H Street NE


What To Call Gentrification By Non-Whites: Does Race Matter?

Gentrification takes place when middle and upper-income people move into low-income communities, which ushers in economic change, reinvestment and development. Jumping back a few weeks ago, a discussion took place on DCentric when we pondered a more specific kind of gentrification: gentefication, which is when low-income, immigrant Latino neighborhoods are gentrified by second-generation, well-to-do Latinos.

So we wondered: is gentrification much different when gentrifiers aren’t white, so much so that it requires its own term?

Alex Baca tweeted that having a separate word for this kind of gentrification is unnecessary:

It's class-based. Don't need fancy names. RT @ On gentrification & rhetoric when non-whites are gentrifiers http://t.co/IrO6Et65

But others argued that gentrification by non-whites does have different implications for neighborhoods. Commenter Gente Negra, wrote:

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When Yoga Studios and Old Clothiers Benefit

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Stan's has been on H Street Northeast since 1978.

The H Street Northeast corridor has plenty of new bars and restaurants that draw evening crowds, but the area is low on daytime foot traffic. A new grant program is intended to change that by boosting the corridor’s retail options.

In the past, we’ve written about the $1.25 million grant program and about some fears that businesses catering to newer and wealthier clientele would benefit rather than longtime businesses. The grant was made available to new or existing businesses, as long as they weren’t restaurants, bars, liquor stores, hair salons or barbershops.

The first round of winners were announced Wednesday morning. They include Bikram Yoga Capitol Hill, H Street Care Pharmacy and Wellness Center and The C.A.T. Walk Boutique, all of which opened along the corridor between 2006 and 2010. That may lead to easy charges that the program is benefiting newer businesses over older ones. But also winning a grant: Stan’s Inc., a clothing store that has been in D.C. since 1947 and on H Street since 1978. DCist reports that owner Leon Robbins will renovate the store and expand its clothing line using the $85,000 award.

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When Early Gentrifiers Can’t Afford to Stay

Michael Feagans / Flickr

Love Cafe is closing on Jan. 29 after nine years on U Street.

Businesses move to transitional neighborhoods because space is cheap and there’s potential for future growth. But sometimes the economic success of these neighborhoods leads to the demise of the early gentrifiers.

Love Cafe opened at 15th and U Street, NW in 2003, two years before Busboys and Poets moved into the corridor and signaled rapid change in the community. This week, Love Cafe owner Warren Brown announced he’s closing Jan. 29 because rent has gotten too high. H Street Playhouse on H Street, NE is closing moving after it opened along the corridor in 2002, ahead of the trendy bars, restaurants and high rents.

Of course, some businesses that moved into neighborhoods at the beginning stages of gentrification do remain. They could be at an advantage because they got their feet in the door early. But gentrification happens in stages, and just like the longtime businesses that successfully weather gentrification, newer businesses also have to keep adapting to neighborhood changes in order to survive.

Ben’s Chili Bowl Owners Buy Longtime H Street Shop

Adam Gerard / Flickr

H Street clothing shop George’s Place, Ltd. will soon be replaced after 43 years of business. Nizam and Kamal Ali of Ben’s Chili Bowl reportedly bought the property at 10th and H Streets, NE for $900,000. The Alis aren’t set on opening another Ben’s, though; they’re conducting market research to see “what concept might best fit the neighborhood,” Washington City Paper reports.

Back in September, we profiled George’s Place owner George Butler as he was readying to sell his property after decades on H Street. He reflected upon his time on the now gentrifying corridor, and he said he felt there was little impetus to keep longtime, black-owned businesses afloat.

Ben’s is a rarity in D.C.; it’s been on U Street since before the 1968 riots, and has not only survived but thrived as that corridor experienced revitalization. Ben’s has expanded its half-smoke empire in recent years with the opening of a location at Nationals Park and Ben’s Next Door on U Street. The Alis have strong roots in the District; so if they’re the ones to buy up a longtime H Street shop to open a restaurant, should it be called gentrification? If not, then what is it?


As Business Closes, Owner Looks Back at Decades on H Street

George Butler is closing shop after nearly five decades. His men’s clothing store, George’s Place Ltd., is an H Street NE institution, one of the longest-running businesses on a corridor now synonymous with gentrification. But the recession, online competition and H Street streetcar construction led him to call it quits.

The 73-year-old managed clothing stores on the street in the 1950s before opening his store in 1968.

“I saw a future in H Street and my being in the neighborhood, I knew a lot of my customers,” he said while sitting in the back of his store on a recent afternoon. Hats and shoes lined the walls, along with 50 percent off signs.

Through it all, he’s had a front row seat to all the ups and downs of the corridor: from the heyday when  it was “it was like Connecticut Avenue, like downtown,” to the 1968 riots. “I’m a vet, and I saw things I never saw in the war,” he recalled of the riots. “The street was unreal. Fires were everywhere. It was just burning down.”

The riots marked the commercial decline of the street, beginning decades of empty storefronts. “People left and never came back,” Butler said.

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DCentric Picks: ‘Sister Citizen’ Author Talk and H Street Fest

What: Author Melissa Harris-Perry discussed her book, “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.”

When: 6:30 p.m., Monday.

Where: Busboys and Poets, 14th and V streets NW.

