Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Raquel Colon is headed south.

The mother of two boys, ages 4 and 2, takes a break from packing and picks up the phone. Her voice is soft, understanding. One of the kids shuffles on her lap and gurgles as she talks about why she’s leaving Columbia Heights, her neighborhood for almost 25 years.

Now 31, Colon migrated from Honduras when she was 8, with her parents and older sister. The family decamped in Los Angeles, where they stayed for a few months before the prevalence of gang violence led them to D.C. The city was still considered the “murder capital” at the time, but at least the family had relatives here. They lived in Northeast for a bit, then moved to the Woodner, a hotel-turned-apartment building on 16th Street NW that borders Rock Creek Park. Colon grew up there, attending Bancroft Elementary and Sacred Heart schools.

It wasn’t until her senior year at The School Without Walls that her parents bought their current home near 14th and Fairmont streets—a three-bedroom rowhouse that’s since tripled in value. While working for a local economic development nonprofit, Colon, her husband and children have lived in the house with her parents, both older than 60.

She and her husband, a security professional, resolved to move four months ago. They settled on Austin, Texas, after searching around the District and Maryland. After weighing prices, schools, and crime, Columbia Heights quickly fell off their list of options, Colon says.

“We would think that with making the neighborhood better, quote-unquote, things like crime would be a little bit less common,” she says. “It’s not necessarily the case.”

Colon isn’t alone. In recent years, a steady drumbeat of eyebrow-raising incidents has dismayed Columbia Heights residents who hold the neighborhood’s massive redevelopment in one hand and the persistence of gun violence, muggings, and drug deals in the other. Meanwhile, real-estate values and rents continue to rise, attracting young professionals who pine for the modern conveniences money can buy, and pushing others out.

The target of more than $1 billion in investment, Columbia Heights today is a far cry from the community ravaged and torched during the April 1968 riots that erupted after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. But beneath the veneer of new stores and buildings, tensions endure.

***

June 14 was a dark day for the neighborhood.

Around 6:30 a.m. that Tuesday, 20-year-old Devonte Crawford was shot and killed inside the Columbia Heights Village, an affordable housing complex about a block south of the Columbia Heights Metro station. Less than 12 hours later, two 39-year-old men were critically wounded by gunfire steps away, on a basketball court near 14th and Girard streets. (The crimes were unrelated.)

Community members were shaken but not terribly surprised. Mark Ranslem, who’s lived in Columbia Heights since June 2010 and served as a neighborhood commissioner since April 2014, says the park where the double shooting happened has long been “a source of aggravation.” Though it has spray equipment for children, people also drink, smoke marijuana, and deal drugs there, Ranslem says. And, he adds, its bathrooms host all manner of illicit activity.

Mark Ranslem Credit: Darrow Montgomery

“It’s happening in the middle of the day,” the commissioner explains. “People here are sick of it.”

The day after Crawford was killed, a swarm of police officers scrambled to the Metro station, at 14th and Irving streets, to respond to an assault on one of their own. The officer had tried to stop a fight among a large group of teens. Some 20 departmental vehicles clogged the frequently busy intersection.

By Thursday, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who represents Columbia Heights, had sent a lengthy letter to the community describing the week as “difficult” (it was the same week of the Orlando nightclub killings). A neighborhood resident, Nadeau wrote that the incidents were “upsetting” and outlined ways for concerned citizens to stay informed.

For the local lawmaker, the shootings were a reminder of the ubiquity of firearms in D.C. “Something as minor as one person accidentally bumping into the other gets violent,” Nadeau wrote. “One of them has a gun. The other ends up dead. These are the things that keep me up at night.”

Violent episodes have unnerved Colon too. She says her sister was walking around Columbia Heights with her fiance about a year and a half ago when a stranger threatened them with a knife and demanded their belongings. The couple was ultimately unharmed. “That’s the scary stuff,” Colon says. The couple relocated to Tenleytown.

Perhaps the most harrowing event was when two men opened fire on each other last year on the Girard Street Park playground, which is tucked behind the Columbia Heights Community Center on 15th Street. Right before noon on July 7, the shooters caused hysteria around the swings and benches for dozens of children and their guardians who were enjoying the summer morning. The suspects fled. Authorities said they may have belonged to rival gangs.

