Local Business

Black Businesses Adjust to Gentrification in Shaw

WASHINGTON — On a hot Friday morning, Uprising Muffin Company, the new black-owned coffee shop on 7th Street next to the Shaw Howard Metro stop, is humming.

The store, structured on the Starbucks model but with muffins at its core, is doing brisk business as Shaw residents wander in with laptops and commuters from the nearby Metro station stop. Business is good.

One block north on the corner of Georgia and Florida avenues, however, things aren’t going so well. Central Communications, a neighborhood staple for 18 years, is barely holding on. Sales are down by about 80 percent, one employee said, and the store’s cellphone sales, primarily pay-as-you-go brands, have not taken off.

Such is the story these days of gentrification in the once largely-black Shaw neighborhood. Shaw is a microcosm of the town once known as “Chocolate City,” as upscale whites and other nationalities have flooded the city in recent years.

The changes have been good and bad for black residents and businesses.

In the Shaw neighborhood, for example, the white population increased from 7.9 percent in 2000 to 33.1 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

During the same time span, census figures show, the median household income in the neighborhood has gone from $25,000 to $71,000. In 2014, it was $83,000, In 2000, the number of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 20 percent. It is now 58 percent.

Longtime black homeowners have benefited greatly as houses they bought in the 1940s have increased in value tenfold. Black renters, on the other hand, have been pushed out by dramatically rising housing prices.

While some businesses are struggling, others are seeing some of their best paydays ever.

Lee’s Flower and Card Shop on U Street near 11th Street is one. Owner Stacy Banks said she has seen profits double over the past five years.

“[Gentrification] has brought more business to the U Street area, so it’s increased our business,” she said.

Banks said that new residents with more disposable income have a passion for plants, herbs and flowers, and they want more fresh flowers for their home for dinner parties and dates.

“With new condos and apartments going in the area, people have wanted to adorn those apartments with plants and fresh flowers, and they’re shopping locally,” she said. “I think that people with more means can spend more money.”

Banks’ grandfather bought the family’s building in 1945. Consequently, the company has avoided the escalating rents.

“We always said that if we rented our building, we wouldn’t be here anymore,” she said.

Johnnie Harris, owner of Johnnie’s Florist at the corner of Georgia Avenue and U Street, said he has also seen an increase of business.

“We have clients all over the D.C. metro area, but the new boom in the neighborhood has definitely been a plus,” Harris, who has been in business 20 years, told the Howard University News Service in a recent interview. “We have profited [from] there being changes around the area.”

Wanda Henderson, owner of Wanda’s on 7th, had once moved her business further north on Georgia Avenue in Northwest due to construction, but has seen her business grow since returning to her original location on 7th Street in 2014.

It has benefited by offering more services to more people and nationalities in the area, and an abundance of old clients and Howard University students coming into the shop, Henderson said, adding that she is having no problem attracting the young, affluent newcomers.

“We always had a good business before the area changed, so we were catering to people either from the age of 1 … to tending to their great-grandmother at 101,” she said.

The rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats, however. At Central Communications, one longtime employee said the store, most known for the go-go music blaring from inside, may not be around in the next year or two.

“Once upon a time we stayed packed, and now it’s a trickle,” said Gregory Mcneill, a long-term employee and a sound engineer for many major go-go bands. “I give it a year, maybe more in my opinion that this will be here.

“All the people that used to buy are no longer in the city,” he said. “They have moved out or gotten pushed out. It’s a domino effect. Over 50 percent of the businesses that used to be here are gone. It’s different, way different.”

Federico Lindo, owner of Best Cuts Barber Shop since 1991, said expenses have gone up and his customer base and profits keeps going down as black males move out of the neighborhood.

“The lease continues to go up, and I can’t really raise my prices like I would like to,” Lindo said. “Everything around us is getting expensive.”

Lindo, whose Georgia Avenue business is right across the street from Howard University, said while he is getting some new customers, it’s not enough.

“We see a few other races of people supporting us, but not as many as it used to be when we had more black residents,” he said.

Torrie’s, a once-popular diner on Georgia Avenue and V Street across from Howard University Hospital, has also been struggling.

“Most of the people that used to patronize it maybe 10 years ago lived in the areas,” manager Lisa Eady said. “They no longer live here, so now it is midday and there is nobody here is the restaurant.”

Eady said that business is down about 50 percent from its usual peak. To help bring customers back to the restaurant, Eady is planning to use social media to target new residents and switching to a menu to appeal to the new population.

“We need to get the word out that we have good food,” she said.

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Victoria Jones

Howard University News Service

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