Columbia Heights


“Did you have a nice Christmas?”

Flickr: Mr. T in DC

Christmas tree in Columbia Heights.

I stood at the customer service counter, wondering if anyone would notice me amid the shopping carts and baskets which surrounded me, each heaped with spurned gifts, returned merchandise that needed to be put-back. The lights were already dim in this part of the store, a testament to how slow my normally chaotic neighborhood had become due to the threat of snow. After several minutes, a tall, striking young employee approached me to ask if I needed help. I said that I needed to make a return.

Wordlessly, he rounded the carts and positioned himself behind the counter. I handed him my receipt and he scanned it, then reached for the tchotchke I was returning. He tossed it in to a giant bin behind him without looking. “$21 will go back on your card. Thank you.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“Did you have a nice Christmas?”, he mindlessly asked.

And because I have no boundaries, I replied, “I don’t really celebrate it anymore. Some years ago, my dad went in to a coma on the 23rd of December and passed away on the 29th. We buried him on the 31st. So the holidays just haven’t been the same after that.” My cheeks were hot by the time my explanation trailed off awkwardly. I should’ve just said, “Yes, thanks for asking!” and walked out.

My answer had snapped him out of his exhaustion, haze, reverie. “That’s deep.”

“Do you think you’ll ever celebrate it again?”, he asked. I stared at him, and for the first time, I really saw him. He was too pretty for retail. He looked like he should be the supporting actor on a sitcom, the one-liner-spouting son with an easy smile, filling out a fake nuclear family on some set in L.A. I had noticed him before, but only in the most cursory way– he stood out from the other employees. While they shuffled, slouched and grumbled, his posture was flawless. While they layered tee-shirts and sagged their pants, he always wore a designer crewneck sweater and a trim, shiny belt with a giant French logo for a belt buckle. The latter could’ve been a fake, but if it was, it was a great one. No fraying threads or tarnished metal in sight. He took his appearance and his comportment seriously.

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Target is a “soul stealer” which lacks “flavor”

M.V. Jantzen

Target, Columbia Heights.

Now reading: NPR’s “Big-Box Retailers Move To Smaller Stores In Cities“, which touches on both Walmart’s controversial decision to come to D.C. and the impact such retailers have had on neighborhoods like mine:

Outside the Columbia Heights Target, in a neighborhood of century-old rowhouses, there are mixed opinions about this contemporary attempt at an urban big-box.

Some people love the energy that the new businesses have created.

“It makes you want to come out and spend a little money if you don’t have any anyway,” says Washington native Niecy Stevens, whose car was parked at the curb in front of the store. “So, it brings people together, I guess.”

But neighborhood resident Anne Bouie, who lives nearby, says she is “conflicted.”

“I love Target; I’m not going to lie,” she says.” I’m in there every week. But they’re soul stealers from communities like these. … I mean, look at this. Does this have any spin, any flavor, any style by any criteria?”

Gentrifying with “Towers”– and How They Fail in Columbia Heights

Flickr: Mr. T in DC

Apartment building in Columbia Heights, D.C.

This is a few days old, but I felt compelled to post it– Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism blogged a response to Lydia DePillis’ feature in the City Paper on building height restrictions in D.C.

“the part that really stood out to me was this graphic…outlining where Lydia thinks the height restrictions should be lifted…Anyone familiar with DC geography will notice that the area most insulated from change – Northwest DC – is the richest part of town, full of desirable white neighborhoods. The areas where DePillis advocates lifting the height limit – neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River figure prominently in the graphic – are far blacker and poorer than the rest of DC…

But still, the fact that the only incremental steps towards redensification we can take will disproportionately displace black families is something that should be recognized and discussed. If upzoning poor neighborhoods is the only way to get the city to allow dense development, then so be it, but we shouldn’t pretend that these sorts of half-measures won’t have consequences.

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Vigil for Columbia Heights Murder Victim Ebony Franklin, Tonight.

Ebony Franklin.

That’s the name of the teen-aged girl whose body was found stuffed in a Columbia Heights trash receptacle earlier this week. I just found out that there is going to be a vigil for her later this evening, at 11th and Fairmont Streets, at 6:30 pm.

Franklin had been a student at Cardozo high school before moving to Maryland, with her Mother. Her Father still lives in Northwest:

Ebony Franklin was reported missing Saturday by her mother, with whom she lived in Capitol Heights, police said. They said the girl was fatally stabbed and stuffed in the barrel in a back alley off 11th and Fairmont streets NW in Columbia Heights.

An acquaintance said Ebony, who had lived in Columbia Heights before moving to Maryland, was a student at Cardozo High School, two blocks south of where her body was found. Police said she often visited her father in Northwest Washington.

Homicide detectives investigating the slaying Tuesday night were attempting to piece together the girl’s movements over the weekend, police said.