No one was injured, but many residents were quite literally shell-shocked. “What kind of asshole does this near a kids’ playground?” Andrew Wiseman wondered on his New Columbia Heights blog. Residents had similar questions for officials at a meeting hastily organized that Wednesday evening. Colon, for one, has stopped visiting the park with her sons. “Honestly, I try to avoid some of the parks and some of the pockets in Columbia Heights,” she says. “If I take my kids to the park, I will take them down to Wisconsin Avenue. Somewhere [there won’t be] the risk of a stray bullet.”

Other incidents have prompted her to contact police officers via the Metropolitan Police Department’s Third District listserv. In March, she reported illegal craps games occurring under “poor lighting” at Girard Street Park. Then—at the beginning of this month—she replied to a lieutenant’s email about early-morning gunfire on her block, where the day before law enforcement had discovered “numerous shell casings and damage to several vehicles.” 

“Something’s gotta give,” she wrote.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

A fact of urban living is that crime tends to surge during the warmer months. Some Columbia Heights residents are nonetheless baffled by how often it crops up on 14th Street north of Florida Avenue. It’s one of the District’s most congested corridors, busy with buses, cabs, and strollers. On July 30, 29-year-old Edward Roberts Jr. was fatally shot on 14th between Oak Street and Otis Place, not far from local restaurant landmarks like Thip Khao and Pho Viet. Last Friday, a bullet apparently grazed a woman off Girard Street. On Saturday night, officers responded to 14th and Belmont streets after shots were fired near a block party.

Columbia Heights has more police than anywhere else in Ward 1, and one of the highest concentrations in D.C. But that hasn’t deterred brazen criminals from creating disorder. Last November, around 8 p.m., a group of suspects approached a man by the PNC Bank and Vitamin Shoppe on Park Road and plunged a knife into his back. A couple of weeks later, two robbers punched a guy in the face near the Metro. In December, a man was shot and wounded near Tubman Elementary School at 5 p.m.

“I know the city has a million problems—we’re facing an affordable housing crisis right now—so there’s a lot of things to tackle,” Colon demurs. “But as a resident, it’s very alarming sometimes.”

Data from three police service areas that cover Columbia Heights suggest she’s not off the mark. August to August, total crime in the neighborhood gradually rose by several percentage points from 2011 to last year. This increase was primarily driven by property crimes like burglaries and thefts rather than violent ones like assaults and homicides, although the area did see 10 killings from Aug. 1, 2014 to Aug. 1, 2015—more than double the four homicides over the previous period.

Columbia Heights and contiguous Park View (which share a police service area) have registered more than 13,000 property and violent crimes during the past five years. Approximately 80 percent of these have been property crimes, led by thefts from vehicles. Among violent crimes, more than half have been robberies that didn’t involve guns. 

As of last Friday, the three police service areas experienced an almost 15 percent drop across all forms of crime year-to-date, with 66 percent fewer homicides, 50 percent fewer sexual assaults, and 37 percent fewer robberies without guns than seen in the same period last year. Robberies and assaults using guns, however, spiked 27 and 75 percent, respectively. 

Strictly by the numbers, then, Columbia Heights presents a mixed bag in terms of public safety. 

Across D.C., violence and property crime have fallen slightly year-to-date. It’s certainly no longer the murder capital it once was: Homicides fell nearly 60 percent between 2000 and 2013. 

But the perception of safety, especially in densely populated neighborhoods like Columbia Heights that have experienced rapid gentrification, is far less calculable—and no less essential.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Jessica L. Smith, a neighborhood commissioner who chairs ANC 1B’s public safety committee, has lived in Columbia Heights for three years. She recently bought a condo near Malcolm X Park with her husband, a paramedic for D.C.’s fire department. A social worker by day, Smith says “every aspect of [their] lives”—from recreation to religion—“revolves around [the neighborhood].” While she plans to stay long term, Smith says Columbia Heights can feel “extremely transient” given all the newcomers who rent and then leave within a couple years. Their anxieties about crime typically outweigh those of old-timers, who tend to fret over housing costs.

“I have a lot of residents in my [single-member district] who have lived there for 40-plus years, and I’ve heard it’s mostly positive change from them: The neighborhood is safer, more diverse, and has more programs,” she says. “I think the newer ones’ concerns depend on where they’re coming from and what they’re used to. But because our communication channels are improving, sometimes the perception that crime is rising is stronger, which overall is good for transparency.”

