For 17 years, Bennie A. Van Hoose has operated Chesapeake Drug Store in the Congress Heights-Washington Highlands area of the city. Popularly known as "Doc Bennie," Van Hoose has provided free delivery of medicine, jobs and lines of credit for residents in the low-income neighborhood.
Nearly 60 years old, Van Hoose works during the day at the infirmary at Lorton Reformatory, and then fills prescriptions at his pharmacy at 601 Chesapeake St. SE in the late afternoons and evenings.
In December, Philip Chung, who owns the Chesapeake Dry Cleaners next door to Van Hoose's store, bought the building that houses both their businesses. In January, Chung informed Van Hoose that his monthly rent was being raised from $1,095 to more than $2,900.
Protracted negotiations began as a result of Van Hoose's displeasure over the proposed rent increase. Both men retained lawyers and D.C. Council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8) made her offices available for negotiations. Meanwhile, Chung has begun legal procedures that could lead to Van Hoose's eviction, and the drugstore's customers have banded together to support Van Hoose.
John Scheuermann, attorney for Chung, said his client "does not particularly want to see Chesapeake Drug Store move . . . . We are waiting for a serious offer from them."
The support group has circulated petitions, held public meetings, made a testimonial videotape and held demonstrations.
Willie Mae Young, chairwoman of the Committee to Support Chesapeake Drug Store, said Van Hoose "has continually been responsive to our emotional, economic and employment needs."
Citing Van Hoose's free deliveries and his willingness to let customers buy medicine on credit, Young said, "We're certainly not going to get that service from larger drugstores."
Young said that the neighborhood's efforts have nothing to do with Van Hoose's being black and Chung's being Korean. "This is definitely not a racial issue. We would be opposed to any nationality who would interfere with Chesapeake Drug Store."
Petitions were signed and delivered to Rolark's office.
Rolark attended the group's initial meeting in Southeast May 19 and said she was willing to try to bring the sides together and offered her offices as a meeting place for negotiations.
It was at the May 19 meeting, Young said, that she suggested making a videotape that could be mailed to the news media.
The tape features Van Hoose's customers, neighbors and employes telling why Van Hoose's drugstore is important to them, with some customers recalling that he lent them money. Some employes recalled that he gave them their first jobs and helped keep them out of trouble.
After a series of meetings, Van Hoose was informed that there would be no more negotiations until demonstrations ceased.
No further meetings have been scheduled between Van Hoose and Chung, although Scheuermann and Zuker have spoken over the phone.
Bennie C. Van Hoose said that no matter what happens, his father intends to stay in the neighborhood. "My brother Darryl and I have been looking at alternative sights in case we have to move."