Though Hill East is but a few blocks from the heart of Capitol Hill, living in the area makes one more aware of the retail situation, which generally means Hill East’s ubiquitous corner stores. While Capitol Hill proper surely has its share of neighborhood markets (Capitol Hill Supreme Market on 4th St. SE or Roland’s on Pennsylvania Avenue are among the many examples), they figure less prominently into daily life in this much more commercial area. There are two 7-Elevens, CVS locations and many other shopping destinations in Capitol Hill, which, along with the march of history, gradually forced many neighborhood markets out of the banana business and into the $1,400/month apartment business.
Many times, the building and its distinct commercial lineage remain long after the store closes. These closed stores look a lot like the example seen above, an apartment building on 11th St. SE. This space at one point appears to have housed a business, perhaps a market, maybe a barber or some other outfit. These sort of buildings are scattered all over Capitol Hill, Hill East, and Washington as a whole.
Above is an example from Hill East. The distinctive open concrete and angle of the building’s orientation are a strong sign that a carton of Frosted Flakes might have once been sold from this since-scrapped commercial operation.
But more notable than what’s closed is what is open: An incredible strip of corner markets that continues to thrive, packed in from Independence Avenue SE up to Constitution Avenue NE.
This four-block stretch hosts four small markets (of which I have visited two of them. They are well-stocked with cheap beer, lottery tickets and junk food, but little else, despite often offering “produce” on their signage.)
I am not one to advise these storeowners on their business’ future, but with two full-service grocery stores operating within six blocks to the south, more produce coming to the north near H St. and an upscale corner store set to open on Potomac Avenue, it is safe to say some of these stores will close soon if they don’t step their game up. It’s a wonder they are all still open today, particularly given hat there are generally liquor stores every few blocks, all of which offer the same cigarettes, beer, wine and lottery tickets that most of these corner stores specialize in.
I will buy sundries at whatever is closest and has reasonable prices, but $4.95 small jars of mayonnaise sitting next to $.99 sugar water make it hard for me to stop at these stores unless looking for a quick six-pack. I fear that unless these stores become the type of place where one can pick up something as simple as an apple or fresh loaf of bread, this is their future:
Later this week: Quick snapshots of the four markets still operating on 15th St. SE.