For 35 years Dorothy Foster and her husband Jonathan have owned and operated a small grocery store and delicatessen at 14th and W streets NW, near one of the District's most notorious drug corners.
Now some people are saying the Fosters have made life too comfortable for the addicts and pushers who congregate daily and are known to step inside the store to transact drug deals out of the eyesight of police.
This week the Advisory Neighborhood Commission first threatened to oppose the upcoming renewal of the deli's liquor license, then decided to draw up an agreement that would require the Fosters to help clean up the neighborhood over the next year.
"We'll meet on Monday to draw up some kind of agreement," said Stanley Mayes, vice chairman of ANC 1B, adding, "Perhaps, if they closed up early for a few months that would make the crowd move.
"The people in my neighborhood are not patronizing the business at 11:30 at night, which is when it closes now," said Mayes. "The Fosters seem to make their place a little bit more comfortable than the other stores on the street. Closing early will cost them a little bit, but this neighborhood has had to absorb a lot, too."
Not everyone is pointing a finger at the Fosters. Some residents are grateful that the businesses have remained in the Shaw community after most shops fled, and they say, the Fosters cannot be held accountable for the thriving drug traffic.
"The community is ready to support them," said Tony Jones, a longtime Shaw resident who works at the Parent & Child Center on W Street, just behind the businesses. "Dottie has been keeping our babies in milk and Pampers for years."
"She cannot control those people," said William Lee, owner of Lee's Flower Shop at the corner of 11th and U streets NW. "I think the ANC is punishing the wrong people. These people just move from one corner to another. You have to clean up the whole district."
A police officer, called to the corner yesterday after a man suffering from an overdose of heroin passed out on the street, said, "She's between a rock and a hard spot. What can she do? If she pointed someone out as a dealer, they'd bust her in the head or blow up her business."
As she does every day, 60-year-old Dorothy Foster stood behind the counter of the grocery store at 2205 14th St. NW, selling cigarettes and munchies to customers, many with the droopy eyes, slurred speech and scarred arms that are signs of drug addiction.
She's "Miss Dottie" to some customers, "baby" to others. While it was cool and quiet in the grocery store, next door at the deli it was hot and crowded. A female customer seated at the counter asked a passing man, "You say you got smack?" "Smack" is a nickname for heroin.
"I just treat everybody like people," said Foster, a "God Is" button pinned to her apron. "We haven't done anything wrong. I can't do anything with the outside traffic. All I can do is call the police . . . which I have done time and time again."
Her husband Jonathan, baffled by the ANC's inquiries, said, "Why didn't they call me two years ago when we had 200 to 300 people gathering outside? Now they call when everything is slacking down."
In recent weeks police activity in the area has increased and fewer people are hanging out on the corner of 14th and W streets. City employes are moving into the District's new municipal building at 14th and U streets, a block away, breathing new life into the area.
"A year or two ago I would have cut my business hours," Jonathan Foster, said, referring to the ANC's suggestion. "With the new building, I'm going to increase my hours.