Safety is in the eye of the beholder, it turns out. For Kent Boese, the chair of ANC 1A who lives in Park View but whose commission covers central Columbia Heights, the 14th Street strip could benefit from more consistent information sharing between residents and officers as well as more “sustained” police presence. He says he’s “very disturbed” by stabbings around Harvard Street.

“I’m frankly surprised more people aren’t talking about them,” the bow-tie-clad chair says.

Non-fatal crimes have also grabbed attention. Robbers have hit the Wells Fargo Bank close to the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza at least four times since June 2014. The BB&T branch on 14th Street between Irving and Kenyon was the target of a robbery attempt in January. Other neighborhood incidents have been just plain bizarre. Last November, a man carrying a large cup from Chipotle filled with bleach threw the liquid at four people around the corner from the eatery. In February, five suspects, including minors, entered the 14th Street Chipotle and used chairs to assault a man.

Nadeau agrees with Smith that the neighborhood has become dramatically safer over time, like the District overall, but says her constituents live in the moment—they don’t want to hear about “back then.”

“We rely a lot on crime statistics to tell us that our neighborhoods are safe,” Nadeau explains. “I don’t think that’s true of the general public. My residents don’t care if I tell them statistically crime is down. What they care about is what they see and feel, and that’s what I have to be sensitive to.”

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

***

Within two months of moving to Columbia Heights, Patrick Nelson was whipped in the back of the head with the butt of a gun. His glasses came flying off his face, and he couldn’t see a thing.

Luckily, he says, a neighbor saw what happened and immediately came to help. They called the police and filed a report. “I ended up with a wonderful two black eyes,” he recalls.

This was 30 years ago. Nelson was living in a friend’s house on Holmead Place, a block east of 14th Street, near Monroe. “There was nothing on 14th Street at all,” he explains. “No Metro, no buildings, no services. The rest of it, aside from the Tivoli, was mostly empty lots.”

The Tivoli Theatre was finished in 1924, designed as the largest cinema in D.C., with more than 2,000 seats and a balcony. Although it survived the 1968 riots, it closed in 1976 after a period of decay. Now, the historically preserved site houses retail, office, and performance space. It reopened in 2005 and is a fixture in Columbia Heights.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, vacant properties were pervasive. The District owned some via eminent domain, and many others belonged to people who were unwilling or unable to refurbish them. Nelson, now 59, says a grassroots group of devoted denizens set out to revitalize the 14th Street corridor all the way up to Columbia Heights. Their endeavors were institutionalized through community development corporations backed by “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry. (Barry also decided to locate the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center on U Street NW, in 1986, to help spur economic growth and link services with D.C.’s poor.) The District then deeded land to the CDCs for redevelopment. The one for Columbia Heights launched in 1984.

Nelson joined the organization’s board, which oversaw projects like the Nehemiah Retail Center, an 18,000-square-foot strip mall that opened in 1995, at 14th and Belmont streets. (The center was razed in 2008, one of the CDC’s unsuccessful efforts.) The group also received grants it then used to build low-income housing, and the Latin American Youth Center on Columbia Road.

But the real game-changers for Columbia Heights have only come within the last 17 years. The first was the Metro station, which debuted in September 1999 and extended the Green Line by roughly three miles. (“Metro Goes to New Heights in the District,” a  Washington Post headline punned.) Nadeau’s predecessor Jim Graham, a former Metro board chairman, says it was a watershed moment.

“When I came into office in 1999, there was no reason to go to Columbia Heights unless you lived there,” he says. “And after dark, you didn’t want to be there because it was owned by the gangs. The place has transformed from a dead zone into a very lively area.”

Graham touts his role in facilitating the advent of the Giant grocery store on Park Road, which replaced a smaller, 38-year-old outpost at 14th and Newton streets in 2005. The bustling chain occupies more than 50,000 square feet of space and has an attached parking lot. That it serves patrons 24/7 has made the Giant a neighborhood anchor.

(Speaking of late-night hours, the former councilmember now promotes a gay night at a Georgia Avenue and Newton Place strip club called The House. “We would never have thought of doing this 10 years ago,” Graham continues, chuckling. “People said we were crazy.”)

The other project that paved the way for contemporary Columbia Heights was the retail development. The boxy site replaced a torn-down post office in February 2008 and brought a suburban symbol to the city center: Target.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

“That took some real persuading on the behalf of Bob Moore,” the late director of the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights, Nelson says. Moore told the CDC’s board members of his travails in persuading Target executives to consider the neighborhood for a location.

