Twenty years ago William and Velma Johnson opened a small women's clothing boutique at 3610 12th St. NE along the main shopping district in Brookland. The business, which the couple describes as a "family affair," has expanded over the years from one building to six and includes their son's architectural firm and their daughter's art gallery.

"It's always been a family thing," said William Johnson. "My son designed the layout of the shop. My daughters have helped in the store. The stability of the family is important."

Being a family-oriented community has also helped keep the neighborhood together, said several Brookland store owners, civic leaders and other residents. From the newly opened food cooperative, which brought a much-needed grocery store to the area this spring, to the team of community residents who patrol the streets at night to keep drug dealers away from their neighborhood, Brookland residents have worked for community causes.

"My neighborhood is like a family of friends," reads the second page of a children's coloring book about Brookland, which depicts many historical sites in the well-integrated Northeast Washington community sandwiched between Taylor Street, 18th Street, Brentwood and Rhode Island Avenues, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks.

The gas lights that lined Brookland's one-time country roads have been replaced with electric lampposts. After World War II, many new houses sprang up in the neighborhood. Yet, the century-old community of 6,000 residents has still retained its quiet small-town flavor.

"There have been changes, but basically it's stayed the same," said Jeanne Rector, who has lived in Brookland since 1927. "It's still pretty quiet."

"Most of my neighbors have been here for years," said Rector, who now lives two blocks from her childhood home on Hamlin Street. "When I moved here, there were a lot of Italians. It was a Catholic community with St. Anthony's Church, the {Franciscan} monastery and Catholic University."

"After World War II, more blacks moved in and more whites moved out. But now, there seems to be an influx of whites moving back in," Rector said.

Housing prices are reasonable and affordable, said John Gerrety, a real estate agent who has lived in Brookland for 15 years. "I know if {prospective buyers} come and see the neighborhood, they will almost assuredly end up buying here," Gerrety said. "They won't find the warm feeling and spirit and prices anywhere else."

The neighborhood's varied architectural styles are a draw for prospective buyers. Bungalows and ramblers stand beside Victorian cottages and Queen Anne style homes along Brookland's tree-lined streets. Many houses have wrap-around porches and large front and back yards. Housing prices also vary. This year, a house sold for $69,000 and one on the same block went for $235,000, Gerrety said.

But, for the most part, one can't put a price tag on the things that are unique about Brookland, said Margaret Grady, who recently moved to the 1400 block of Lawrence Street NE from Georgetown.

"People here look out for one another. They're friends of one another. People have concern," Grady said.

Community concern led 40 Brookland residents to open a farmer's market in 1983 when the neighborhood Safeway closed. Seven years later, more than 200 families have joined in the community food cooperative, which opened a medium-size grocery store in March. The store, in the old Safeway building at 12th and Quincy streets NE, is well stocked, with canned goods and fresh fish, meat and produce. Members, who pay a one-time $25 fee and work four hours a month at the store, can have items specially ordered from the store.

The business corridor on 12th Street between Monroe and Quincy streets also reflects the diversity of the neighborhood. There's a Chinese restaurant, an Italian deli and a card shop featuring Third World imports. A few months ago, a new clothing store, Shades of Indigo, opened featuring West African and South American dresses, shorts and tops, handbags and other assorted items.

"Everyone seems to get along well here," said Ted Curtis, who owns an art gallery on 12th Street NE. Curtis grew up in Brookland and then moved back to the neighborhood a few years ago from Bladensburg.

"I've always felt kinship here, even after my parents moved away. You can find just about any type of background here -- working class, middle class, skilled labor," Curtis said. "There's room for everyone here."

Everyone except drug dealers, said Brookland residents. Two people, including a police officer, have been killed in drug-related shootings in Brookland in the past year and residents are concerned about the advance of drugs into the neighborhood.

To combat drugs and crime in the community, Robert Artisst started the Block Action Team, a group of neighborhood volunteers who watch each other's homes and report to the family members if they see strangers around their houses.

Donning orange hats, community residents also patrol the neighborhood and watch for strangers who may be selling drugs, said Artisst, president of the Brookland Civic Association and the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Brookland. The orange hat brigade planned to hold a candlelight vigil last night starting at 12th and Hamlin streets NE, a corner known for its drug trade.

"We've been very successful because of the relationship we have with the police," Artisst said. "It's getting better."

Brookland residents have a long history of active involvement in neighborhood concerns. In the late 1960s, they opposed the construction of the North Central Expressway, a planned six-lane road that would have destroyed 69 houses along 10th Street NE. Following demonstrations at the road site and disruptions at City Council meetings, they forced the District government to drop plans for the highway and to rehabilitate the houses for resale to residents.

Before the Brookland Metro Station opened in 1978, residents collected 1,000 signatures to win restrictions on commuter parking. And when Metro tried to demolish the 140-year-old Brooks mansion to create more parking spaces, residents again joined together to save the building.

In keeping with this history of community activism, residents recently raised $5,500 for new recreation equipment at the Turkey Thicket playground in Brookland.

Many residents said they are concerned about new development in the area. Some have been working to have the 12th Street corridor, which has been a bustling business strip since 1919, designated as a historic preservation area.

"Everyone would like to see {Brookland} stay a quiet residential neighborhood," said John Feeley, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years. "That's why people come here and want to live here."