Edward Archie gazed at the ceiling of the about-to-be completed Shaw-Howard University Metro Station and wondered aloud if he was standing beneath his dry cleaning store, one of the few businesses to survive the six years of streets torn up to make way for tunnels.
Archie and other Shaw community leaders toured the new stations along the Northwest part of the Green Line yesterday, their first look at what 22 years of planning and $251 million can produce. The Green Line is the last to be built in the 103-mile system.
"This feels really good," Archie said as he looked around the station. "This is what we have been waiting for."
The station looked finished. The tile was laid, the sign posts in place. Only the escalators weren't running. When Archie walked to the top, there, across the street, was the Tuxedo Valet that his father opened in 1947.
Archie, president of the Green Line Action Committee, saw his business cut in half when construction discouraged potential customers from climbing over debris to reach his store.
He, like other remaining business owners and residents along the Seventh Street Street and the U Street corridors, was always in favor of Metro. What they hadn't counted on was the years of unusable streets and unstable sidewalks.
"They just never told us it would be so bad," Archie said.
Metro officials took notice.
"They have endured so much," said Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg. "We have had some bumps and bruises along the way, but we are truly almost there. We wanted to show off the work that is done for those who have been hanging in there all these years."
Over the years, the opening date for this part of the Green Line has been delayed several times. Until last spring, Metro officials were confident the Shaw stations would open last week. Now they say the opening will not take place until May 4.
Metro General Manager Carmen E. Turner was among the guests on the hour-long tour of the new stations. She said she was sure the commercial neighborhoods around the station at Seventh and U streets would flourish once the line was finally open.
And she was equally sure they would be able to keep to the new opening date.
"I guarantee it," said Turner, who will leave her post Friday to become the day-to-day manager of the Smithsonian Institution. Turner's priority in her final days in the post has been assuring the community that the Green Line is back on track after a series of disappointments.
The Green Line, which eventually will connect near-downtown neighborhoods with Prince George's County, is the system's most troubled route. It lagged far behind other Metro lines because of a court battle, neighborhood controversies over placement of the line and indecision on the part of D.C. and Maryland officials.
When work finally was begun, real estate speculators bought up property along the route, ousted tenants and demolished the buildings. Now the two corridors, once important commercial and entertainment centers, are scarred by empty lots and boarded buildings.
Isadore Egber is the owner of a liquor store founded by his family 60 years ago at 12th and U streets NW. He said his business fell off by close to 70 percent in the last five years as his customers were forced to move away from the neighborhood.
"Now I close early, 5:30 or 6," he said. "No reason to stay open. It is a ghost town on U Street."
Egber said he has been able to stay in business because of other investments made by his family.
He is confident that Metro will help bring new life to the area, as is Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association President Jeff Koenreich, who also took part in the tour.
"Metro is the greatest gift a neighborhood could receive," Koenreich said. "It is truly the key to the rebuilding of this corridor."
He said two restaurants have just opened at 14th and U streets NW. He said the owners told him they were there because of Metro.
"That is proof we will make a comeback here," he said.