Members of a Mount Pleasant citizens groups are planning a celebration after learning last week they apparently have successfully stopped a fried chicken carry-out chain from locating a store in their area.
Holly Enterprises, promoting a fast-food chain known as Holly Farms, backed out of a lease it had obtained from property owner James J. Bierbower for an abandoned store on the corner of 17th and Mount Pleasant Streets NW.
"We did not want to deal with the volatile nature of the citizens around here," said Andrew Omer, real estate manager for Holly Enterprises. "We'll invest our money elsewhere, in other areas of the District where they want us."
Holly Enterprises is part of a joint venture, according to Omer, with Safeway owning one-half the stock and Holly Farms Poultry Inc. owning the other half.
A group of Mount Pleasant residents who live around the area of the proposed carry-out first learned about Holly Farms' plan to move into the area last December. They began a barrage of letters, phone calls and complaints to Holly Farms and to Bierbower in an effort to stop the development.
"I live right behind the store," said Joan Hardin, a leader of the Stop Holly Farms Committee. "And you can't mask the smell."
"The odor of fried chicken is strong stuff," said Charles Haberlein, another committee activist and resident of Lamont Street. "Although I like to eat chicken some of the time, 10 to 24 hours a day of the stuff, it couldn't help but be strong."
The carry-out was to be located at the end of a block of buildings owned by Bierbower between 17th and Mount Pleasant, and Kilbourne Liquors and 4 Streets NW. Kilbourne Liquors and 4 Guy's Grocery are the only occupants of the block with three other store-fronts abandoned.
Recently renovated three-story row and town houses face the burned-out hulls of buildings littered with trash. On a sunny day last week, two people were sitting in the back of one store, keeping warm.
Haberlein said the buildings have been abandoned since Bierbower bought them, and even after 18 years wear the wreckage of the riots.
Holly Farms had planned to renovate the buildings as part of the arrangement with Bierbower and promised local residents they would scour the block area on a weekly basis, according to Haberlein. But, he said, "Holly Farms could have put the best management team in the world in there and there would still be a trash problem. That kind of high volume take-out should not be placed on top of a residental area."
Hardin said the committee and over 700 residents who signed petitions against Holly Farms objected to the carry-out on several grounds. "The area is already a drug area, and if the store would be open 24-hours a day, it will become a magnet for people who just want to hang out," Hardin said.
"Because of the people it will attract, the area merchants are afraid they will be robbed more often. There is no place for them to put the garbage, and chicken garbage attracts rats (already a problem in the area). There is also the non-destructible litter, the paper, and the increase of traffic," she continued.
Omer said "the whole thing (the residents fight) didn't make a whole lot of sense" to him. Holly Farms has nine other stores in the District and his was the first time in three years, he said, that anyone had put up opposition to them.
Tom Peterick, the operations manager for Holly Farms, said, "We don't want to bow to pressure, but we don't want to go where people aren't going to shop, where people don't want us."
Mount Pleasant is a neighborhood in flux - a mix of black, white, Chinese and Spanish. Incomes in the neighborhood vary from rich to poor with assorted housing from high-rise apartments to single-family homes with yards and spaces.
The heart of the commercial neighborhood is Mount Pleasant Street. Spanish specially shops, groceries, liquors and a church, La Casa, line the street. Residents are eager for businesses to move into the area, but Hardin says, "we would rather have a book store or a flower shop in there instead of a chicken carry-out."
Three years ago Safeway leased a store on the Bierbower property but pulled out in search of larger quarters. Gerald Green, an attorney and resident of the area, was angered when he learned that Safeway was a major stockholder in Holly Farms. "They come back in here for a fast food operation after pulling out their own store. We'll pay for groceries, but not for trash food. If they don't want our money, leave us alone."
Green thinks the Safeway connection might have been the reason behind the Holly Farms pullout. The group recently planned a mass demonstration at the site with a march and picketing at the Safeway on Columbia Road. After Green told Safeway public relations manager Ernest Moore about the march, Green said. Holly Farms sent a letter to Bierbower cancelling the lease. Safeway representative Tony Statom said Holly Farms had made the decision to cancel before Safeway had contacted them.
Bierbower will not comment on what he intends to do with the Holly Farms request, or what he plans on doing with the property.
Committee members have adopted a wait-and-see attitude but are "happy as claims" about their influence. Hardin says they plan to stay involved in the project, "and if we have to do this all over again, we will." They are planning a party soon to celebrate.