William Washington complains that the neighborhood around his store "has gone up down" ever since tenants and property owners in the area first got the word.
Having operated his Willie Shoe Repair shop at 912 9th St. NW for the past 12 years. Washington, 46, is not pleased that District of Columbia planners have selected this section of he old downtown area as the site for the proposed civic center.
If the center is constructed, William Washington and scores of other who live and work in the three-block area southwest of Mount Vernon Square and bounded by New York Avenue, H. 9th and 11th streets NW will have to leave.
Washington has accepted what he sees as the inevitability of relocation. He has been "looking around" for new rental space closer to transit stops but says the cost will be about $500 a month compared to $150 a month now.
By city estimates, Washington runs one of about 54 small businesses operating on the site of the proposed center. The blocks slated for demolition provide shelter for about 170 residents, most of whom are Chinese, but there are also many black and white residents and merchants.
Located about three blocks from the Metro subway stop at 7th and G street NW, the center would be within walking distance of the shopping mall area along F Streets.
Convention planners say that, depending on the location of their hotels, visitors would take the subway, taxicabs or special shuttle buses between their hotels and the center.
The center site is in an area of old downtown that is decaying in some parts and bustling in others, a contrast that offers a myriad of sights and activities.
A wino, bottle in hand, dozes in a small park just below New York Avenue. A block away on the avenue, attractive and elegant light fixtures adorn the windows of the busy Eagle Electric Supply Co.
Around the corner, the small section of primarily late 19th century buildings on 9th Street contains a pornographic peep show, a spiritual adviser and palmist: a forbidding, windowless structure painted black and housing a restaurant with a predominantly homosexual clientele: a carryout, and ashop that delivers fresh vegetables to numerous Chinese restaurants nearby.
Talk of building a convention center in this part of town has been heard since 1971. In 1973 came the Eisenhower Civic Center one proposal, later dropped, to construct block east of the present site.
Uncertainly about the center, combined with general urban decay, has left its toll. For every viable business or household in the area, there sit twice as many abandoned dwellings and boarded-up storefronts. Whole buildings stand empty and disfigured.
At Jim's Carry-Out in the 800 block of 9th Street NW. Fay Jim Woo, 60, stands obligingly behind the counter and talks of what he will do when, or if, center construction finally begins.
"They tear down my place, and I go elsewhere," sighed Woo, trying to fan away the summer heat with a paper plate.
The carry-out shop and small counfer service he has operated on the same spot for 12 years does a good business, Woo said. He would prefer to stay in the area but knows "they charge me more to move to new place" than the $275 a month rent he pays now.
At Marty Melton's Aderaft Advertising, 905 I St. NW, particular poignancy with Melton discusses moving from the street where he has been in business 23 years.
"I used to rent a place up the street for 10 years," said Melton, who does art work and advertising posters for theaters, hotels and, ironically, conventioneers.
Then, 13 years ago, "I had a chance to buy this building, and I did it. There was no talk of a convention center here then," he said.
Melton, who lives in McLean, said he probably will try to keep his business in the downtown area if he has to relocate. When he was looking at places to move during planning for the Eisenhower Center, Melton said he "found the prices almost prohibitive."
Because the city can take his property by right of eminent domain, Melton expects "they'll get it as cheaply as they can. I doubt I could buy another place at a reasonable price."
He is not looking forward to leaving.
"We have some of the same customers we started with," said Melton of himself and associate, Mel Sullivan. "No doubt the convention center would give a lot of people a lot of jobs, but I'm comfortable here. We've enjoyed a fair business, and I'd really hate to move."
"As soon as the thing is approved for good, the Department of Housing and Community Development plans to set up an office on the site to assist in the relocation," said John Fondersmith, chief of special projects for the city's Municipal Planning Office.
That assistance will include some measure of financial aid. Displaced residential and commercial tenants would receive as much as $4,000 and, for 48 months after their move, payments to cover any difference between their old and new rent.
