But in recent years, after it was sold to new owners, the go-to grocery became a place to stay away from.
Residents, particularly newcomers to the neighborhood, began complaining about people loitering outside and documented what they believed were hand-to-hand drug sales. A health inspector found violations in the store. And a pair of daytime shootings last spring left parents scrambling their children into basements or huddled on the floor.
Police finally forced the Bodega’s doors shut on Jan. 6 on an emergency basis, after at least 80 rounds sprayed from a car parked on Franklin Street and struck three people outside the store. The gunfire wounded two and killed 38-year-old Lamar Emmanuel Walters, who lived a few blocks away and was on his way to visit a friend paralyzed by a bullet a few years earlier.
“This is not Afghanistan, this is the District of Columbia,” said Jeremiah Montague Jr., the advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area. “One shooting is one too many. And there has been more than one that has occurred at that location.”
The Bodega — also known as the Langdon Park Grocery Store — has been closed since the killing. The city’s liquor board permanently stripped the license to sell alcohol on Jan. 17. And neighbors remain on edge to see if the doors will reopen, as they believe it is a magnet for danger.
Before the shooting, a D.C. Council member joined with a police lieutenant to get the property declared a nuisance. The store advertised a happy hour with strawberry Jell-O shots — a violation of its liquor license, according to a complaint to the liquor board. And D.C. police conducted drug operations that led to arrests, police officials said, but loitering still continued.
Montague, who complained that the Bodega’s owners have violated several agreements with the community to improve conditions, called the triple shooting the “ultimate crescendo” in the three-year fight.
The shooting occurred shortly after 1:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon. In its aftermath, yellow evidence cards littered the parking lot. Bullets crashed into a house across the street.
That same afternoon, D.C. police Cmdr. William FitzGerald said the shooting targeted people who hung out at the store.
“It’s a shame someone lost his life, but it is directly related to this bodega,” said FitzGerald, the commander for the area’s 5th District police station.
In a letter prompting the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration to shut the Bodega for 96 hours, Police Chief Peter Newsham said officers had responded to 33 calls there in the past year related to selling and buying drugs.
The liquor board suspended and then revoked the Bodega’s license to sell alcohol, according to a spokesman for the agency. Though it can now reopen, it has remained shuttered. No appeal of the license suspension has been sought, according to a spokesman for the liquor agency.
The ownership of the Bodega remains murky. According to a report by the alcoholic beverage administration, the man who identified himself to police as the owner said he was given the business by a friend in November, but paperwork had not yet been filed with the District. He was unable to provide a liquor license.
None of the listed owners or the man who told police he was the owner could be reached for comment.
Under previous ownership, neighbors described the store as a mainstay for area seniors and a handful of people who sat and sipped the days away at the bus stop across the street. The owner knew the names of his customers and neighbors, many of whom raved about the fried chicken.
But when a new owner took over in 2016, neighbors say, troubles began.
Residents said they were forced to meticulously document activity around the store, including people urinating and a stream of vehicles, often with out-of-town license plates, that they say stopped briefly for hand-to-hand transactions.
Newsham told the liquor board the Bodega became a meeting place for some associated with a local gang, with some crew members selling food from a kitchen in the store. The kitchen, the chief said, drew “the violence associated” with these individuals to the Bodega.
Neighbors said gunfire outside the store created a deep sense of fear and pleas to city officials and police to act.
“You can’t stop people from publicly gathering,” said Montague, the neighborhood commissioner. “However, when your congregation or your gathering draws an imminent danger, then the discussion changes. The shenanigans have directly affected the public.”
Many residents complained but were too fearful to talk openly.
Montague acknowledged closing the store may “be a hardship” on some in the nearby Green Valley apartments, where many seniors live. But, he said, “I think given what has been going on there, the loss will not matter greatly.”
A week after the fatal shooting, Ben Swieringa tapped his cane carefully across Franklin Street to navigate the few-hundred-yard walk from his Green Valley apartment to the Bodega’s front door.
The blind man was in search of a bag of chips or maybe some french fries.
He found a locked door and could not read the “Sorry we’re closed” sign or the red city placard fixed to the door.
Swieringa said a permanent closure would be a mere inconvenience. But his thoughts turned to the “bus stop crew,” a group of older residents known for hanging out at a bus shelter across from the store who “might not be able to get their drinks or a cigarette.”
Richard Staton, 65, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, thinks closing the Bodega is a mistake.
“This is an old folks’ building,” Staton said as he pointed toward the apartments. “Everyone in that building needs this store. The neighborhood needs this store.”
Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said he has pushed hard for city agencies — including D.C. police, the alcoholic beverage administration and the Health Department — to shutter the business. McDuffie supports the permanent closure.
“I know it’s an urgent problem, and we have treated it as an urgent problem,” McDuffie said. “Unfortunately, when people engage in criminal behavior, it is hard to stop them.”
McDuffie said the problems of the city’s “culture of gun violence” is a larger issue that will linger even if the store remains closed.
Walters, the victim of the fatal shooting, lived a few blocks away with his mother and two older brothers. He worked temporary jobs and sometimes went to the Bodega to get a juice or water before catching a bus across the street.
That’s what he was doing the afternoon of Jan. 6, according to his mother, Georgyne Johnson-Walters, 64. She said her son was on his way to help a friend who was paralyzed by a bullet years ago. She said he was walking out of the store when the shooting occurred; she did not know whether he was targeted.
“He was friendly, lovable and knew everybody,” Johnson-Walters said. “He wasn’t into drugs. He didn’t cause problems. If anything, he was the person who would try to help.”
Johnson-Walters, retired from Providence Hospital where she assigned beds, said her son watched football, played video games and spent time with his younger relatives. He talked once of being a mortician or a Navy SEAL. A few years ago, he got shot near his home; his mother said he was a bystander struck by a stray bullet in a fatal shooting of an acquaintance.
“I just want the shootings to stop,” she said. “What the shooters don’t realize is the impact it has on everyone else. It affects entire families.”