Columbia Heights Hipsters Stumble Into Target Territory

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 4, 2009; 9:32 AM

For the hipsters, post-hipsters or quasi-hipsters who moved into Columbia Heights several years ago for the grit and the cheap rent and the proximity to the Wonderland Ballroom (the hipster, post-hipster or quasi-hipster bar that sponsors local music and nights like "Sundress Fest"), life can be divided into two discrete phases: Before Target. After Target.

"Is four times a week bad?" asks Liz Bartolomeo, 26, who works for an arts nonprofit group in Washington and lives at 14th and Irving streets NW. Because she's hitting Target up to four times a week. "It's 'Oh, I need to get cat food.' Then, 'Oh, maybe I'll see what they have for dinner.' 'Oh, I need cotton balls.' 'Oh, I'll see what's on sale.' Before you know it I have a T-shirt, shorts, maybe a new dress." Most of what Bartolomeo buys could have been bought in the CVS just across the street, which has been in the neighborhood for several years. "But I don't want to go to CVS anymore," she says. "The deodorant is locked up in the CVS."

In the Target, the deodorant is in a blindingly white, neatly stocked aisle. It comes in scents like "Lotus Glow" and "Valencia Mist" that you never see at CVS. In the Target complex, which opened a little more than a year ago on 14th Street, you can also visit Bed Bath & Beyond, Marshalls and Best Buy, whence Bartolomeo's roommate once placed an excited call, saying, "Hi, I'm in Best Buy and I'm buying a flat screen," Bartolomeo remembers.

This complex has become a destination, like a movie theater, but with rows of humidifiers and pleather sofas as the entertainment.

But this complex is not why the quasi-hipsters of Columbia Heights had moved to the neighborhood. They were seeking bragging rights, and bodegas spilling over from Mount Pleasant. They were seeking urban.

Columbia Heights is still edgy. A few blocks from the Target, semi-permanent police cars monitor the muggings and shootings that still happen, in broad daylight, even -- as happened a few weeks ago -- at the Metro. This is an area being either positively revitalized or negatively gentrified, depending on how you view the development. It was a thriving, predominantly black neighborhood before it was ravaged by the 1968 riots, and now everyone is trying to either restore it to its former glory (save the Tivoli!) or make it into something new.

No one knows exactly what that something new will ultimately be, but it's starting to look like . . .

The sordid secret is that everyone, even hipsters, has always shopped at Target. Here is how it used to happen: Once every four months, you rented a Zipcar with some trunk space, and then you zipped out of D.C. and down to Jefferson Davis Highway, land of the big-box stores. Along the way, you talked about how glad you were that you didn't live down there, and how ironic it was for you to be going there at all, as you normally just bartered on Freecycle, and how your dad still tried to be cool by pronouncing it in French, Tar-zhay. You got to the Target, and you bought a microsuede storage bench, a duvet and a doormat, and on the way home you stopped at Outback Steakhouse (which was totally hilarious), and in polite company you never spoke of these suburban adventures again.

Target was amusing, when it was located in the suburbs. NIMBY, Target.

Not anymore.

You know the experiment: You put a frog in boiling water, it will try to jump out, but if you put it in cold water and slowly turn up the heat it will just sit there and die. Residents of Columbia Heights: They are the frogs. Columbia Heights is Jefferson Davis Highway. Columbia Heights is Tenleytown. Target has made us into suburbanites, right in the middle of the Green Line.

So awful. So convenient.

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