For the past four years, van Hall's watch shop on 11th Street NW has been in jeopardy of closing. But Hall, a 60-year-old man crippled with arthritis who repairs watches and clocks from a semi-reclined position in his wood-and-cane wheelchair, refuses to give up the fight to keep his business open.
Hall's Watch and Clock Shop, which has operated in the District for more than 30 years, is one of a dying breed of small businesses. Last year, Hall's store was moved down the block to make way for the Washington Convention Center. The shop has been hit by burglars three times since 1979, had no heat for part of last winter, and was flooded when firefighters were putting out a blaze upstairs.
The District Government, which owns his present building and is charged with helping relocate businesses like Hall's, has been unable to find a spot where his shop can move to. Since 1949, Hall has paid $125 a month rent. But the city's Redevelopment Land Agency has filed a landlord/tenant lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court to evict him and several neighboring tenants.
According to the District Urban Renewal Plan, the city is required to provide special benefits to the businesses it moves. Says the lawyer for Hall and his neighbors, Ralph Werner, who used to be the RLA counsel, "the government is ignoring them, saying that they are not bound by the plan's provision."
James Randall of the corporation counsel's office says that's not the case. "We have no objection granting those relocation benefits," Randall said. Hall and some of the other businessmen "have refused to cooperate by filing a claim. They think we need to come to them. Since they don't wish to file, we have been forced into bringing possessory actions in court to get the land back." The case is scheduled to be heard April 19.
Meanwhile, Hall is maintaining a steady flow of customers, a strong will and a sense of humor about his plight. "I'm trying to laugh, but it's a defense to keep from crying," Hall said. "I'm trying to convince myself that I'm gonna have to get out of town. I'm gonna lose, but I'm gonna fight a heck of a battle first."