“They’re driving up 14th Street and the closer they get to the site, the more they’re pushing the buttons to lock the doors,” Nelson recalls. “The expression on the guys’ faces was, ‘You don’t really think we’re going to be opening a frickin’ store here, now do you, Bob?’”

Moore was “a lion who fought continuously for others,” his protege and current DCCH president Andre Byers says. Under Moore’s charismatic leadership, over 1,000 units of affordable housing were produced in Columbia Heights, though Byers says the price controls on some of them may soon expire. “If we only have a conversation about preserving affordability, but don’t have a conversation about boosting the capital income of residents, the battle will be lost.”

With some incentives from the District, including over $40 million in tax-increment financing that allowed New York-based developer Grid Properties to build an underground parking garage with 1,000 spaces, Target green-lighted the location. “That was the crack in the ceiling, so to speak,” Nelson says. “Target was the headliner because it was a huge retailer, and that was a big win for the city. Then Best Buy came, the [Washington Sports Club], Staples, Bank of America, Marshalls.”

All this has made Columbia Heights one of the most heavily trafficked neighborhoods in D.C. A study published last month by Dochter & Alexander Retail Advisors found that the volume of pedestrians outside DC USA is about the same each day of the week, with a noticeable bump on Saturdays. In 2010, a census tract in the northern part of the neighborhood displayed huge population density: more than 59,000 people per square mile.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Concurrent with DC USA, residential properties were going up thanks to the gravitational pull of the Metro. So too were the values of the neighborhood’s classic rowhouses, which were being renovated by professional developers and individual house-flippers. Tom Gordon, a real estate agent in the Dupont Circle office of Real Living At Home, says commercialization was the “pied piper” for potential owners and tenants: “You had a very quick jump in prices after that development. From there, it’s been a steady rise that really hasn’t shown much sign of slowing.”

The median sale price for all homes in zip code 20010 (the bulk of Columbia Heights) has risen more than 45 percent from June 2011 to June 2016, he says, from $450,000 to $655,000. Homes in 20010 are selling for slightly above list prices, meaning there’s high buyer demand and relatively low supply. “It’s been a strong seller’s market,” Gordon adds.

The range in home sale prices in Columbia Heights over that period has been wide, from about $250,000 to $1.4 million for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom residence. Rents are harder to pin down, but Gordon says the median price for all rentals this year in 20010, including houses and apartment units, is roughly $3,250 a month. Five years ago, it was approximately $2,400 a month. It’s not unheard of to spend less than $1,000 a month for a room in a group house, or more than $3,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in a luxury building above the Metro.

The neighborhood’s real estate is booming so much that New Columbia Heights blogger Wiseman says he’s stopped consistently writing about new buildings: It’s too much to keep up with.

In part, higher home values in Columbia Heights have been driven by the conversion of its quaint rowhouses into two- or three-unit condos being scooped up by upper-income couples and new families. Gordon remembers one instance near Girard Street and Sherman Avenue a few years ago that transformed two houses into “enormous” condominiums with roof decks. They were recently assessed at $1.3 million. The houses had previously sold to the tune of $700,000.

Boese, chair of ANC 1A, says there’s money to be made in flipping houses. “But in the long term, I’m not so sure it’s helping the health of the community,” he cautions. “I think it does have a certain amount of destabilizing effect,” resulting in prohibitive cost barriers.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

***

Jack Appelbaum attended Georgetown for four years but made the move to Columbia Heights after graduating in 2014. Along with three friends, the 24-year-old employee of a management consulting company found a sizable apartment located about a five-minute walk from the Metro.

“It wasn’t as much about the neighborhood at that point, versus the apartment itself meeting our needs,” Appelbaum says. “It was more important for me to be near socializing opportunities rather than work, especially not knowing where my clients would be. I’m always going to get up and go to work in the morning—I’m much less likely to travel far to socialize.”

While single-family housing stock may be in short supply, Columbia Heights has no shortage of the post-college or post-grad-school sort looking to pursue their careers. Like Appelbaum, they’re keen to discover neighborhood gems along 11th Street or go to U Street on the weekends. When his lease expired this year, Appelbaum opted to stay in Columbia Heights, relocating to another building further south along 14th Street. “It’s so close to everything that it makes the experience better,” he says. Plus, “I probably know more people living in Columbia Heights than when I moved in.”

