Reviving the Dream: Moving Forward on 17th Street

by Borderstan.com June 21, 2012 at 12:00 pm 2,731 42 Comments

Editor’s note: The following guest column is from the president and vice president of the Urban Neighborhood Alliance (UNA), Lee Granados and Stephen Rutgers, respectively. Granados’ grandparents were Spanish immigrants, and she grew and continues to live just off the 17th Street corridor. Borderstan welcomes guest columns on variety of subjects with differing viewpoints; email us at borderstan[AT]gmail.com. Disclosure: Borderstan is a supporter of UNA.

"DC's 17th Street corridor in Dupont Circle"

The corner of 17th and Q Streets NW, the heart of the 17th Street corridor. (Borderstan)

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •

For those of you new to the city or who may not know the history, 17th Street was built out of the desire of early immigrants to achieve the American Dream. Through their hard work, dedication and family sacrifice, these immigrants strived to provide future generations a better life.

Name a continent and it is likely that an immigrant got their start somewhere close to the 17th Street Corridor. So popular that multiple presidents, diplomats and even the famed musician Jim Morrison used to visit often, the 17th Street corridor has been built upon people knowing and taking care of one another.

Things have, unfortunately, changed. “What’s best for the neighborhood?” has been replaced with “What’s best for me/my house?” Honest debate born of rational self-interest has been replaced with the use of leverage — no matter what the cost to the business and its employees.

These are the things that should be talked about and considered, and why VAs are now an archaic concept of the past. This is the time for the community to voice their support and to respect small businesses and our local elected officials. If there is an issue with a decision — take it up with your elected officials, not the small business striving for the American Dream.

"La Fonda Restaurant on 17th Street NW in DC"

La Fonda restaurant was at the corner of 17th and R Streets NW. Pictured are Adelina Pena (center, grandmother of Lee Granados) with her daughters, Angelina Pena and Adelina Callahan. The former Casa Pena on 17th was the deli started by Manuel and Adelina Pena after they immigrated. (Courtesy Lee Granados and UNA)

As this community was built, if there was a problem, it was addressed with your neighbors through productive dialogue and debate. Fast-forward to modern-day and that dialogue has been lost at the hands of a small group seeded in irrational self-interest — no matter the collateral damage to the small business owners and the evolving communities.

The unfortunate reality within our community is that as small businesses eye moving in they are forced with choosing either potential financial hardship, at the hands of a small minority, or they simply choose not to come to the 17th Street area at all, given the considerations.

For example, Hank’s Oyster Bar has been forced to spend in excess of $50,000 in legal fees, and other businesses on the street have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting similar small groups. We have elected officials in our local ANC 2B that represent our community and the voice of the people. When our elected representatives take up these issues and make a decision, we should respect that.

Many employees in these small businesses reside in and around the neighborhood, and they are doing jobs that many take for granted. These people work hard and work to better their lives through promotion, skill and/or opportunities afforded them at local businesses. Here are some hard facts regarding Hank’s: 12 to 15 employees reside in the neighborhood, eight to 10 more employees live in the city and 80% are long-term employees.

Voluntary Agreements (V.A.’s) between businesses and/or residents and local groupsdo not discuss the loss of revenue to the business, to the owner, and their employees. That is not only a shame but furthers the perception of people acting purely out of self-interest.

"Java House Cafe at 17th and Q NW in DC"

Communities revolve around local businesses. Java House Cafe at 17th and Q NW has been a neighborhood gathering spot for two decades. (Borderstan)

For every day an owner is fighting a VA they are losing thousands upon thousands of dollars of revenue and time needed to focus on developing their business. And their employees, when affected, lose income to pay their bills.

These are the things that should be talked about and considered, and why VAs are now an archaic concept of the past. This is the time for the community to voice their support and to respect small businesses and our local elected officials.

If there is an issue with a decision — take it up with your elected officials, not the small business striving for the American Dream.

Get an RSS Feed for the News Section, or an RSS Feed for all Borderstan stories.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list