D.C. native Latosha Jackson-Martin wants the sign she posted outside her father’s 50-year-old hair salon in Bloomingdale to remind residents that the neighborhood they see today isn’t what it used to be.
“Due to ‘gentrification’ and mixed emotions Jak and Company Hairdressers will be closing,” reads the blunt message.
That controversial buzzword, gentrification, speaks to a tension pervading the city: How do longtime businesses survive when the neighborhoods they have long served are rapidly becoming wealthier, younger and whiter?
Jackson-Martin’s father, William Jackson, opened Jak & Co. Hairdressers 50 years ago in downtown Washington and moved it to increasingly trendy Bloomingdale in 1988. For much of the past quarter-century, the store in the 100 block of Rhode Island Avenue NW has been surrounded by a laundromat, a uniform business and liquor stores with plexiglass windows.
Now, it’s nestled between a pub with an extensive whiskey and scotch menu, a gourmet bakery and a Mexican restaurant that sells cucumber margaritas.
“I want people in the community to know, especially young people, that the community is filled with people who have and people who don’t have,” Jackson-Martin said. “I want people to know that we put up a fight to stay where we are, but we are in the ‘has not’ . . . I can’t afford to pay double the rent like the other folks.”
Rent throughout Bloomingdale’s Zip code, 20001, has skyrocketed, and some homes have tripled in value over the past decade. The area has gone from 6 percent white in 2000 to 33 percent white in 2010, according to census data.
In 2013, the median household income for the Zip code, which also covers parts of Shaw and downtown, was $78,848 — compared with $65,830 for the city. That compares to $25,095 in 2000.
Statistics such as those have made survival tough for some District mom-and-pop shops like Jak & Co., which has a loyal African American customer base.
Between 1998 and 2012, the number of District businesses with five to nine employees decreased 24 percent, according to census data compiled by the District’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
During that same period, stores with 250 or more employees increased 50 percent, a rate that far outpaced the 20 percent increase nationwide.
Jackson-Martin took over her father’s shop when he died five years ago and has been on a month-to-month lease with the property’s longtime owner, 104 Rhode Island Avenue Associates LLC. She wouldn’t say what she pays in monthly rent but noted that it’s about half of what newer establishments around her are charged.
Now, Jackson-Martin said the property owners want to charge a market rate, an amount she can’t afford. She doesn’t want to raise prices for her customers, who pay about $35 for a haircut.
Records at the D.C. Landlord and Tenant Branch indicate that an eviction receipt was processed in March. Jackson-Martin plans to leave by the end of this month, and she is selling and donating the salon’s equipment and working with its hairdressers — many of whom have been there for decades — to help them find new jobs.
“At one point, we were the only business here, and now that the street is full, we get the eviction letter. It really hurts,” she said. “I’m trying to look at it as, it’s just business at the end of the day, and it is just business.”
The property owner and the company that manages the property, Demers Real Estate, declined to comment.
Small stores with fewer than 20 employees compose about 85 percent of retail in the District, and many establishments have been able to adapt in these changing communities.
When Windows Cafe & Market — a corner store in the heart of Bloomingdale — opened in 2001, it mostly sold beer and chips behind a window. Now the glass is long gone, and the shelves are stocked with such items as organic frozen pizzas, hummus and an extensive craft beer selection.
Sara Fatell, owner of Grassroots Gourmet — a small 2
“It’s sad to see some of the older businesses go,” Fatell said. “We know them, it’s a community. . . . It’s good to have someone there before you to tell you how it’s been.”
Jackson-Martin says she and her family have no plans to relocate the salon. She briefly looked at properties along Georgia Avenue NW, but that area was also too expensive.
She’s trying to figure out how to honor her father’s legacy once his namesake salon is closed. She said he contributed much to the Bloomingdale community, and she would like to see a street named after him.
“Some good things must come to an end,” she said. “It served my dad’s purpose to feed his family and help the community as best he could.”