Along with the ongoing anxiety many Ward 8 residents are experiencing as a result of their increasingly gentrifying neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, there is also a feeling of anxiousness for the amenities that similarly appear to be well on their way.
The purchase and current renovation of the old Curtis Brothers Furniture Store on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue by the Ward 8 Family Strengthening Collaborative is not only making way for a new job training center but the building will also become the home for the newest and first location in Southeast for Busboys and Poets, the popular sit-down restaurant owned by restaurateur, politician and radio talk-show host Andy Shallal who has opened five other Busboys in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Sit-down restaurants are an anomaly in Ward 8 with only three others including IHOP, Georgina’s (formerly Player’s Lounge) and Art-drenaline Cafe located in the Anacostia Arts Center on Good Hope Road.
What’s also common among the three restaurants is that they are all Black-owned — a growing phenomenon among the new businesses that have located along the Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King corridors.
This discovery has awakened residents and business owners, as well, to a new identity they are heralding as D.C.’s New Black Wall Street, an historical reference to areas around the country where Black business districts have thrived. These young, mostly millennials, Black entrepreneurs are not only pushing products or services but they’re doing it with a cultural statement, as well.
The area’s first bookstore, Mahogany Books, opened earlier this month in the Anacostia Art Center where a sit-down restaurant, an African-influenced clothing boutique, two vintage stores and a back-therapy center promote identity and culture. They are all Black-owned.
Up the hill in Congress Heights where a host of barber shops, a beauty salon, an athletic shoe store, several non-profit organizations, a cultural and performing arts center and The Washington Informer are located — all Black-owned — enlarge the landscape of Black entrepreneurship and job opportunities for local residents. Georgia Avenue is another corridor with a large contingent of Black-owned businesses, but in Ward 8 the Black-owned businesses are more concentrated and offer a greater presence, according to Ward 8 Council member Trayon White.
When Black people complain about gentrification, it is largely due to a genuine concern over displacement caused by the impact the process creates. But a few pioneering entrepreneurs have defied what others feared and put their stakes in the ground to serve the community. And the community is responding positively.
There is a transformation taking place in Ward 8 that folks are proud to call the New Black Wall Street. These businesses will remain for many years to come, as will the residents old and new who will patronize them.