The O Street Market formally reopened yesterday with the same hustle and bustle and country fresh smells that had previously characterized the food market for nearly a century.
The store had been closed for 11 years after it was looted and vandalized during the riots of 1968, but was reopened looking much the same as it had when it first opened in 1886 -- architecturally appearing to be something of a cross between a barn and a church.
It's second coming marks a significant addition to a long awaited redevelopment plan for the area around Seventh and O streets NW, an area also devasted by riots after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King.
For yesterday's celebration, there was "revival" music furnished by the United House of Prayer's gospel brass band. Although the market has been doing business for about three weeks now, the celebration was an opportunity for local politicians and business leaders to honor James and Priscilla Adkins, once owners of a corner grocery store, who redeveloped the market.
The celebration was highlighted by congratulations from Mayor Marion Barry, City Council member Jerry Moore and Washington Post publisher Donald E. Graham. Moore urged residents not to "steal the store out, buy it out." In remarks to a reporter after his speech, Moore said, "In so many black neighborhoods, people will steal anything that's not nailed down. I don't want that to happen here."
Many of the customers in attendance yesterday recalled "the olden days" of the 1940s when the O Street Market was at its peak.Then, recalled Beatrice Williams, she and her neighbor Bernice Stevens, would spend Saturday mornings shopping and talking about receipes for collards, crackling and hocks.
Yesterday they hopped aboard a Metro bus to go shopping at the O Street Market again.
"They still have good, fresh food here," Mrs. Williams said as a butcher held up a slab of beef ribs for her examination. "Smithfield hams, umm, out of this world," she said. "Chocolate cake, put it in your mouth, umm, out of this world. Fresh eggs, fresh fish, sweetheart, out of this world."
Mrs. Stevens remembered that when the market was open before, it was a real country store, where you could kick up sawdust that covered the wood floor, gently elbow your way into a collard green picking line and take an hour or so working your way from vegetable stalls to meat counters to fruit stands while slow turning ceiling fans mixed up the smells.
The market operates basically the same today, and offers fresh produce, meats and vegetables -- as well as ice cream, hot peanuts and fried chicken -- from about a dozen stalls operated by individual entrepreneurs. Eventually, about 20 outdoor stands will be set up.
"It's almost the same," Mrs. Stevens said. "But I remember when I used to get a shoulder of lamb for 25 cents a pound and I could feed a whole family on 25 cents worth of hamburger meat."
For many, the reopening means the return to Shaw of fresh fruits, fish, beef, eggs, poultry and a variety of other goods.
"I feel awful good about this reopening," said Roberta Smith, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood. "Now I don't have to go all the way to the Florida Avenue Market [in Northeast Washinton] just to get some decent cracking [pork skins].
The market is part of a two block square redevelopment project that already includes a Giant supermarket. Soon to be built, according to Adkins, are a bank and pharmacy. It was Adkins financial savvy that has made the O Street complex a success.
He placed the winning bid in 1974 with the city's Redevelopment Land Agency and purchased the two-block site for $200,000. Later, he created a partnership, grouping the D.C. Development Corporation (DCDC), a nonprofit organization that provides housing services for the city's poor; the Shaw Project Area Committee (Shaw-Pac), a neighborhood services commission, and Giant Food Inc. The partners rent the building from Adkins for $200,000 a year and have put up $1.5 million to stock and maintain the store.
Adkins then put together another $3.5 million to cover the construction cost for the rest of his complex.