Convenience stores

Loss of convenience stores felt on the Hill

A group of neighbors fight to buy and preserve Mott’s Market. Photo: Courtesy of Save Mott’s Market

Another convenience store, Congress Market (421 E Capitol St. SE), closed in late June.

Regular customers say the owner, Mr. Kim, is about to retire. But there is no word on what will happen on the site.

Congress Market joins several other Capitol Hill grocery and convenience stores in closing this year. In January, Roland’s Deli (333 Pennsylvania Ave SE) closed; Mott’s Market (233 12th St SE) closed in early March.

The reactions of those who frequent Congress Market echo comments from customers of Roland’s and Mott’s: heartache. “Oh no, this is terrible news”, a A Twitter user wrote in response to closing. “The store was such an important part of the neighborhood.”

Mr. Kim declined to comment. But 7-River Mart (250 11th St. NE) owner Mr. Sam Ko said he faced challenges as he kept his store for nearly 10 years at the corner of 11th and C streets NOT.

The price is the difference
Ko said he couldn’t price competitively with major retailers due to the price of sellers’ items. He said vendors in DC’s Capital Region, northern Virginia and parts of Maryland have high prices for smaller stores that aren’t able to order large amounts of inventory.

Some of the items he sells in his store are more expensive to buy from the seller than as a customer at a large grocery store or convenience store, Ko said.

A customer sits outside the Congress Market. “They work very hard,” he said. Photo: E. O’Gorek/NCC.

“Department stores are priced below what I pay [the vendors]”, noted the owner. “The sellers offer a lower price than the larger stores because they buy in bulk. They have to make a profit [and] they make it in small shops.

“I thank my neighbors for coming here,” Ko said. “I can’t say keep buying more, I can’t say that, because all the customers are like me, I try to get lowest prices.”

Ko said business fluctuates from day to day. Ko expressed his gratitude and appreciation for his customers, but said lower prices at chain retailers will continue to attract neighbors.

These neighbors continue to support him. Ko knows many of them by name; one day in mid-June, a little girl ran up to him as he was stocking shelves and hugged him while her mother paid for popsicles. 7-River is part of the community; Ko donates regularly to Maury Elementary (1250 Constitution Ave. NE).

Ko, he said, values ​​those relationships and the neighborhood a lot.

A second chance to save Mott’s Market
When stores close, some neighbors feel the loss of the community fabric. One group found it so important that despite challenges like those listed by Ko, they are willing to try themselves as traders.

There is currently a second ongoing effort by neighbors to buy the former Mott’s property and reopen a store there). It looks like it really could be possible: the neighbors have another shot at saving Mott’s Market (233 12th St. SE) — or anyway, preserving some convenience store space on southeast Capitol Hill.

Walter Street resident Noah Bopp is part of this group, who call themselves “Save Mott’s Market”. He said it had been a three month roller coaster ride and they were on top again.

“We basically thought we were closing up shop,” he said, laughing at his own choice of words. “We thought the building was sold. To have this quick reversal, the first thing we had to do was figure out: is everyone still there? »

The group was just days away from bidding on the two-story, 3,313-square-foot building when it sold on April 25 for $1.25 million. Now it’s been relisted for another $100,000. But despite the price – and interest rate – rising in the 38 days it was off the market, the group of neighbors say they are just days away from making the offer again.

They are still there, Bopp said. But they welcome any help they can get.

A neighborhood movement
The movement was founded on the porches of Walter Street SE, neighbors involved said.

Walter Street is a close-knit community that hosts events like July 4 parties and, during the pandemic, a socially distanced wedding, right in the middle of the street. “Our porches are like a communal space in a dorm, almost,” Bopp and Jordan LaCrosse said on a Zoom call during the first push. These are two of more than 25 people who are part of the effort.

When neighbors realized Mott’s was closing in early March, Bopp said, they felt gratitude but also sadness. The effort to preserve the convenience store evolved organically from the conversations, LaCrosse said.

When they learned they had a second chance earlier this month, they immediately rallied together, holding meetings and beginning formation of the LLC that would operate as the owner.

But the economic situation has changed a lot since April, when they started the effort. Interest rates skyrocketed and the price of the property increased by $100,000. “I’m not sure the value of the building has changed,” observes Bopp.

Status change
The changing situation involves changing the terms of the site’s buying effort. There are still many ways to get involved, whether you can invest time or money. The lender said investments should be a minimum of $10,000 for individuals, so those interested in contributing to the effort are working on various committees to help formulate plans and spread the word.

The vision hasn’t changed, however: “The idea is to keep the essentials as they were,” Bopp said in a previous interview, meaning a convenient place to get the essentials, but “with neighborhood improvements” – an artistic or performance item. , perhaps, or a revolving counter selling goods produced by neighbors. In emails and phone calls, LaCrosse adds, neighbors reiterate four traits: They would like a space that is safe, convenient, involved in the community, and accessible.

Investors have already committed $300,000. Bopp estimates they need about $75,000 more to make their offer, which they hope to complete by next week. This would cover the down payment and allow for carrying and closing costs.

Learn more about the effort to save Mott’s Market by emailing [email protected] or by visiting the website at www.savemottsmarket.com.

“There’s this wave of emotions,” Bopp said. “In this crazy little corner of the world today, maybe something really good is going on? I have so much hope for that.

Elizabeth O’Gorek is an editor and writer for Capital Community News. You can reach her at [email protected]

Sarah Payne is a generalist reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at [email protected]