Louis Bey closed his four-year-old beauty salon near 9th and U streets NW last October because, he says, his customers were afraid to thread their way through the teeming crowds of newly arrived drug users and dealers on the block.
A few doors away at J and S Liquors, owner Jacqueline Harvey still shoos the junkies and assorted hangers-on out of her store where they take refuge from the cold and cut informal drug deals. She says her business has slipped badly since the crowds started showing up in larger numbers last August.
Up the street, Rohulamin Quander, partner in a law firm that has been on the block for more than half a century, is moving out next month. He says he has lost too many clients intimidated by the milling crowds.
These are just some of the new victims of an old problem in Washington's inner city: As police crack down on illicit drug traffickers in one area, they spring to life in another.
Successive sweeps by the D.C. police department's highly touted drug task forces last summer and fall brought more than 1,400 arrests and cleared much of the activity from the traditional drug hot spots along 14th and 7th Streets NW. But the same nervous, shifting crowds of men and women seeking to buy or sell heroin, PCP and other drugs have begun popping up in other places nearby.
One of those places is 9th and U, once a thriving commercial hub of black-owned shops, professional offices and other enterprises but now a bleak, trash-strewn intersection lined with vacant storefronts and boarded up buildings.
Only a few businesses remain. Men, often standing five and six deep on the sidewalk with their hands shoved in their pockets, stamp their feet against the cold, bantering and jostling each other. Others openly sell stolen goods from the trunks of cars parked along the curb.
Police acknowledge they have not stopped the illicit activity. They've just moved it around.
Drug traffickers "are like a grape -- you step on them and they pop to the other side," says Lt. Ron Harvey, head of the narcotics squad for the police department's 3rd district, which includes 9th and U in the Shaw neighborhood. "The displacement is harder to fight . . . . Those little merchants at 9th and U are in trouble."
Capt. James Nestor, head of the citywide S.T.P. (Stop the Trafficking of Pills, Pot and Powder) Task Force created last August, agrees. "We are concentrating on Shaw but it's spreading out. They pop up here and there."
Harvey says dislodging drug traffic from 9th and U is especially difficult. It's "a hard nut to crack," he says. "At 14th and 7th streets, we had good observation points. There are no good observation points at 9th and U.
"And they the drug crowds have changed their patterns. They walk all the time. They talk to a customer here, and then they walk half a block and make the deal, and then they walk another half a block and give the customer the stuff. That's hard stuff to deal with. They are in continual motion. It's tough to get them if they're moving."
For hairdresser Louis Bey, his troubles started last summer. "My problems were a direct result of the police pushing the junkies off of 14th Street. It was a migration," he said from his new shop near Dupont Circle. "I used to have a very good business with good substantial clientele. When they the drug traffickers came to the 2000 block of 9th Street, my customers were frightened away."
The customers who did brave the crowds "would see the drug dealing and get up and walk out," said Bey. "They would go home and call me and say how much they liked me and liked my work and that if I ever moved, they would come back. I lost 70 to 80 percent of my business this past summer . . . . They the drug traffickers destroyed my business."
Dec. 22 will mark the first business anniversary for Jacqueline Harvey at her liquor store on the northwest corner of 9th and U. She is not at all sure she will still be in business for a second celebration in her small store where bulletproof glass separates her cash and liquor stock from the customers. "We've got a real problem here. Those people moved out of 7th Street and up here in August ," she said. "A lot of my customers tell me that they don't want to walk through the crowd. Business is definitely down."
Harvey, who speaks softly and smiles easily, says she has to be tough with the drug users when they come into her store. "You know they actually do their dealing in here," she said. "It's constant. They're in here all day. They come in here and count their money . . . . I tell them to get out of the store."
Five doors away at 913 U St., Quander has reluctantly decided to leave "lawyer's row," as the 900 and 1000 blocks of U Street are known. He plans to move his civil law practice to Spring Valley in upper Northwest.
Two years ago when his partner retired, Quander bought the building at 913 U and renovated it. "This area was making a strong comeback," said Quander as he sat in his cluttered front office overlooking the sidewalk where several young men wearing blue jeans and ski parkas lounged against his building wall. "From '75 to '80, we were seeing a lot of construction and renovation. It was all very positive. Then the bottom dropped out this year . . . . Our clients won't come here. They don't want to keep their appointments. They are afraid to get off the bus or out of a taxi. People call us from the telephone booth across the street and ask us to escort them in."
Ironically, there is one business at 9th and U that is benefitting from the influx of the drug crowd.
Joann's Carryout at 2008 9th St. is regularly packed with the new crowd as well as with regular customers, who now must push their way in and out of the tiny store. The big sellers are hamburgers and steak-and-cheese subs. Owner John A. (Steamboat) Lee Sr. says his business has doubled since the transient drug market moved to his block.
"There is nothing I can do about the drug traffic," said Lee, 57. "I don't like dope. When they come in and try to pass the dope to each other, I give them the eye and they say, 'Okay Mr. Steamboat, we're going, we're leaving' ."
Lee, who is planning on remodeling the carryout, thinks his business improved because "I just happened to be in the right business at the right time."