I walked to the nearest corner store in Anacostia yesterday because I needed crackers for soup. I don’t go there often because it’s not the most pleasant of places; it’s dank and the owners—nice people—collect their money from behind plexiglass.
But I walked in yesterday to find a new owner and disturbing changes. Previously, you walked around, collected your items and paid at the front counter. Now, the entire store is behind Plexiglas. You have to point to the items you want and the owner goes and gets them for you.
I walked out. I refuse to spend money in a place like that.
That’s why I was so disturbed to read that the owner of Uniontown Bar and Grill, Natasha Dasher, had been arrested on drug trafficking charges. I know nothing about the facts other than what I’ve read, and I hope they are simply some horrible mistake— for the owner’s sake and for my neighborhood.
Uniontown, despite some of its quirks, represented progress. I remember the first night it opened down the street from my house. I got a call from a neighbor telling me to come down. The place was packed with people like me in their late 20s to early 40s. And unlike the plexiglass and darkness that is standard fare in many establishments in the city, Uniontown was airy and the exchange between customer and service provider was what most people accept as normal.
You order food or a drink face-to-face with a person. They bring your order. When you’re done, you pay, with a credit card if you want.
I know that sounds simple, but in too many communities that’s simply not the case. There is a slow simmering anger in the residents who must regularly patronize establishments where they are treated like potential criminals. Those of us who can just hop in our cars and avoid the indignity of such places. But the night Uniontown opened, I felt liberated, like the neighborhood was turning a corner, going somewhere.
There was, of course, grumbling about limited menus and hours etc., from some residents who were there on opening night. But mostly they were glad Uniontown was there. I hope it doesn’t go away.
Anacostia, in my five years there, certainly seems to be inching ahead. But Saturday was a reminder of how far we have to go. The one place that seemed to represent a step in the right direction may have trouble surviving depending on what happens to the owner.
And even as young professionals move in and renovate homes, one new business owner is so afraid of the neighborhood that he’s now doing business behind a barrier, walling off his customers from the goods they might buy from him.
That, to me, is a step backward for Anacostia.