Here are some color shots I took on my neighborhood walk around, last weekend. I noticed a theme of small businesses in the shots I was taking, so I decided to make a grouping out of them for this post. The areas I was photographing are actually very bustling and vibrant, but A: this was on a Sunday afternoon, and B: it was about 93 degrees Farenheit outside, so it looks far more desolate than it actually is, but that allowed me to focus on the appearances of the businesses themselves. My interest in photographing them without people is not to portray an economic state that may or may not be true, but rather the overall feel of small businesses that are in a neighborhood in transition – these are businesses, mostly minority-owned, that have not yet been gentrified in an area experiencing rapid gentrification.
To me, the loss of these businesses to gentrification is the biggest downside to the process. They are what makes up the character of the neighborhood, and why all those gentrifiers moved there in the first place. I will be very sad when Tex-Mex Burritos is displaced for yet another Chipotle.
Sun’s Discount is obviously shuttered. I don’t know how big a space it is on the inside, or what kind of (probably insane) rent the landlord is asking for, but I love the murals on the wall and the protest/message posters plastered on the whitewashed windows. It reflects the character of the neighborhood, and particularly its past – the small ethnic “discount” store that would have carried a hodge-podge of inexpensive products, primarily catering to the Latino community, which has adopted the small business strip along Mount Pleasant Street. Historically a mixed race, upper-middle class neighborhood, after the 1968 Martin Luther King riots, the neighborhood experienced a significant turnover and transformed into a poor Latino barrio in the 1970s. It is in the process of changing back into a largely white, upper-middle class neighborhood, as the housing stock off the business district consists of large, elegant rowhomes and single familys that are being snatched up, fixed up and turned into two and three unit condos.
There is still an African-American presence in the neighborhood – a touch of soul remains amidst the sazón. The neighborhood was always multi-ethnic, but the blend has changed over the years.
Another one of those small businesses that when a real estate developer sets their sights on the block will be one of the first to go. Leon’s operates out of a space not much bigger than a coat closet. In the land of big-box stores and franchises, there’s no room for a 200-sq ft retail operation. And signage like that would never fly in a homogenized shopping mall.
Here’s one that has been around for decades – witness the missing letters and the layers of paint applied to the original Alfa Omega Tax Service on the wall. Having them there in the 1970s and 80s when this was one of the police patrol beats officers dreaded to be assigned would have been a huge deal to the residents, as there would have been few legitimate businesses willing to provide quality services of any kind in the area.
The bohemian precursor to gentrification – Marx Cafe (“Revolutionary Cuisine”) brought a little touch of culture and chic.
A typical neighborhood mom-and-pop eatery. This one is newer, keeping within the theme of the neighborhood but brightened up and appealing to the incoming Anglos as well as the long-time residents.
Heller’s Bakery has been here forever, witness the neon sign, from back when the neighborhood was originally an upper-middle-class, white/jewish/African-American neighborhood. It stuck around through the hard times. If you saw the movie, State of Play, starring Russell Crowe, you’ll recognize this as being from outside his apartment.
I’m not sure Barbara’s is still in business – granted I usually never walk by it during the work day mid-week, so it might in fact operate then, but whenever I see it, it’s shuttered, blinds pulled, and half-dead plants in the window. I don’t know if they were a victim of shifting demographics, or just sloppy management – I don’t know that I’d want to trust what little hair I have left to someone whose plants look like that!
Another small business that will probably be driven out by gentrification in the next ten years. Massive re-development of the neighborhood has happened a few short blocks down the street, with upscale restaurants and pubs, a shopping center with Target, Best Buy, Marshalls, Staples, Radio Shack, GNC, a Washington Sports Club gym, and across the street is Chipotle, a wine store (not a liquor store, but a WINE store), and a FedEx outlet. Like I said earlier, no room in that for a riot of pink selling Central American baked goods. And the neighborhood will be poorer for it.
In contrast to the wine store down the street, this is a good old-fashioned ghetto liquor store. This one, I could let go, but the Colony Liquor up the street I’d like to see stay around if for no other reason than the fantastic Deco facade and neon sign (see previous posts of mine for pictures).
Part of the gentrification wave in my own segment of the neighborhood- its ethnic cuisine by hipsters. Don’t get me wrong, they have very delicious and authentic tacos (and insanely cheap happy hour prices – you can get three tacos and a beer for $10-11!!!), but the truly authentic taquerias don’t have roof decks, bar seating reclaimed from former diners, and waiters wearing plaid flannel, sporting a well-maintained three-days stubble.
Alongside the hipster taqueria you have the basement beauty parlor, which you’d never know was a beauty parlor if not for the booth for rent sign in the window.
The Pinch is a neighborhood dive bar featuring live music on the lower level. The graphics outside scream 1970s blaxploitation movie, the patrons now scream suburban white kids who moved to the city to have an “authentic” experience. But it’s good to have a venue that provides space for local live music, where up-and-coming bands needing a break can perform, as there are definitely not enough performance spaces in this town to adequately support the creative talent here.