Update on Body Found in Columbia Heights

The Washington Post has updates about the body of a teenager which was found in a Columbia Heights alley, after a resident saw tennis shoes sticking out of a trash can:

D.C. Police identified the woman whose body was found in a trash receptacle in Northwest Washington on Monday as an 18-year-old Prince George’s County woman.

The woman, who had been stabbed repeatedly, was identified Tuesday as Ebony Franklin, of the 4600 block of Pistachio Lane in Capitol Heights.

Franklin’s death was ruled a homicide by the D.C. medical examiner’s office.

One local blogger tweeted this information regarding the case:

CM Graham says the victim found in Columbia Heights Alley yesterday was “reported missing from her home in suburban Maryland.”

Murdered Girl Found in Columbia Heights Trash Can

Terribly sad news in my neighborhood, this afternoon:

D.C. police say they have found “what appears to be a human body” in a trash receptacle in Columbia Heights.

The apparent female human remains were found Monday in an alley in the 1000 block of Fairmont Street NW.

D.C. police say the body appears to be that of a teenage girl, and that she appears to have been murdered.

Sources said the victim appeared to be 16 or 17 years old.

I was scouring local blogs and news sites for additional information, which I did not find…what I did find were comments attempting to link this with the fact that Gray won instead of Fenty:

Is it just me or has the shootings / bodies gone CRAZY since Vince won the primary? I swear I have heard more in that short time than I have in the 3 years I have lived in DC.

This situation is unfortunate enough, there’s no need.

Lined up Behind IHOP’s Velvet Rope

This picture was taken at 9am this morning, when people were already in line for free pancakes from the new IHOP in DCUSA. There were jugglers, clowns, balloon artists and what looked like a giant, stuffed pancake strolling down Irving street, entertaining the crowd, who started chanting “Pancake, pancake!” during the opening ceremony, which featured members of the City Council and Mayor Adrian Fenty. Council Chair-elect Kwame Brown tweeted this amazing photograph of the Mayor, Council member Jim Graham and himself wearing blue IHOP cardigans. What a festive way to start the day, in Columbia Heights.

Graham on Ellwood Thompson’s: “Maybe there will be a miracle”

The sign in the window at DCUSA, with the "opening" date covered in tape.

Update: Councilmember Graham called me again, after making a phone call of his own: “The Owner of DCUSA confirms they are in default four times, to the tune of a million dollars.”

Earlier today, I posted about Councilmember Jim Graham and Ellwood Thompson’s not being on the same page with regards to DCUSA; Graham just called me and he’s not backing down from what he told Lydia DePillis over at the City Paper.

Speaking of “not backing down”, I asked him to clarify this much blogged-about quote: “they’re going to pay for this very bad decision.”

He replied, “That is not the best language to describe it…the fact of the matter is, there are financial obligations that result from this kind of default. That’s the information I have from people at DCUSA. As recently as just the other day, they indicated they were going to pursue their legal options. We were lead on. All manner of agreements were signed. Now they have to abide by them. There are consequences to not doing that.”

But the owner of Ellwood Thompson’s, Richard Hood, told TBD that “I don’t know why Jim Graham is saying this. We are not in default. We continue to work with the landlord to make this happen”.

Graham responded: “That does not comport with the information that I have from DCUSA ownership. If they’re continuing to try and work it out then that’s fine, but I’m going on the information that I have. I have been very involved in this. I have asked continuously what’s going on.

“If Ellwood Thompson’s overcomes this, that’s fine, but if they don’t, I know others are being actively approached at this point, which would suggest to me that the deal is in default.”

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Jim Graham and Ellwood Thompson: Not on the same page.

William Beutler

Artist's rendition of what the legendary DCUSA Ellwood's might have looked like...

Is Ellwood Thompson’s coming to DCUSA or isn’t it? The City Paper reported:

According to Councilmember Jim Graham, the Richmond-based organic food store recently ended its two-year flirtation with the DCUSA location–and will lose about a million dollars in breaking its agreements.

But then TBD had this statement from the owner of the Richmond-chain:

Richmond-based organic grocer Ellwood Thompson’s has not abandoned its plans to open a store at the DCUSA retail complex in Columbia Heights, according to company owner Richard Hood…”I don’t know why Jim Graham is saying this. We are not in default. We continue to work with the landlord to make this happen,” Hood said.

I called my Councilmember, Jim Graham and emailed two of his staffers to find out more but his office has not responded to my inquiries. Like many of my neighbors, I felt relief earlier today, when it seemed like this never-ending saga finally had a (any!) resolution. I should’ve realized that when it comes to Ellwood Thompson’s and DCUSA, any pronouncement should be taken with a lot of salt– if only I had a grocery store on my block, from which to buy it.

The Family Behind D.C.’s Pancakes

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.

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