In Mount Pleasant’s ongoing battle against chain stores and big-box brands, nearly 2,000 residents have signed an online petition opposing the latest perceived threat to the neighborhood’s folksy, mom-and-pop spirit: CVS.
The pharmacy, which is exploring opening a store on the Northwest Washington neighborhood’s main street, would be an “eyesore” and “completely out of scale,” the petition says.
Residents opposed to the CVS worry about a pharmacy across the street that has served the community for more than 35 years and the locally owned supermarket in the building that CVS is eyeing. They also worry about what a CVS in this idiosyncratic neighborhood might bring: more chains, less character, a washing away of who they are.
“They let Subway come in, and ever since then, it’s been like open season,” said Carlos Toledo, an artist who works at the western-wear shop El West. “Mount Pleasant is more like a little village. It’s got character and heart. We don’t need a CVS to make us more like everywhere else.”
Residents and business owners said the storefront in question is at 3178 Mount Pleasant St. NW, now occupied by Bestworld Supermarket. A spokeswoman for CVS Pharmacy, which is based in Rhode Island, said the company is “evaluating the opportunity to add a new location” to the area.
The nearest drugstore, the Mt. Pleasant Care Pharmacy, is across the street. A CVS is about a half-mile away, in Columbia Heights.
Michael Choi, owner of the building that houses Bestworld, did not respond to requests for comment.
Young Suk Pak and In Suk Pak, who are married, have owned the Bestworld grocery store in Mount Pleasant for more than five years. In the supermarket, marked by an old yellow and red sign, the couple stock hard-to-find grocery items, produce and homemade kimchi.
They’ve watched as name-brand supermarkets pop up around them — a Target and a Giant in Columbia Heights, a Safeway on Georgia Avenue NW.
Now, they’re worried that they will be pushed out to make way for another big-name store.
“We didn’t even know about this CVS. Other people told us,” In Suk Pak said. “I guess if we’re pushed out, we’ll have to get out. What are we going to do? But I hope that doesn’t happen. I really like it here. This neighborhood is really, really good. It’s like a friendship.”
According to In Suk Pak and the couple’s attorney, Paul Strauss (one of the District’s two shadow senators), Bestworld was offered a lease five years ago with an option to extend, which the store owners accepted. They say Choi does not have the right to kick out Bestworld.
Across the street, in the front windows of the Mt. Pleasant Care Pharmacy, co-owner Joan Majeed displayed two anti-CVS petitions on neon poster board. Every day, as customers wait to pay, employees offer them a chance to fill out one of their own.
A stack of unsigned papers sits on the counter, near the boombox playing Spanish bolero songs.
Ayele Berhaneo, a taxi driver who has lived in Mount Pleasant since 1968, took a petition as he waited for the pharmacist to fetch his medication.
“There are so many CVSes in the area, and they’re all the same. Why do we need another one?” Berhaneo said as he signed his name. “You have to have people who know the community, who know who is who, who raised their own families here and know what the people need — not something that is going to come in here and marginalize the little guy.”
Many who come to the pharmacy are longtime customers whose health conditions and medications the staff knows by heart.
Residents originally from Central America know that the store carries brands from back home — El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras — and come seeking items as varied as hair gel (Moco de Gorila) and dietary supplements (Lainez Bacaolinita).
When the pharmacy opened in 1983, owner Tony Majeed said, the driving motivation was to provide quality service to low-income families. In so doing, the store built a loyal following.
“We have a lot of Spanish-speaking customers who come and know they can find the brands they can’t find in these other stores, like CVS,” said Carlos Zacarías, the store’s manager.
Majeed isn’t sure CVS would put him out of business because the services he offers, he said, are specialized and cater to his customers more than those of chain stores. But he is not eager to put his theory to the test.
It’s not the first time Mount Pleasant residents have rallied against a chain store.
In 2015, a man protested a Subway opening by projecting a giant poop emoji with the hashtag #JaredLies on the side of the restaurant’s building on Mount Pleasant Street NW. Later that year, hundreds signed an online petition in an effort to prevent a 7-Eleven from opening in the 2300 block of 14th Street NW.
Both protest efforts ultimately failed.
District Bridges, a nonprofit that works to support local businesses in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, created the petition, in part, to show community support for the Mt. Pleasant Care Pharmacy and Bestworld.
“We’re not opposed to CVS in general. They’re doing a lot in other parts of the country that’s actually really helpful,” said Brianne Dornbush, District Bridges’ executive director. “For us, though, we want to maintain the integrity and feel of Mount Pleasant. Having a chain like CVS doesn’t fit the needs of the community in a way we see as beneficial.”
While the outpouring of community support in the online petition has been encouraging, Strauss said, it hasn’t translated to increased sales at the supermarket.
“All these community folks that want to see a local store stay and not some national chain, it would be really great if y’all did some shopping there,” Strauss said. “The small neighborhood store is a model that’s been really struggling.”