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Florida Avenue still awaiting its renaissance

By Kate Flynn,

The bespectacled man behind the counter of the Gospel Spreading Bible Bookstore, at Florida Avenue and 7th Street N.W. in the District, says he doesn’t live in the area, and neither do most of the store’s clientele. Not anymore.

His name is George Blackmon, and he’s been working at the bookstore for the past 17 years.

He does talk about revitalization in the area, as far as businesses are concerned, and when you venture a little farther down Florida Avenue, to where it merges into U Street, it’s easy to see what he means. Hip bars, restaurants and music venues have undoubtedly driven property values up, and the area has the look, feel and almost palpable self-satisfaction of a place that has reinvented itself for a new era in the city’s history.

Walking in the other direction, one encounters a different story. Sala Damali, who came to Washington in 1985 from Atlantic City, N.J., to attend Howard University, has been living in the LeDroit Park neighborhood, not far from her alma mater, since graduating. It’s a cold, windy Saturday, and a new business venture of hers, Kuumba Kollectibles, is re-opening its doors under new management. An employee calls her “Mama Sala,” one of the “strong black women” who has brought about huge changes in the neighborhood.            

The area has grown increasingly gentrified in recent years, Damali says. “There are a lot of good people who can’t stay,” she tells me. “But we embrace change.”

Her store sells the work of local artists, as well as baked goods and floral arrangements, and also does custom printing work. There are no customers so far today, but the space is filled with the buzz of women, setting up a table of refreshments.            

Kuumba Kollectibles is a welcoming space on a street that to some, is not so welcoming. But maybe Florida Avenue’s U Street days are still ahead. In Northwest D.C., things are always in flux.

This story is part of a partnership between The Washington Post and students from American University. To read more stories from this collaboration, click here.

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