D.C. Residents Call for Fewer Bars on H Street

WI Staff Writer | 1/19/2012, 12:02 p.m.

Residents of the gentrified H Street area are troubled by the block on block of bars that line the Northeast corridor. Margaret D. Lewis said not all of the improvement projects left the corridor better than it was found.

"They have too many bars and too many restaurants," said Lewis who has lived in the area for more years than she cared to remember. "They need to have more retail stores."

Joe Englert, a Washington business man, opened Argonaut in 2008 and went on to open seven more restaurants and bars. Following his lead, other merchants opened bars on H Street.

Lewis remembered when H Street was a Broadway of retail for black shoppers. That was before the Sears and Roebuck closed and before the '68 riots, fueled by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. The corridor was left in squalor.

"When I was a teenager I use to come down here, and they had a lot of different kinds of stores in the area," Lewis said. "Now they are all gone."

Lewis' friend, who didn't want to be identified, shared Lewis' frustration. She was bothered by the lack of grocery stores in the area and also saw evidence she was being pushed out of the corridor.

"They have come and taken H Street over as their place," she said. "It should be a place for anybody -- not just for them."

She said she lived in the area when nobody else wanted to be here and made the best of a bad situation.

"I've been around this way for a real long time. My children grew up around here. This change is too all of a sudden. Nobody knew anything about it. Just bang. There it is. You know."

In 2010, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to approve a bill that allocated $1.25 million in grants to grow retail businesses on the corridor. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (ODMPED) will award individual grant recipients up to a maximum of $85,000 each.

"This program is about supporting existing retail which there is very little of on H Street," said Charles Allen, chief of staff for D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). "We have great bars and restaurants. We have a growing community of small businesses. But our retail businesses are what's lacking. The grant program is very much focused on how do you grow and increase retail businesses on H Street and, in turn, create the jobs that we are all looking for."

Councilmember Wells was the sponsor of the legislation.

In times like these, Dineen Method, joined the chorus in calling for more retail businesses that create jobs on the corridor but fewer bars and restaurants.

"They are putting out a whole lot of money to build up H Street, but they are not giving back to the people," said Method, a 20-year resident of the area. "Everybody down here is opening up bars and restaurants, and they are not offering any of the Black men a job."