In D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, population changes welcomed and resented

Correction: Earlier versions of this story misspelled the name of Lukas Smith. They also incorrectly said he was wearing a porkpie hat; he was wearing a fedora.

March 24, 2011

Every year when the weather warms up, the farm stands sprout again on Sundays at the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market at First and R streets NW, where the vendors sell fresh produce, artisanal cheeses and exotic fare such as “champagne mango sorbetto.” And like clockwork, the grumbling begins from the longtime residents in the Northwest Washington neighborhood who resent the crowds and parking headaches the market brings.

Just this month, some of the newcomers and the old-timers are meeting to negotiate what’s being called a neighborhood “parking peace accord.”

“It’s not that they don’t like the farmers market; they just don’t like change,” said Lukas Smith, 32, who has lived in Bloomingdale for the past three years. “The sanctity of their space is being compromised. It shows them that the interlopers are moving in, the tax rates might go up and they will be unable to stay in their homes.”

A decade ago, the small historic neighborhood in Ward 5 was more than 90 percent black, according to the 2000 Census. Now, the economic and racial makeup has undergone an radical shift, with the African American population plunging to 59 percent in 2010 and the white population soaring to 30 percent.

A slew of young families and urban gentrifiers have swooped in, gutting and remodeling the Victorian rowhouses that line its streets. (The neighborhood is bounded by North Capitol Street on the east, Florida Avenue NW on the south, Second Street NW on the west and Bryant and Channing streets NW on the north.) A handful of higher-end businesses has followed. A Yoga District took up residence next to the mini-mart.

And a few years ago, a local restaurateur named Stu Davenport opened the Big Bear Cafe in what was a former bodega; the coffee shop and restaurant has since become a key neighborhood gathering spot.

Abraham Fetsum, 54, a writer and Eritrean immigrant who has owned a home in Bloomingdale for 11 years, said he welcomed the changes.

“People have moved in. It’s cleaner. It used to be drug-infested,” he said as he worked on his laptop at Big Bear. “There’s a little resentment that people are being displaced, but that’s not the fault of people coming in. It’s America; you should be allowed to go where you want to go.”

But he lamented the fact that many of the families who had lived in the neighborhood for decades have left for cheaper digs in Southeast.

“Nowadays you don’t see the old people. They’ve moved to Southeast because it’s cheaper. It’s very expensive here now,” he said.

Smith, a marketing director for a brewing company, sat nearby, sporting a fedora with feather trim and toting a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

He said he’s seen the neighborhood change during the time he’s lived there. Many of the families seem to have left; the children that were always underfoot have disappeared. He now says he’s thinking of moving to the nearby Trinidad neighborhood, which he says is still edgy.

“In Bloomingdale you used to meet and talk to and feel the presence of the people who preceded you there, and that is ever less the case,” he said. “I don’t like that. And it’s not a sense of guilt. I need a little more texture, that’s all I’m saying.”

Up the street, Stephen Worthy, 54, sat on the stoop of the S Street rowhouse where he’s rented a small room since 1970. The owner of the house is selling it, and he has just a few months to find a new place to live.

“I used to be able to go into each of these houses up and down the street, and I knew everybody,” he said. “The fathers all used to want me to date their daughters. I played football right there in the street.”

Now, he said, “everybody has moved out and sold their home. I think it’s all right, though. I have no [bad] feeling about the neighborhood.”

Annie Gowen is The Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for the Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East.
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