Tucked here and there in odd corners of the old downtown area are the businesses that one owner calls the "finishing touches on the city" -- the old family-run establishments and specialty shops that stuck with downtown when other businesses fled.
The businesses were there for the bad times, there for the duration. When riots, urban decay and the obstacle course created by Metro construction sent shoppers fleeing to the suburbs, they were a lingering attraction.
Now, with Metro functioning and with redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue NW and construction of a convention center under way, these businesses face the prospect of a new downtown that promises to attract new customers and affluence -- but also may bring higher rents and other problems to the small merchants who stuck with downtown.
"I expect to see a lot of the little people crowded out. A lot of them are getting older. Some will either fold or move out to the suburbs," said jack Weaver who, with his son Bill, runs Weaver's Violin Shop. It may be progress, Weaver went on, but at a price.
"The older, little people who have been here for a number of years -- this comprises the city. It's part of the whole makeup. If you take that away, you're really taking away the finishing touches on the city" and leaving only bricks and boards, he said.
"You don't get the same feeling. All that is lost," said Weaver.
Weaver's has been in downtown Washington since the 1930s and the Depression. "Things got bad in Baltimore and my grandfather (who made instruments) came here," said Bill Weaver.
The Weaver family is not alone. In 1916 Patricia Swing's father and grandfather started M.E. Swing Co. Inc., a coffee and tea business now on E Street NW. Brodt's Inc., a hatters located on 11th Street NW, was established in the late 1800s. Reeves Bakery at 1209 F Street NW, is the oldest restaurant in Washington, according to its owner. Frank Rich's family has been running a shoe store, now at 1321 F Street NW, in the old downtown for 84 years and in Washington for 111 years.
The businesses are Washington traditions that now hope to enjoy the benefits of longevity in the old downtown.
The downtown tradition dies hard: Weaver's was first located on 11th Street NW, then at 13th and G streets. For 18 years it was upstairs in a building in the 1300 block of F Street, but when that building was redeveloped recently and rents threatened to triple, the violin shop moved to the Campbell's Music building -- back to 13th and G.
The business struggled through the late 1930s and early 1940s, Jack Weaver said. "After World War II business started picking up a little bit. From then on, it's been gradually coming on, although we've had ups and downs," he said.
The advent of the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts "provided a great amount of electricity to the city and to the music industry," Weaver said.
The shop sells and repairs violins, violas, cellos and other stringed instruments. The armed forces bands and suburban symphony orchestras, as well as the better-known music showcases, all provide more business for Weaver. Part of the company's business is also mail order and catering to tourists and members of foreign orchestras in town for performances.
The 1960s brought riots and a downturn in business. "People just would not come downtowm," said Weaver."Parking was at a premium. People were frightened to come in and out. We had people call from out of state and ask if it was safe to come down."
Those days are over: Weaver and others said that Metro's opening has been a tremendous boost.
"You've got points like Judiciary Square, where the attorneys come out, the secretaries come out," said Hank Abraham who, with his brother George, owns Reeves Bakery and Restaurant. "We get them from Union Station and from Connecticut and L Street."
Besides government and other workers who take their lunch breaks at Reeves, the bakery also draws those who come downtown just to shop.
"Reeves is considered an institution. They come up to you and tell you, 'My mother brought me here when I was a child, and now I'm bringing my child,'" said Abraham.
The Abraham brothers also grew up in Washington and, when they were kids, used to go to Reeves for chicken salad sandwiches and strawberry pie after the movies, Abraham said.
"That was the big thing to do -- go to Reeves," said Abraham. "We never dreamed we'd own it some day. Thank God, we're happy here."
The Abrahams bought out the Reeves family in 1965, and since then have operated the bakery and restaurant with its tile floor, long counters and strawberry pies.
The pies are the source of the bakery's renown. Abraham claims that during the Vietnam War, a soldier home on leave came in, sat down at the counter and devoured a whole pie, acting out a battlefield fantasy.
"I think the downtown is going to be better," said Abraham. "There's going to be more construction, and I don't think it's going to hurt us. Sure there are going to be plenty of new places, but if you give people good food and good service, they'll keep coming."
Patricia Swing, president of M.E. Swing Co., also expects to stay in downtown. "We've seen so many people go, it's been so terrible," she said. Even the thought of leaving "just breaks my heart." The Swing Co.owns its building at 1013 E Street NW, where the coffee and tea store has been since 1921.
"We've had good periods and bad periods. I think everybody downtown was hurt by the riots," she said. "We have a nice mail order business for people who do not want to come downtown, and Metro has helped us. A lot of people will come in now on their lunch hour who didn't have the time before."
Although the riots meant a temporary setback for Swings, customers continued to come, said manager Everett Matthews: "Our customers are repeat customers through families and generations. We're a little old-fashioned, but we like it that way."
The company also sells to tourists, which Swing said she expects the convention center to help bring to the area, and to restaurants. "We've stayed here through the good and bad," but now the bad may be over, she said.
Rich's Shoes came to the old downtown in November 1899, moving into a building across from Woodward & Lothrop. In 1961, the company moved into its present location.
"I have a lot of pride in this company. We've been through a lot in the past 10 years," said Frank Rich. "Now we seem to be in the throes of a whole new revitalization."
Rich was among those who fought to save the nearby Willard Hotel, which is to be redeveloped. Also nearby, the National Press Club is in the middle of a major rebuilding project and Marriott plans to build a hotel.
"In 1975, when things were still pretty bad (and the 15-year lease was up for renewal), I had to make a decision whether to stay or go," he said.
He chose to stay. Now that the area around the shoe store is being extensively redeveloped, he has been offered money for his lease. "I had two offers, both very substantial," he said.
"My comment was that I had 11 years to go. I'd like to recoup from the subway construction and the deterioration of the street, having stayed through it all and stayed in the building," he said. "Now as it's getting back on its feet, I'm not going to leave."
"I think our future is still the city."