This isn't the economic trend that boosters of the H Street NE shopping corridor had in mind. Mega Foods, the corridor's only supermarket, closed last month. Now, two blocks away, a blue and white Riggs sign covers the carved stone name of the National Bank of Washington. Soon, the Fantle's drug store, anchor of a local shopping mall, will be closed.
What's happening along H Street isn't the end of the world, but some people are afraid they can see it from there.
The closings have shaken the confidence of some small merchants. They depend on the larger businesses to draw customers to H Street, between Third and 15th streets NE, the traditional shopping area that appeared to be making an economic comeback after the devastation of the 1968 riots.
Bill Oh, the owner of Video Enterprise at Eighth and H streets, at the core of the shopping area, expresses an H Street vision of what economists are starting to call "a downturn in the business cycle." Oh bought his business three months ago because it was near Fantle's and in what appeared to be a stable shopping center.
"As soon as I buy, the ice cream store next door closed," he said. "That gave me a little worry," he said. "Now the drugstore closes. The future for me and this area depends on what goes in there next."
Oh's concerns are being felt throughout the metropolitan region as hospitals, construction companies, banks and retail stores either close entirely or cut back on their staffs. The unemployment lines grow larger in both the suburbs and the city and those searching for jobs wait longer to find work.
Richard Groner, chief of the labor market information and research staff for the D.C. government, said the whole region is experiencing a slowdown from the boom years of the 1980s. He said he expects the trend to continue at least through the end of this year.
Groner said the District "is a little more sensitive" than the rest of the region to economic downswings.
"There are more District residents employed in lower paying jobs such as sales clerks and service workers than there are in the general area," he said.
The unemployment rate in the District was 6.2 percent in May and increased by a percentage point in June. For the region, May's figure was 2.2 percent, with an increase of 0.4 percent for June.
The chill of the economic slowdown is felt on H Street, where many neighborhood residents have found work at the dozen or more stores that opened in the last three years. That neighborhood has been more noticeably shaken than any other in the city because of the failure of the bank, the closing of the supermarket, and the impending closing of Fantle's. The three are within a two-block stretch.
It was an earlier round of layoffs at local hospitals that brought Theresa Williams yesterday to the city's Northeast employment services office, a few blocks from H Street. After 10 years of work as a medical secretary at the Washington Hospital Center, she was given her final paycheck six weeks ago.
"It is very stressful," she said. "I never expected to have such a hard time finding work. It is like starting all over again."
Williams, 29 and a Northeast resident, is worried about buying school clothes for her 12-year-old daughter and about having enough money for food.
"I used to earn $11.94 an hour," she said. "Now I am willing to sacrifice, to take a lower-paying job. I need money coming in."
Williams knows she is not alone. All she has to do is look behind her in the unemployment lines. "Used to be a lot of jobs," she said. "Now it seems everyone is out of work."
Kevin O. Thompson, 36, has similar worries. A construction worker since he left military service in 1975, he said he always had work, until June 4. "This is rough," he said as he fingered an application for unemployment benefits. "I always said I'd never go on unemployment but now I have to do that."
Thompson said he is behind on his rent and he is concerned about feeding his two small children. He looks to the news and worries that the conflict in the Middle East will mean higher prices for everything.
"I want to work, I am capable of working, I am looking to work," he said. "But there are fewer buildings coming up out of the holes. Everything has slowed down."
Thompson's assessment is correct, Groner said. He said 8,000 construction jobs have been lost in the area since the same time last year. However, he said the boom years of the last decade brought about more than a 100 percent increase in the number of such jobs, so employment in the field is still relatively high.
Thompson, who lives near Eighth and H Streets NE, said he saw Mega Foods close and he is aware of Fantle' situation as well.
"That is going to hurt the neighborhood," he said. "There are a lot of senior citizens who relied on those stores."
Council Member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) called the closing of Fantle's "a real loss."
"We have been set back but we are not a failure," she said.
"We just have to push and work harder to keep everything moving ahead."
At Fantle's, there is no outward sign that the store is closing.
Store manager Ted Sutton still walks the shiny aisles and Theresa Whittington stacks bags of chemical ice-melter under snow shovels.
For Whittington, the thought of applying for a new job is still novel.
"I haven't had to look for work for 14 years," she said.
"I think it still hasn't sunk in yet. Everything seems normal here . . . . We are still working."
Sutton said he expected the store to actually close in November. They are planning for a clearance sale next month.
Whittington said she would look for work in a different field.
"Retail just doesn't seem too stable these days," she said.