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Paul Carroll already knows what kind of Friday afternoon it’s going to be. Carroll runs the front desk at Automotive Specialist, an auto-repair shop just north of 14th and P Streets NW. It’s been raining, and water is pooling inside two fluorescent light panels directly above Carroll’s head. A leak from the ceiling sprinkles customers as they enter the garage’s small waiting room.
Carroll keeps a blue tarp handy for just such occasions, but it’s not the only fix he’ll have to make. He runs upstairs, to where a heavy black plastic tubthe kind landscapers use to create an instant pondrests atop a brown Mercedes sedan. Today, as on every rainy day, water is pouring down through the ceiling into the tub, where an idle pump sits connected to a green hose that snakes through the window, down two stories to the street out front. “I never had to hook this up myself,” Carroll says, plugging the pump in. “I’m in trouble now.”
“This is not good for an old man,” he adds, dashing downstairs to see if the pump’s working.
The roof at Automotive Specialist has always been leaky, says owner Ralph Hale, but in the past year the problem has gotten worse. After the first big snowstorm this past winter, Hale lost a computer, two phones, and a credit-card-processing machine to water damage. “People wouldn’t come in my shop. They think we fix cars the way we fix our roof,” says Hale.
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Hale says he’s complained four times to his landlord (and next-door neighbor), the Studio Theatre, but theater officials say they know of only one complaint. Contractors have come twice, says Hale, to unclog a drain and patch the roof. But the water always returned. The last contractor told Hale the roof had to be replaced.
But Hale’s lease is up Aug. 31, and Studio plans to expand into the garage and a warehouse adjacent to it. “I feel like their attitude is, ‘Just let this guy suffer until we move in,’” Hale says. “They’re sure going to put money in once we’re out….
They’re not going to let their patrons sit in here with a leaky roof.” Indeed: Studio’s $11 million expansion plan calls for a glass atrium to rise over the spot where Carroll and his pump struggle to keep up with today’s rain. Work on the warehouse is scheduled to begin in June, well before Automotive Specialist vacates the garage.
Morey Epstein, Studio Theatre’s executive director of institutional development, says the Washington City Paper’s voice-mail messages seeking comment are the first he’s heard of the latest deluge next door. He says the theater is collecting estimates for another patch job: “We want to make sure [Hale] can do business under a roof that doesn’t leak.”
A new roof, however, isn’t an option. Epstein notes that renovation of the garage begins in five months.
Hale is resigned to that reality. It might have been different if he’d been able to buy the place when it was up for sale last year, but Studio won the bidding, paying $5.5 million for two buildings. Hale doesn’t know where he’s going to move his garagebut “this is business,” he says, “and when you don’t have money, you can’t fight it.” Annys Shin