After 18 years at the corner of 14th and E streets SE, Pinkie's Market looks like living proof that Washington is one of the best places in the country for black businesses.
Despite construction of a Safeway store a half block away and a 7-Eleven store just two blocks away, the little corner store owned by Velma Hammond -- one of about five remaining black-owned corner stores in the city -- still breathes life through the sale of such items as Vienna sausages, soups, chips, candy and beer.
Pinkie's is just one of 18,805 black businesses scattered throughout the Washington metropolitan area. According to two studies of black businesses by William O'Hare, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau, the Washington area has about 22 businesses per 1,000 black residents, making it the fourth highest in the nation behind Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston.
But the numbers and the image projected by Pinkie's are misleading.
Although two blocks from the Potomac Avenue Metro station, across the street from a church and in the midst of a rapidly gentrified Capitol Hill-styled neighborhood, the store will probably close.
The reason: It just doesn't make much money.
This was part of a dismal pattern among black businesses nationally, according to O'Hare. Despite a 47 percent growth rate in the number of black-owned businesses between 1977 and 1982 -- which was double the 1972-77 rate -- aggregate sales receipts dropped 9.6 percent.
Although blacks make up 12 percent of the national population, black-owned businesses accounted for only 0.16 percent of all business revenue.
Moreover, black-owned firms with no paid employes were 89 percent of all black firms in 1982. The total number of employes in black-owned firms increased only 1 percent from 1977 to 1982, to 165,765.
What had gone wrong?
"Businesses that depend on black consumers face a market where potential customers have only 60 percent of the income and one-third of the wealth of white customers," O'Hare says.
"To reach the white market, black businesses must find ways to break through entrenched customer-supplier relations and overcome negative stereotypes."
There was little or no chance that this would be happening at Pinkie's Market.
Hammond, who had been trained as a hairdresser, had managed to save enough money to purchase the building and the market. But she did not have the business experience to transform it into the enterprise that it could have become.
"I am not an educated person, but I know enough to keep the store alive," she said. "I have four children, but none of them are interested in the store. They say it just doesn't make enough money for their taste."
The concept of gearing the store toward the new and relatively affluent neighbors was too far out for Hammond to consider.
Asked if she would consider doing anything special to attract white customers to her store, Hammond shook her head.
"They don't even come in here to buy a paper. They walk right past to the Safeway," she said. "No, I won't cater to them. The only thing I'll do is serve them first if there are a lot of black kids already inside the store. I'd do this just to get them out of here so they won't be any trouble. You know, a lot of blacks don't like whites."
Then again, she muses, a lot of blacks don't like blacks.
"I've been robbed five times -- with shotguns and pistols," she said. "What makes it hurt so bad is that it's our own little black boys."
Hammond said she plans to retire when she turns 62 in February. It's been a hard life minding the store, she notes. Each member of her family has been robbed and her husband and oldest son have been shot to death in the neighborhood.
For Pinkie's Market it is almost time to call it a day. And so it may be for other smaller businesses, as the gap between the health of black-owned businesses and other U.S. businesses appears to be widening.