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.
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.
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.
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:
Elahe Izadi / DCentric permalink
Michelle Jones, owner of A.S.P.I.R.E. health store at 7th and H streets NE.
Elahe Izadi / DCentric permalink
A number of new businesses have populated formerly vacant storefronts along the upper end of H Street. But they're mostly restaurants and bars.
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.
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.
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: