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Fitwi “John” Tekeste has operated his Municipal Deli in the Reeves Center on U Street for the last 20 years. And he’s pretty sure that the city’s recent move to end that run is just revenge by outgoing Fenty officials.
“It’s kind of political. The problem is, I support Mr. Gray,” he says, surrounded by papers in a partitioned office at the back of the huge space. “So they got upset with me. When they lost, they try to kick me out.”
The Department of Real Estate Services, on the other hand, says that they issued a notice to quit on December 21—a month after then-director Robin Eve Jasper announced her departure—because Tekeste is $345,044.88 in arrears on rent payments since 2000. The rent has been unbelievably low, coming out to about $12 per square foot for the 2,689-square-foot space, which is less than a third of market rate.
“As the Department of Real Estate Services works to minimize costs, we can no longer justify providing valuable retail space at Reeves to select businesses for free or minimal rent,” the notice reads. The Municipal Deli’s lease was up in April, and DRES now plans to issue a new solicitation for tenants, which Tekeste may answer along with anyone else.
But Tekeste says things are more complicated. Regarding the gaps in his payment history, he says had been granted a partial abatement in rent by the Williams administration for performing renovations on his space, which stalled when Adrian Fenty was elected. In 2009, he says he struck a verbal agreement with DRES officials—who work eight floors up—to not pay rent while he was re-doing his electrical systems.
It’s possible that Tekeste is a victim of historically incompetent management at the Reeves Center, which allowed him to go a decade without warning him of issues with his rent, giving a new administration cause to kick him out just by finally enforcing the rules—as of February 2, DRES isn’t buying Tekeste’s protestations, reiterating that he must leave by Feburary 21.
Patrons have started a support campaign with a notice on the deli counter, but this one might be a lost cause.