Bill Brooks, who has pumped gasoline on Georgia Avenue NW for 25 years, said he felt a touch of pride yesterday as the floats and marching bands celebrating the third Georgia Avenue Day passed his Gulf Station.
Brooks said the celebration, aimed at spurring revitalization of one of Washington's oldest and longest commercial thoroughfares, gives him and other business persons hope that the long-depressed area will regain the prosperity it lost after the 1968 riots.
"It the celebration brings out the community and shows that we are not totally forgotten about," Brooks said in between servicing cars and answering the telephone at his station at 5120 Georgia Ave. NW.
Brooks, who lives in Ward 4 not far from his station, said he has seen many businesses there close and often thought about leaving himself. But "we all can't leave," he said. "We've got to stay here and bring Georgia Avenue back."
Brooks and others interviewed along the parade route yesterday said the area is still struggling but appears to be improving gradually.
They said the area's overall appearance must be spruced up and urged merchants to improve their signs and storefronts. They also called on the city to make a greater effort to clean and maintain the street.
More than anything else, they said, Georgia Avenue needs a major shopping center to recapture the many area residents who go to nearby suburban malls.
"What happens," Brooks said, "is that people go out and buy their groceries in the suburbs, and of course they get their gasoline and other goods out there."
Mayor Marion Barry, in a separate interview, agreed that a shopping center is vital to Georgia Avenue's comeback.
Barry, who rode on a float in the parade with City Council members Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1), the primary movers behind Georgia Avenue Day, said that negotiations are under way to build a shopping center on the street.
"I can't give the details" because no final decision has been made, Barry said.
Georgia Avenue is in both Jarvis' and Smith's wards, and Barry praised both of them for encouraging merchants along upper and lower Georiga Avenue to work together.
Jarvis said she was pleased that the Barry administration had agreed to open an office at 4422 Georgia Ave. NW to coordinate efforts to revitalize the area. She said the city has agreed to lend money to Georgia Avenue businesses to improve the facades of their stores.
Smith said the city government has done a good job revitalizing downtown and must focus more attention on neigborhoods such as Georgia Avenue.
Yesterday's activities included a parade on Georgia Avenue and two festivals, one at Emery Recreation Center and another at Banneker Recreation Center.
On Friday night, about 450 people attended a dinner and reception at the Washington Convention Center put on by the Georgia Avenue Foundation, the group that sponsors the celebration.
"It's a good awareness program," said Walter Blaylock, 54, a 30-year resident of the area, as he watched the parade yesterday.
"But there is lots of room for improvement" along Georgia Avenue, said Blaylock, a manager for Sears Roebuck and Co. "Over the last five or 10 years not much has changed," he said. "We need drugstores, grocery stores and specialty shops."
Alfred Mitchell learned the window and glass business first working at a store on Georgia Avenue and later at a business outside the area.
Last April, Mitchell said, he opened his own glass store at 7704 Georgia Ave. NW. "I came back because I felt like what I had learned, I should give it back to my own community," said Mitchell, 42, who has lived near Georgia Avenue for nearly 20 years.
Mitchell said he is earning enough money to pay his rent each month, but not much more.
He is not sure he can stay on Georgia Avenue permanently, but, Mitchell said, "I hope I will."