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Shepherd Park residents really know how to sell their neighborhood. At a public forum on crime in early December, scores of Shepherd Park denizens inundated City Administrator Robert Bobb with tales of brazen robberies and suspicious characters on the loose. After two hours of woe, Shepherd Park Citizens Association President Joan Hoyt closed the session by welcoming Bobb and suggesting that the city administrator, who happens to be house-hunting in the District, consider making her neighborhood his home. To counterbalance the bad PR, Hoyt tried to clinch the deal with a free gift: a gray sweatshirt with blue lettering that spelled out: “Shepherd Park.”
Bobb says he has looked at a few houses in Shepherd Park, but so far, he hasn’t bought any property.
Shepherd Park residents know they have a lot of competition for the kind of affluent neighbors that denizens of Takoma Park, Md., and Cleveland Park take for granted. And what better way to level the playing field with cushier enclaves such as Georgetown and Capitol Hill than with PBS-style swag?
In D.C., power comes with being intensely parochial. District crews wouldn’t be satisfied being the local chapter of the Bloods or Crips—too macro. They’d rather take their name from a block or an intersection. Local pols hazard as much flak for sporting a Maryland license plate as they do for pilfering municipal funds.
D.C. property owners can be just as tribal. But instead of graffiti tags, they have silk-screened logos. Instead of tats, they have stickers.
Homeowners aren’t just out to puff up their self-esteem. They’re nurturing an investment. Which brings us to Neighborhood Marketing Lesson No. 1: Act proud of your neighborhood, even if no one else respects it.
In the oft-overlooked Hillcrest section, community boosters plan to begin selling T-shirts with a neighborhood logo featuring a drawing of houses on a hill in early spring. The T-shirts are part of a larger marketing effort. “We want Hillcrest to be a neighborhood of choice, not a neighborhood of last resort because you can’t afford to buy anywhere else in the District,” says Sherry Ways of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association.
In Bloomingdale, the civic association several years ago came up with its own seal, designed to grace the bumpers of boosters’ cars, with the organization’s name around the edge and an image of a tree in the center, along with the group’s slogan, “Rooting for a Better Tomorrow.”
A few neighborhoods position their merchandise for snob appeal. Mount Pleasant automobiles sport oval ersatz-European-country-of-origin stickers with the letters “MtP,” following the lead of vacation spots such as the Outer Banks and Nantucket. The display is “not for marketing purposes,” says advisory neighborhood commissioner Laurie Collins. “It’s more for status.”
Cleveland Park residents, who generally don’t suffer from an inferiority complex, have produced the occasional T-shirt to raise money for special causes. But the neighborhoods that go retail tend to do so when they’ve got something to prove.
Take Logan Circle. Five years ago, when “Dupont East” was a euphemism for its drug and prostitute-infested neighborhood, the Logan Circle Community Association came out with T-shirts, tank tops, and mugs. One of the mugs featured an image of neighborhood namesake Gen. John Logan and the words: “Logan runs circles around the rest.”
As the neighborhood improved, the merchandise got stashed in a church basement, to be sold only intermittently. The civic organization sold the last of the T-shirts and mugs during its most recent neighborhood house tour, and its board has yet to restock. The board has had other things to do, says president Frank Mobilio, such as updating its membership lists with the names of new residents.
“We considered [selling T-shirts] again, but it’s not on our radar,” says Mobilio. CP