City Paper is not for tourists
Has anyone given their name to more streets, avenues, boulevards, schools, and other buildings than Martin Luther King Jr.? Here in the District, there’s Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Martin Luther King Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, a Martin Luther King Jr. park, a Martin Luther King Jr. post office, and a slew of businesses.
And if your establishment is named after Martin Luther King, you must have something to say about today’s holiday. Right?
I telephoned MLK Community Barbershop on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE to find out. “No, not now,” the man said when I asked if he had a minute to talk about the name of the shop and the importance of the day. He had someone in the chair. So did the other barber. And the owner—he doesn’t come around much.
Next I tried MLK Grocers. Andrew Cho, the owner, answered the phone.
“We’ve been here for 25 years,” he says of his shop, also on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. But he can’t claim credit for the name. That was what it was when he bought the place—back in 1984, after legislators had finally stopped arguing and agreed to make the day a federal holiday.
“The name was good, there’s no doubt,” he says. “It’s after the street. It was named that. We just kept that name. It symbolized the freedom.”
Anything special planned to commemorate the holiday?
“I’m afraid not.”
MLK Auto on Martin Luther King Jr. Highway in Hyattsville, Md., didn’t seem to know what I was talking. That’s because the place is called something else now. “Someone used to be here with that name,” the guy said before hanging up.
Back in the District, I tried King Avenue Liquors, also on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. I told the man who answered I was calling businesses named after Martin Luther King.
“Which one you say?” he replied. I repeated that the store is named for Martin Luther King, and that’s why I was calling. He immediately piped up, seemingly wanting to correct me.
“We have a King Avenue,” he offered.
I pushed on. Is there anything special about the store being named after him?
“Anything special about that?” he said. “I don’t know, the owner’s not here right now. We don’t have any specials right now.”
Dr. King’s Car Wash: “The manager today is not working.”
King Cafe: same deal, owner out, call tomorrow.
One more inquiry: I called MLK Counseling out of Frederick, Md. It actually has nothing to do with Martin Luther King Jr. at all. The owner, Marie Lorraine Kish, who conducts couples counseling (“Fall in Love With Your Partner All Over Again”), just happens to share King’s initials.
Does anyone ever confuse her business for one having something to do with MLK?
“So far, you’re the first,” she said.
“I never really thought about it until this [holiday] event comes up and then there’s MLK all over the place,” she said. “For the most part, it doesn’t really connect that much. But around this time, I definitely do think about that.”
It’s not just a day off to her.
“I think it’s so much more than that,” she said, “and I think just the fact that we recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday is a major affirmation to the work that he did and what he was involved in.”
Photograph of King at Madame Tussauds by cliff1066