Other demographic groups have been moving out. According to the Urban Institute, nearly 6,700 fewer black people lived in the Columbia Heights–Mount Pleasant area in 2010 than in 2000. The white population grew by leaps over that time, with 8,300 newcomers from a total count of more than 47,000 people. The share of Latino residents declined about 3 percentage points.

A multitude of factors can account for these shifts, including births and deaths. But residents say they’ve anecdotally noticed more white people in Columbia Heights, who now make up about a third of the area. They also say the neighborhood resembles a clash of socioeconomic classes.

Alicia Wilson heads La Clinica del Pueblo, a nonprofit founded in 1983 that provides health services tailored to Latino residents. Wilson, who is white, notes that more of the organization’s clients commute from farther away than in the past, with 30 percent coming from Prince George’s County. Many patients simply can’t afford to live in D.C. anymore.

“What I would say is that the racial and ethnic divisions and tensions are more pronounced,” she says. “Now you have three distinct ethnic groups in Columbia Heights, whereas previously there were just two. Prior to the Metro opening, you could have maybe argued that Columbia Heights was African American and Mount Pleasant was Latino. Then [the area] became increasingly Caucasian. There’s not integration. There’s still segregated communities, if not segregated neighborhoods.”

Or, as Wiseman says, “I feel like it’s diverse, but I don’t know if it’s diverse together.”

Lori Kaplan, president of the Latin American Youth Center—which has been in Columbia Heights since 1974—says community organizations like hers can combat this silo effect through volunteer and other programs. Still, she says, some of the kids who attend the center have experienced stereotyping by local authorities and businesses. One new entrant she declined to name rebuffed her efforts to connect businesses with teens, whom LAYC helps find jobs. “They said, ‘We don’t hire from the community we’re in,’” Kaplan recounts. “Their reason was that if you hire kids from the neighborhood, they’re going to steal from you. It was disgusting. I was shocked.”

This kind of bias has triggered anxiety  that the area’s diversity is being diluted. Nadeau characterizes it as the neighborhood’s “most special quality, the thing we’ll ultimately be fighting hardest to retain.”

Few semi-private spaces in the area draw diverse groups together. But on a recent Saturday, the line outside the Florida Avenue Grill featured hungry customers of all races and ages. The District institution on the outskirts of Columbia Heights (it’s down 11th Street hill) opened in 1944 and was bought by Imar Hutchins in 2005. He developed the mixed-material Lacey Condominiums next door, but decided to preserve the Grill because of its historical significance for “soul food,” he says. A significant portion of the restaurant’s regulars come from Columbia Heights, and now Maryland.

Hutchins says the “unpretentious” greasy spoon is one of the last “true cross-sections of the city,” a place like Ben’s Chili Bowl that has “survived from the old days” and coexists with the new District.

“The soul of the city is being lost, washed away little by little,” Hutchins says. “The irony of it is, the sad part of it is, it doesn’t have to be that way, if there was more thoughtful development.” 

“This is the way black people experience gentrification: They try to go to some place they used to go to last month, and it’s not there anymore,” the owner adds. “I went to a thrift store on Georgia Avenue to see if they had any records that were cool. I went there, and it was completely gone.”

***

As of this writing, there are 454 comments on an anonymous letter about Columbia Heights that local blog PoPville published in June. At turns memoir and screed, the item was widely shared.

The author, who disclosed at the outset that he is black, wrote that he and his wife bought a rowhouse on Kenyon Street in 2006. They liked the neighborhood at first: Aside from some “used condoms” strewn around, it was “the picture of urban renewal.”

“Then a few years ago the positive changes in Columbia Heights seemingly started to reverse,” the man wrote. “The streets … filled with unbelievable quantities of trash. It was as though people from all over D.C. were coming to Columbia Heights specifically to throw trash on the street. The amount of crime skyrocketed. Robber[ies], assaults, burglar[ies] became a more frequent issue.”

The piece touched a nerve, causing many residents to wring their hands via community listservs. Nadeau says she was disappointed to see the author’s perspective, calling the letter “pessimistic” and “not a particularly fair assessment” of the state of Columbia Heights. The man wrote that he had moved out of D.C. “Life is challenging enough as it is, being constantly treated like the enemy and dealing with the constant level of ‘fail’ of the District is just exhausting,” he wrote. A number of commenters appeared to empathize with his frustrations, at least in the abstract.

Christine Miller, a neighborhood commissioner for Columbia Heights elected in July, says she read the letter and could understand someone coming to a “breaking point” like that.

