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The first time I met Douglas Jemal (“Building a Mystery,” 5/25) was when he opened the door to 1726 20th St. NW. At the time, Riggs Bank was doing its best to remove all the small-business tenants from the 1500 block of Connecticut Avenue. I happened to be one of those tenants. So it was with no small amount of fear that I approached this meeting with my future (although I didn’t know it at the time) landlord. A striking man in a T-shirt and jeans met me promptly (unusual) and showed me around the most beautiful space I had seen thus far. He said that he saw me in the space (so did I), that he would help me move (did he really mean it?), that he felt God was in the space (how did he know I was a spiritual person?), and that if I ever got into trouble to let him know (could this man really be a landlord, or was I dreaming?). And to top it all off, he gave me the keys for the weekend in case I wanted to show the space to my relatives or friends.
Of course, someone was smiling down on me that day. I fell in love with the space, moved in, and made friends with my landlord. He was true to every word. Jemal is a force to be reckoned with in Washingtonnot because he is a real estate magnate but because he builds relationships as he builds buildings. For every brick he has added to downtown, he has also added kindness to someone’s life. I’ll never forget talking to one of his former employees who said that Jemal had hired him when no one else would, helped him learn English, and then helped him again when he left to form his own construction company. Jemal conducts his life and business with heart, a respect for things sacred, and an uncanny knack for knowing people.
I’m still at 1726 20th St. NW. Not because I can’t leave the building, but because I can’t leave my landlord.
First Class Inc.