Robert D. Green, 74, sat on a small stool in the rear of his little one-room variety store on North Capitol Street yesterday, peering at the few items that remained on the makeshift wooden shelves.
"It's too late for me to sell that package of Twinkies," said Green, pointing to a lone pastry. "The inventory man came in here this morning and told me not to sell anything anymore."
For 31 years, seven days a week, Green's newsstand cum variety store was where hundreds of workers from the nearby main Post Office and Government Printing Office gathered at the crack of dawn and during breaks to purchase newspapers, cigarettes, pistachio nuts, hot Slim Jims, penny candy and sodas or to chat with Green and his partner, Leo Gray, 65. But yesterday at 9 a.m., three hours after opening, Green locked his door and hung on it a small cardboard sign that said "CLOSED."
Green is out of business because his store, along with its neighbors -- a Little Tavern restaurant and the Mail and Rail bar and grill, are on a block of city-owned property that has been sold to GPO for expansion.
The block, bounded by G and H streets, North Capitol and First streets NW, is across G Street from the GPO and across North Capitol Street from the Post Office.
Green said he had known for some time that the city planned to sell the property to the GPO but never knew when it would happen and just waited for the clock to run out.
The city notified him and his neighboring businesses in May that they had to close down in 90 days. The other two businesses are fighting the order, city officials said.
"I've been here for a long time and now they say it's time for me to go," Green said, then added, in an unconvincing tone, "I'm not the kind of guy to miss anything . . . . These things happen."
But Gray said he will miss everything.
"I've been getting up at 3 a.m. to get here by 4 a.m. seven days a week and every morning I see my same friends," said the retired postal worker. "Sure I'm going to miss them and I bet they will miss us, too."
Yesterday, as customers strolled up to the one-story deteriorating country-like store, with its low-hung ceiling and 50-year-old Coca-Cola refrigerators, they stopped short at the locked screen door.
"Closed, are you serious?" asked Donna Washington, a GPO worker who had come to purchase her daily allotment of candy for the "girls back in the office."
"How dare they close my penny candy man down?" said co-worker Jacqueline Doy. "Where else am I going to find Sugar Daddies and Mary Janes around here?"
According to a spokesman for the city's urban renewal agency, the property was sold to the GPO for about $10 million and there are no definite plans for its use.
But some customers believe a use has been determined.
"They're planning to build a parking lot -- everyone knows that," said postal worker Robert Blakistone, a frequent customer of Green's.
"Yes, that's what they are telling us -- a parking lot," echoed Marlene Bland, manager of the Little Tavern. "Those people won't be able to buy breakfast in a parking lot . . . . I don't know what they are going to do."
But Green, who gathered a few personal belongings, said he has done well all these years and harbors no regrets.
"I've been here a long time and I don't want to go nowhere else and start all over," he said, sipping water from an old tin pot. "I guess it's time for me to start doing nothing."