“It’s tough to tell what that line is for everybody,” she says. “I’ve certainly had moments where I hug my kids a little tighter because I realize we just missed a violent incident by a block or by a day.” Some of the matters the writer identified—like homelessness—are “complicated,” she adds.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Such quality of life issues breed varying degrees of discontent. In Columbia Heights, there seem to be a few themes. One is that the civic plaza at 14th Street and Park Road has become a gathering place for people experiencing homelessness or addiction. Boese says he contacted the Department of Behavioral Health late last month to alert them to the problem. “It’s a difficult situation in that [the District] can try to help anyone who is receptive to seeking help, but if someone doesn’t want it, no one can force it on them,” the ANC chair notes.

Residents and surrounding business owners hope that the plaza doesn’t become a tragedy of the commons. Ammar Daoud, the owner of The Heights restaurant, says he would like the city to get more involved, though he doesn’t think it’s only a matter of policing. Michael Lastoria, the CEO of &pizza, which opened a location on the plaza in March, says he selected the space because it “anchors” the neighborhood and is accessible to everyone.

Beyond that highly visible space, a vacant building behind DC USA—near the corner of Hiatt Place and Park Road—and another on Georgia Avenue have posed challenges: People use them for drug dealing and squatting. The former is on the same block as a public school.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Preliminary data from MPD show that since January 2013 authorities have made 675 narcotics-related arrests in police service areas covering Columbia Heights and Park View. As of last weekend, such arrests in 2016 (176) have exceeded last year’s total (175). In 2014, there were almost double the number than the year before—214 versus 110.

In response, some neighbors have demanded more police patrols. “There’s no way you can live in a city and expect that every time something happens, there’s going to be a cop on the corner to solve the problem,” Nelson counters. “That’s living in lala land.”

As for commercial spaces, others complain that that the 14th Street corridor is becoming too corporate. Wiseman says he’d like something more “interesting” than major brands like Best Buy. Ex-Councilmember Graham agrees, saying he’s a fan of new shops around Florida Avenue and 7th Street. “Why aren’t these in Columbia Heights?” he asks. “I don’t want to eliminate the dollar stores of the world, but we’ve got that base covered in terms of retail. We need more diversity.”

Daoud says he doesn’t care one way or the other. “All business is good business, whether they are franchise-based businesses or independents,” he argues. “They should come and invest.” 

DC USA lost the Staples on its first floor this year, but it also gained a popular Chick-fil-A. It’s set to get an Ethiopian restaurant soon, on Park Road, Byers says. He predicts the next wave of neighborhood development will sprout up along Georgia Avenue.

“It will look different, primarily because you have a lot of micro, privately owned parcels,” he explains. “On 14th Street, you had a swath of District-owned land and you could put that up for solicitation. You don’t have the same large footprint” on Georgia north of Howard University.

“Even if the boutique or mom-and-pop shops aren’t located in DC USA itself, the properties on 14th, 11th, Georgia, and Mount Pleasant are still prime opportunities for businesses to pick off customers going to the big boxes, and to support something that’s locally grown,” Byers adds.

Despite its problems, some improvements are in store for Columbia Heights in the years ahead. In the upcoming District budget, Nadeau included funding for new Main Street and Clean Team programs that she hopes will help abate public sanitation issues, provide jobs, and keep neighborhood spaces active. Similar initiatives have seen success in other quadrants.

With major development already installed and new spaces spreading to Georgia and Sherman avenues, the market for small businesses in Columbia Heights probably won’t shrink anytime soon. Still, some feel obliged to patronize those that have endured all the area’s changes.

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

“Sure I can go to Cava and get a good meal—I like Cava—but I’ll go get pupusas instead,” says Kevin Sullivan, an ex-roommate of Appelbaum’s. “Or I’ll go to the little Ethiopian market across the street, and talk to the guy at the counter.” He believes these make the neighborhood unique.

“We don’t want it to turn into Bethesda— nothing against Bethesda,” Miller quips. “But I would say when you talk to people, they want to maintain the character of our area, which means you have to include all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. We need to be moving everybody forward.”

But for Raquel Colon, greener pastures are calling. She says she’ll return to visit her friends and parents, who intend to remain in their home indefinitely. She’s advised them to avoid 14th Street—even during the day—because of shootings and other “commotion.”

“I worry about them being on their own,” she says. “Hopefully, it’ll get better.”