicated. Yesterday, Twitter was ablaze with people beseeching their followers to email the DCRA. If you didn’t get to write an impassioned missive yesterday, you have four-and-a-half hours left to do so today.

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