Cost: Free.

Why you should go: Harris-Perry explores the effects of the stereotypes black women have had to combat for centuries — sexual lasciviousness, devotion and outspoken anger — and what black women now expect from political organizing.

Other events to consider: Head out to H Street NE between noon and 7 p.m., Saturday for the H Street Festival. The free event will feature fashion shows, live music, art displays, costume karaoke, Chinese dragon dancers and more. But it’s also a great opportunity to check out the transformation this corridor has undergone over recent years.

How to Get Money For Your H Street NE Business

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Many bars and restaurants have opened up along H Street NE in the past few years, but few retail options remain.

D.C. has just unveiled the application for a grant program that gives money to new or existing retail businesses along the H Street NE corridor. There’s about $1.25 million available for the program, and the first wave of applications is due by Oct. 26.

As we’ve noted before, the program is intended to boost retail along the commercial strip, which has seen a wave of gentrification. Many new bars and restaurants have opened up shop while daytime foot traffic has been minimal.

Longtime businesses can apply to the grant, as long as the money isn’t for liquor stores, barbershops, hair salons, phone stores, bars or restaurants. Eligible businesses include stores selling home furnishings, clothes, groceries, books, art or “general merchandise goods,” with special consideration to those with “innovative retail elements.” There are other stipulations in the application, which can be seen below:

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D.C. Program Could Boost H Street Retail

Much has been made of the changes along H Street NE as the corridor continues its transformation from a primarily low and middle income black community to one that is wealthier and whiter. Trendy bars and restaurants are increasingly opening in vacant storefronts, attracting diverse patrons en masse during late night hours. But the crowds are nowhere to be seen during the day.

A new D.C. grant program is intended to draw more retail options to the street, creating an H Street that’s as bustling during the day as during the evening. That’s welcome news for many existing business owners who want more people on the streets and in their shops.

“You just don’t want it to be all bars and restaurants,” said Anna Collins, co-owner of pet store Metro Mutts at 5th and H streets.
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High Property Taxes and Changing Neighborhoods

Nic McPhee / Flickr

Pamela Johnson, who owns a storefront in the H Street NE neighborhood, says her property value has gone up so much that she can’t afford to pay her tax bill. Her story is included in The New York Times gentrification piece, which caused Matthew Yglesias to ask if property owners can ever be the victims of gentrification:


Normally you think of the gentrification problem as applying to renters. Objective conditions improve in a poor neighborhood, which is good. But the improved conditions lead to higher rents, so the poor people wind up not benefiting since they have to move out. It’s difficult for me to see how this kind of problem could afflict property owners, who regardless of race or class considerations ought to benefit from asset appreciation.

But as Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic points out, winning out financially isn’t always the only priority for owners:

I actually think it’s fairly easy to understand Johnson’s beef. She likes her neighborhood as it is. She may well be able to “sell high,” but the fact is she doesn’t want to sell at all. She probably would love to see her property values rise, but the neighborhood isn’t simply, for her, a financial instrument–it’s an emotional one.  In that sense, Johnson isn’t very different than millions of other humans who invest in neighborhoods.

Her contention that the city is “driving us out of here.” is very much debatable. But it’s worth noting that a class of owners with a commitment to something more than a naked financial return is a good thing. When Matt asserts that the city is trying to make H Street a “desirable place to live,” I am compelled to ask “desirable for whom?” I’m not being obtuse here–I understand, in the aggregate, his larger point. But very often people find a kind of value in their living condition that eludes socioeconomic data.

And although individual owners may make money by selling properties in increasingly pricey areas, what kind of overall effect do such sales have on neighborhoods? In Logan Circle, for instance, a group of low to moderate-income homeowners are contemplating selling their modest town homes to a developer for $800,000 each. If they decide to sell, they could walk away with a large return. But if they sell and leave the neighborhood, they take with them much of Logan’s remaining income diversity.

In Your Words: New York Times Tackles D.C.’s Gentrification

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

The Grey Lady published a feature about gentrification around H Street NE and how the city is losing its black majority:


The shift is passing without much debate, but it is leaving ripples of resentment in neighborhoods across the city, pitting some of the city’s long-term residents, often African-American, against affluent newcomers, most of whom are white, over issues as mundane as church parking and chicken wings.

The story makes mention of the defeat of Adrian M. Fenty in the 2010 mayoral race and how some focused on used dog parks and bike lanes as symbols for affluent whites “re-arrang[ing] spending priorities to suit themselves.” Adam Serwer of The American Prospect argues the disparity in unemployment rates was the issue in the election; for whites, unemployment increased by 1 percent, while it increased by 5 percent for African Americans and doubled for Latinos:

What happened during Fenty’s term was that black people and Hispanic people lost their jobs while white people largely kept theirs. Blaming this on Fenty is unfair, but given that politicians are always evaluated in part by the jobs they help create (or lose) voting him out was an entirely rational decision. I’m not sure why, in a story about Washington DC’s internal racial divisions, the only mention of this is a throwaway line about unemployment in Ward 8. Alongside the city’s black exodus, the uneven impact of the economic crisis is the story.

The story touched off a Twitter debate among locals about the city’s changing face and how the media and the public talks about gentrification:

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