Correction to This Article
The Style article about shop owner Noi Chudnoff incorrectly said that she died at Sibley Hospital. She died at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.
Appreciation

The Shopkeeper Whose Sign Was 'Open'

A photo of Noi Chudnoff, who died while awaiting surgery for colon cancer, is taped to her home decor shop, Go Mama Go! She helped lead the revitalization of 14th Street NW.
A photo of Noi Chudnoff, who died while awaiting surgery for colon cancer, is taped to her home decor shop, Go Mama Go! She helped lead the revitalization of 14th Street NW. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 9, 2007

"Hi. Dear."

Like some exotic bird chirping a clipped yet singsong call, Noi Chudnoff delivered her simple greeting to virtually all who entered Go Mama Go! And if it were a return visit, they'd often get a "Hi. Dear" followed by a hug and kiss.

From her arty/quirky/earthy home decor shop, its burnt orange facade visible for a block along a once-forlorn stretch of 14th Street NW, Noi sold a carefully curated mix of goods: stylish china, linens, lighting, art and tchotchkes.

The store's opening in August 2001 helped this daughter of Bangkok anchor a neighborhood in transition, and it made possible her charitable gifts to local theater companies, arts groups and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations.

But on Tuesday, six weeks shy of her 60th birthday, the tiny dynamo, who stood just over five feet tall and weighed under 100 pounds, died after a fall at Sibley Hospital while awaiting surgery for colon cancer.

Quickly and somberly, friends and customers flooded the shop to offer condolences, swap Noi stories, hang flowers on the wrought iron gate and tie fuchsia ribbons to the bars.

"She brought a very lively and successful retail business, but her interaction with all sorts of people really made a difference in terms of revitalizing that particular block," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who ran the nearby Whitman-Walker Clinic from 1986 to 1999, during some of 14th Street's grittiest years.

"One of the things about Noi is she came here and just got it," said Greg Link, who opened Home Rule, the hip housewares emporium, in 1999 with Rod Glover. "She loved the neighborhood, the block, for what it was. She loved our shop and came in and told us she wanted a store right near us."

Chudnoff had spent more than a decade in retail, managing the Classics for Kids clothing store in Kensington and selling Japanese dinnerware with a partner on weekends at Capitol Hill's Eastern Market. Friends kept urging her to open her own place, and after much looking, she and husband Jonathan Chudnoff leased 2,400 square feet of space at 1809 14th St. near Logan Circle. Go Mama Go! opened after a four-month, $100,000 renovation.

"Noi began shopping madly and scavenging for secondhand stuff -- aprons, souvenir plates -- that she'd put on ironing boards," he recalled. "She met artists. She put two rows of picture rails on both sides of the store and hung their work."

The staff was a mixed bag of bureaucrats, policy wonks, actors and artists. All spoke of her generosity, kindness and style.

Frank Spector, a Commerce Department employee, spends weekends working at the shop. "The employees were family and the customers made it a community," he said.


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