Small Business


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.

D.C.’s Most Expensive Neighborhood for Businesses

jessstah / Flickr

The Friendship Archway is next to the commercial space with what may be the city's most expensive rent.

The storefront with the highest retail rent isn’t in Georgetown or Dupont Circle — it’s in Chinatown.

That’s according to DCMud, which reports that the only vacancy on the corner of 7th and H Streets NW is going for $250 to $300. That’s a lot. Georgetown businesses typically pay $100 to $120 per square foot, and Union Station, which currently has the city’s highest rates, leases space for about $200 per square foot, DCMud reports.

Although many of Chinatown’s most visible businesses are national chains, the neighborhood still has a number of small, family-owned restaurants, harkening back to a time when Chinatown still had a sizable immigrant Chinese population. But given the increase in retail rates in the neighborhood, those longing for a resurgence of mom-and-pops joints may want to look elsewhere.

Corner of 7th and H Streets NW.

Why Rock Bands are Playing D.C.’s Ethiopian Restaurants

Courtesy of Bora Chung

Brian Waitzman plays with pop-Americana singer Flo Anito at Almaz on Sunday. An Ethiopian flag hangs behind him.

On Sunday afternoon, Ethiopian music blared from speakers in the first floor dining room of 1920, a Habesha restaurant in the heart of Little Ethiopia. But the sound of a woman crooning in Amharic was overpowered by Bake Sale, a post-pop rock band playing on the second floor.

All up and down the U Street Corridor this past weekend, bands representing an eclectic range of rock music played in Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants as part of the first Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival. Six Habesha-owned or themed restaurants took part.

Organizer Dave Mann said when he first hatched the idea to hold a two-day rock music festival, he asked the city’s more traditional rock venues to host shows, “but they weren’t into it.” Some already had booked calendars and this was the first STPP festival, so it was uncertain how much revenue it’d bring in.

Then Mann met Mike Naizghi, the Eritrean owner of Bella Café, who was looking for music to fill the second-floor of his café that serves American and Eritrean fare. He then introduced Mann to more Little Ethiopia restaurant owners, and soon six were on board. The restaurants made money through drink and food sales, the bands made money through merchandise sales and all shows were free. Mann brought more than 100 bands to the restaurants and he plans to hold a bigger festival in October.

“The consensus of all of the owners of the Ethiopian restaurants is, they say to me, ‘Look, there are tons of Ethiopian places in D.C., so obviously a lot of them aren’t going to have the same amount of business as the others. We need a different clientele,’” Mann said.

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The Man Behind Duke’s on 14th Street

Flickr: Adam Gurri

After passing it for years, I’ve often wondered about the shoe shine/repair place with dramatically high ceilings across from Busboys and Poets on 14th Street, in the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs; I had no idea that it had been there for 75 years. TBD has a video featuring the 89-year old proprietor of the shop. Here’s how they describe it and him:

Irving “Duke” Johnson has been shining shoes in the heart of Washington, D.C. for the past 75 years. His shop, Duke’s Shoe Repair, is located at the intersection of 14th and U Streets. For this 89-year-old man working is a joy and a way of life. He says he has no plans of retiring.

The first comment on the piece is amusing:

God, I can’t believe he’s still there. He used to scare the crap out of me when I was in daycare there. I’m pretty sure he was old as dirt then, and that was 22 years ago.

Speaking of 20 years ago, in 1991, Mr. Johnson had this to say about Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and the state of his people:
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Love Bites Food Truck: A Sweet Idea from Native Washingtonians

Remember when I mentioned the Love Bites food truck on Monday? Unlike the majority of trucks I’ve wandered up to, Love Bites is run by an African-American, Mother-Daughter duo and powered by local recipes. I had serendipitously discovered them on U Street, on Saturday, while taking my puppy for a walk; shortly thereafter, I tried my first Sweet Potato cupcake, ever– and I’m a believer. I spoke to Tima of Love Bites, today; she’s the younger half of the team behind the truck. Love Bites will be at Planet Pet’s “Grand Opening Party” in Adams Morgan tomorrow, November 6th.

How did Love Bites get started?

We actually formed the business in April but had to go get the truck, paint it and everything. So we were established in April, but were on the road four weeks ago.

What inspired you to start?

My mom has been in catering and event planning for over ten years, and we always wanted to start a Mother-Daughter business together. First we were going to do cookies, but I said I loved cupcakes. I was going to different cupcake places in D.C., all the time.

What happened to the cookies?

Last May, I went on a business trip and saw a mobile cookie truck in Columbia, South Carolina. It was called Insomnia. They basically go to the nearby colleges and deliver late night cookies to students who are studying. They make the cookies on their truck, so when they give them to you, they are still warm. So we thought of franchising, but we wanted to do something of our own.

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On My Radar: Love Bites

DC Love Bites

The cupcake which made me a fan of sweet potato-based desserts!

