From Petworth restaurant, a view of a changing D.C. neighborhood

March 24, 2011

No one has to tell Alvin and Adrienne Carter that their neighborhood has changed.

For nearly half a century, the husband and wife have run the Hitching Post, a tavern on the eastern edge of Petworth. And though the menu hasn’t changed that much, the customers have.

The tavern was once a stop for construction workers and truck drivers and retired servicemen from the Old Soldiers Home. Now it caters to a more professional crowd, Alvin Carter said.

“I would say it’s less . . . country,” the 77-year-old said, with a note of approval, of the clientele at his restaurant at the corner of Second and Upshur streets NW.

“It’s more cosmopolitan,” said his wife, who’s 67.

The couple, clad in their matching red aprons, still cook up their old staples, such as pork chops and fried chicken. And the tavern, with its formica bar and stools, shows that gentrification hasn’t quite taken over one of the city’s most gentrified neighborhoods.

The population of Petworth, one of the city’s most populous census tracts, rose only slightly from 18,105 in 2000 to 18,243 in 2010. But the number of black residents dropped to 12,160 in 2010, from 15,415 a decade earlier. During the same period, the number of whites living in Petworth increased to 1,563 from 277, and the number of Hispanics rose to 3,828 from 1,963.

Like many District neighborhoods that experienced the most dramatic demographic shifts, Petworth has had new development in the form of high-rise apartment buildings. But the neighborhood still has blocks and blocks of old rowhouses.

Lauren Dennis, who moved to Petworth in 2009 and settled in one of those houses, has watched the neighborhood transform around her. Waiting outside the neighborhood’s small post office on Ninth Street NW on Thursday morning, she pointed down Georgia Avenue to the string of new apartment buildings stretching north from the Petworth Metro station.

“When I moved in, none of the projects had been finished, and half of them hadn’t even been started,” said Dennis, who is preparing to go to graduate school.

Dennis, who is white, said that when she looks around Petworth, she sees more and more people who look like her. Some are moving in, as she did. Others are simply stopping by, drawn to new destinations such as Yes! Organic Market and Qualia Coffee.

The change is good, she said, for the neighborhood’s economy. But she also thinks about what the changes mean for the community, especially for people who have lived in Petworth for decades and now are finding themselves priced out by rising rents.

“I am definitely aware of my presence in the neighborhood,” Dennis said. “Sometimes I feel that as part of this influx of young, and often white, professionals, I’m part of the movement, and I feel a sense of guilt for the effect it has had on the families in the neighborhood.”

Alvin and Adrienne Carter aren’t much concerned with the change in demographics .

Alvin Carter said he sees more professionals — not just white ones — and thinks that has been a good thing for the neighborhood. A black physician, Carter noted, is now living next door.

Sitting with a morning’s worth of newspapers on the bar in front him, Carter said he relishes the conversations he has with his often well-educated and well-traveled customers.

“I haven’t lost anything,” said Alvin, who moved to the District as a young man.

Adrienne Carter, who was born in the District and grew up in Shaw, said she can understand why some people see the changes as painful for communities such as Petworth (and Shaw).

“It’s kind of sad in a way,” she said, “all these people that were in the city all these years and they can’t afford to live here anymore.”

But she says the positives can’t be ignored either, the increased tax revenue for the city, the increased spending.

“Overall, it’s better for everybody,” she said, between stirring a pot of grits just in case anyone popped in looking for breakfast as a hungry young man had the day before.

They’re not sure, though, how much longer they’ll be at the stove. They’ve had the building, where they also live, up for sale for almost a year.

“We want to retire one day,” Alvin said.

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