Property owners would receive as much as $15,00 in addition to what the city pays for their property. Tenants and property owners also are entitled to receive as much as $300 for moving expenses and as much as $200 as a dislocation allowance.
"We've been reluctant to go out and build up people and say, 'Get ready,'" said Fondersmith, explainning that delays in winning full approval for the center project have given those living on the site "an attitude of 'I'll believe it when I see it.'"
Most people there "seem willing to go for the good of the city, but they don't want it hanging over their heads," he said.
A few area inhabitants are not aware of likely disruptions of their lives. At least one new merchant in a wig shop on 11th Street NW was surprised at the news.
"You write down, please," urged a Chinese woman, with poor English, who struggled with the expression "convention center."
The woman said she lives in Annandale and opened the shop two months ago at $210-a-month rent. She recalled hearing about some project "a long time ago" but knew of nothing now. She has no plans to move, she said.
Christina Lee, 23, and her husband who manage the vegetable delivery shop, have known for two years that they probably will have to relocate.
"But everything is not decided yet," she said.
Lee lives in the area and wants to stay nearby, as do most of her Chinese friends. "But most of us don't know where we'll go," she said.
The city is helping leaders of the Chinese business establishment obtain money to build a community center at 6th and H streets NW. That is expected to offer limited housing and space for some retail shops and other neighborhood needs but cannot accommodate everyone.
Stanley Brown, manager of the Capital Hotel at 11th and I streets NW, said he will go out of business if forced to move.
"I don't think I'll be able to open another place," said Brown, who has rented rooms in the hotel to tourists, transients and "locals" since 1970. He rents the old hotel building, which he said "was closed down when I came in. I renovated it."
Those who have attempted to spruce up deteriorating property are the most anxious to stay in the area. These include residents such as Charles Glover, 46, who manages a rooming house hear the Capital Hotel.
"I fixed it up," Glover says of the building he rents for $180 a month. "I'm the first one who ever painted this building in 20 years."
Glover said three of his roomers have lived in the house for more than five years, one as long as eight years. A painter by trade and a native, he has rented the rooming house for 10 years.
"I was born here, and I was raised here, and I'm not going to go anywhere else," Glover proclaimed, adding in the next breath that he had called "these real estate people" to inquire about other rental properties "and they just put me on hold."
"What are they going to do with all the people here?" Glover said. "Some work all day and are a tax credit to the city . . . they're not bums."
One beauty shop operator on H Street NW was so furious at the prospect of moving that she angrily waved questions out of her basement shop.
"You're asking the wrong victim," said the women where identity could not be determined. "I don't want to say anything. I don't want to get upset."
At one of the most unique stores now operating on the proposed convention center site. Phillips Police Equipment Co., the owner's son, Lee, surveyed his relocation options more calmly.
"We haven't looked for a new place yet. I don't have too much chance to get out of here," he said. The store, at 931 H st. Nw, does an active business selling holsters, belts, blackjacks, bull's-eye sheets for target practice and bullet-proof vests to police officers and security guards.
Some of the items in the shop require official forms from the police department before a customer can purchase them. A citizen might buy a leather arm protector for training dogs but probably would have difficulty purchasing any of the police sirens, flashing lights or car "boots" sold in the store.
"I don't know if we'll even stay in Washington," said Phillips. "The downtown prices are out of sight."
after being forced out of a store at 6th and F streets to make room for a fire station, the Phillipses bought their current building about 2 1/2 years ago.
"We don't want to rent but, if we have to, we have to," Lee Phillips said.
"Our business has been built on walk-in business," said Phillips, who attributed the store's success to its being "about the only one here" of its type. "There are already places like outs in Maryland and Virginia."
What rankles Phillips about moving again is not just the cost but a long time grudge against the city about his last relocation.
"When we moved over here, it was because we were pushed out of 6th and F to build a fire station," he said. "And all this happened at a time when the city was shutting down three others . . . I just don't know if we'll stay in Washington."
NEXT: Other cities' experiences with convention centers.