On Saturday evening, I took my costume-clad puppy for her usual nightly walk around the neighborhood. We weren’t Trick-or-Treating, but I ended up going home with something delightful and sweet anyway– a free cupcake! Anyone who reads DCentric knows that I love food trucks, and I thought I knew all of the rolling players, from the purveyors of sought-after, coveted Lobster Rolls to the trucks that cruelly aren’t allowed in the city yet.

But as we strolled down U street, I did a double-take at the big red van parked across from Ben’s. I had neither seen nor heard of Love Bites and as we walked up, the owner jumped out and asked if she could take a picture of my dressed-up pup. Flattered, I said, “Of course!” I was shocked when she handed me a free, “signature” cupcake, as a treat.

“It’s sweet potato with cream-cheese frosting”.

…and then I was surprised for the second time in five minutes. Long before I ran around and tried to sample every DC food truck’s fare, I was a cupcake-fiend whose Yelp take on Baked and Wired was once “Review of the Day”. I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, and I thought I had heard of every cupcake variation or flavor possible.

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Taking Liberties with Expiration Dates


This is NOT the corner store in question. This one is in Brooklyn.

I was reading Prince of Petworth, a blog which encourages readers to write in if they have a question. Today’s reader submission worried me; a corner market in D.C. is replacing the Manufacturer’s expiration date with their own (including meat products!):

“I caught this once…some Purdue chicken…I peeled back their sticker and found a manufacturers date that indicated expiration was 5 days sooner.

Anyways, I’ve gone back twice since to try and catch them, and both times found that they had scrubbed off the manufacturers expiration date before applying their own sticker.

I’m concerned for a lot of reasons…Is what they are doing illegal? Most disturbing is the fact that I reported this yesterday to the Department of Consumer and regulatory affairs food safety office…and no one has returned my message yet (It’s been over 24 hours).”

PoP blogger Dan Silverman offered to put them in touch with someone immediately, but what several commenters are disturbed by is the lack of identifying information for the market. Understandably, there is none because the letter-writer is worried about a defamation suit; he has offered to provide more details via email.

The Hate Graffiti that wasn’t.


Lorax tattoo by Paul Roe, British Ink

Yesterday, I went to Metro Mutts on H Street NE to find out more about the hateful graffiti which some vandal had spray painted on “their” door this weekend. I was surprised to discover two things:

- Metro Mutts has never encountered any negativity or hostility before this

- Metro Mutts shares the vandalized door with upstairs neighbor, British Ink.

In fact, the “door” which was tagged is really an outer door which doesn’t even have the six-month old pet shop’s name on it yet– there is merely a round, Metro Mutts sticker. It seems inaccurate to declare that Metro Mutts was the target of racist, anti-Gay, anti-gentrification graffiti but the mistake is wholly understandable; the first floor store front belongs to them. Anna Collins, one of the co-owners of the cleanest pet store I’ve ever been to, said that she didn’t think the ugly message was aimed at Metro Mutts– and that I should speak to Paul Roe, of British Ink about the incident. I did, this morning, for an hour.

Roe’s unique, by-appointment-only, couture tattoo studio has been open for four years. I asked him why he chose H Street.

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Was Metro Mutts the target of hate graffiti?

Window at Metro Mutts

Yesterday, TBD, Prince of Petworth and Frozen Tropics all reported that Metro Mutts, a pet store on H Street NE, had been vandalized with hateful, racist graffiti. Someone spray painted the following on their door:

“Cracker (large penis illustration) get out my city fag”

Since this unfortunate incident involves race, class and gentrification in the District, I wanted to learn more about what I had read, so last night I took my puppy to H Street to visit Metro Mutts and talk to Anna Collins, who has a fantastic name; she is one of the six-month old store’s owners.

Collins said that the door had been vandalized on Saturday night, after Metro Mutts closed at 6pm but before a regular customer walked by and spotted the graffiti at 9. She expressed some surprise at the gay slur since Metro Mutts is “primarily a woman-run business”– they do have one male partner, but he’s not in the store that often. Collins confirmed that the police had taken their complaint and then sent someone who investigates hate crimes (possibly someone from the GLLU).

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Red Hook Lobster Truck: The Interview

So remember way back on Monday, when I blogged about Council member Tommy Wells’ tweet? The one which admonished the red-hot Lobster Roll truck for doing business near Eastern Market without paying a vendor fee? It also mentioned Lobster Roll patrons shamelessly devouring their sought-after seafood at Marvelous Market’s tables. Well, it is irrelevant whether you remember it at this point because I just recapped it all. Handy!

I said I would reach out to Red Hook Lobster Truck to find out more and I did. We eventually connected late Tuesday afternoon, when I had a very long conversation with co-owner Leland Morris about “The Food Truck War”, his business philosophy and whether or not they let people get tacky and mooch Marvelous seating.

The first thing Leland said to me was this, and it set the tone for the entire interview: “We do everything by the book and in the spirit of the community we’re doing business with. We want to put positive energy out there. We do this because we love the positive experience people are having.”

What would you take away from that intro, DCentric readers? Yeah. Positivity. Morris was upbeat and up front. He sounded ready to answer any question I might pose. He also sounded…nice. I found myself hoping that he had a great explanation for Wells’ tweet…
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