First, there was the burglary a year ago when thieves broke into Ivan Hall's watch repair shop at 704 11th St. NW and carted off thousands of dollars worth of watches and jewelry.
Then Hall went through weeks without central heating last winter when the boiler in the near-empty, dilapidated city-owned building broke down.
Next, the burglars came back, boring a hole through the floor and making off with more merchandise. And just weeks ago, vagrants living upstairs in the building set a fire. Water from the firefighters' hoses seeped into Hall's shop, damaging equipment and merchandise.
Finally two nights ago, water overflowing from a stopped-up toilet -- apparently used by vagrants above the shop -- cascaded for several hours onto Hall's work benches, tools and repair machines, setting back the 59-year-old watchmaker's business yet again.
Is he ready to throw in the towel? "I ain't going to give up as long as I can help it," Hall asserted yesterday, sitting amid the clutter of saturated and rusting inventory in his shop. Rows of drawers containing watch casings and hundreds of wheels, cogs and delicate hair springs were now filled with muddy-looking water. Watches that had been repaired and were waiting to be picked up by customers were waterlogged. Hall was closed for the day as he tried to assess the damage, which was still undetermined last night.
To complicate things, Hall is a cripple, and has been confined to a wheelchair in a reclining position since he was 18. For 30 years, he ran his watch repair and sales business from a storefront a block away at 807 11th St., but was forced out when the city cleared that block last year to build the new convention center.
He was temporarily relocated at his present address 14 months ago, but must move again by the end of May because the building is also slated for demolition as part of downtown Washington's booming redevelopment program.
Hall shares space in the shop with his partner, Jesse McNeal, a key maker and watch fixer, and is also helped by a brother, Hugh Hall. All three say they are having a tough time finding another location they can afford.
"I want to stay downtown," said Ivan Hall yesterday. "I been here most of my life, and I want to stay."
The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, which is responsible for assisting merchants in relocating from city-developed areas, says it is anxious to help but is finding it hard to meet Hall's idea of affordable rent.
"He's given us a limit of $500 a month," said James Woolfork, housing and business resources chief. "That's about 63 cents a square foot for a year for his size operation. The going rate in old downtown is anywhere from $7.50 to $15 a square foot."
The result is that the city has been able to offer few alternative spots to Hall -- and Hall has found those unsatisfactory for one reason or another.
"Maybe I'm spoiled," says Hall, acknowledging that he leases his present shop from the city for $125 a month -- a legacy from Hall's original landlord, who in 1949 pledged never to increase Hall's rent from that time on.
Though he is 59, Hall says, he can' retire yet. "I don't have anything to retire on," he said, peering through thick glasses, his left eye enlarged by the 8-power jeweler's magnifier mounted on his glasses frame." . . . They [burglars] stole all my savings. Every nickel I ever made I put into this business."
He added, "I got to work or go on public assistance or croak, one of them [and] I don't plan to do the second two."