WASHINGTON (AP) - When Larry Jackson bought his first apartment in the Anacostia neighborhood in the late 1970s, he said Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE was a street “you didn’t want to walk on.”
In recent years, Jackson, a 57-year-old mechanic, has seen new development push out the drugs and dealers he said once “loaded this street.”
Last week, the city said that Starbucks plans to open a store on the thoroughfare, its first stand-alone location in the poorest wards east of the Anacostia River, where the District has long struggled to attract national retailers.
“It shows Martin Luther King Highway is coming up,” said Jackson, standing outside Distad’s Tire and Auto, where he has worked for 18 years.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), whose administration helped Starbucks choose the location in Maple View Flats, a housing and retail site the city is helping to build, said she knows “every corner of Washington, D.C., is a great place to do business.”
“This is how we expand prosperity - by being intentional about how we develop our neighborhoods and ensuring that as we grow, we create jobs for residents and set our communities up for long-term success,” Bowser said in a statement.
Businesses such as Starbucks can mean jobs for residents in Ward 8, where unemployment is 14.2 percent - the highest in the city. But economic development can also lead to displacement for the District’s long-term residents, Jackson said.
“It’s a risk,” Jackson said. “It’s the risk that poor black folks face.”
A recent study found that Washington’s booming economy is leaving its longtime black residents behind, with the median annual income for black families at $41,000 in 2014 - unchanged since 2007 - compared with $120,000 for white families in the District.
“A lot of people with a lot of money are coming into this city,” said John Howard, who has lived in Southeast Washington for more than five decades. “People who have been here for years are moving to ‘Ward 9,’ ” he said, referring to Prince George’s County.
But Courtney Snowden, Bowser’s deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity, said the administration wants retailers who will hire in the neighborhoods where they are located.
D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) acknowledged that some residents are concerned about gentrification, but he said he was “hard at work ensuring the development not only benefits our longtime residents, but enables them to grow the wealth that they deserve.”
Starbucks has shown a commitment to hiring D.C. residents in positions that offer benefits and managerial tracks, Bowser said in the news release. The company made job offers to people ages 16 to 24 in September during the D.C. Opportunity Fair as part of a national initiative to hire 1 million young people who are out of work and out of school.
It was not difficult to persuade the company to move into Maple View Flats, Snowden said.
“We are no longer a city that people are running from,” Snowden said. “We are a city that people are flocking to. We have a lot to be proud of.”
Starbucks began looking at Maple View Flats, which is under construction and will include affordable housing units, 14,500 square feet of retail space and two levels of underground parking, as part of a national initiative to open in at least 15 underserved communities, spokeswoman Alisha Damodaran said. She noted the company has signed a letter of intent but said “there is a still a long way to go in terms of signing a lease.”
The company has 94 locations in the District, she said. Although there is a Starbucks inside Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and in the Safeway store on Alabama Avenue SE, the Maple View location would be the company’s first stand-alone store east of the river.
“It’s about time they fix up Ward 8,” resident Gloria Benbow said after hearing about plans for the Starbucks.
The 51-year-old cook, who grew up in Southeast Washington and recently moved back to the neighborhood, said developments such as Maple View Flats are signs of progress.
“She is getting there - she is trying,” Benbow said, referring to Bowser.
The mayor also announced last week that Uber opened a hub in the shopping center in East River Park NE, which will provide support for Uber drivers and is expected to hire 25 full-time employees.
“These neighborhoods are open for business,” said Snowden, who lives in the Deanwood neighborhood in Ward 7. “It is a matter of cultivating the right partnerships with the right retailers.”
Howard, a marketer for a dental company, said he appreciated news about Starbucks but would rather see a grocery store or more affordable housing. There are only three supermarkets between Wards 7 and 8. At a Starbucks in the District, a medium latte can cost more than $4.
“The city needs to be doing all it can to help the working poor,” he said.
Previous attempts to attract supermarkets east of the river - over multiple city administrations - have failed.
Bowser’s critics questioned whether she could have done more in 2016 when Walmart abruptly pulled out of a deal to build two stores east of the Anacostia, after receiving approval from the city to build three stores in wealthier parts of the city. The retailer said the projects were scrapped because of disappointing performances at its other D.C. stores and increased costs for the proposed stores.
“I’m blood mad,” Bowser said at the time.
Although no major retailers have been announced to replace Walmart in the Skyland Town Center in Southeast and the Capitol Gateway Marketplace in Northeast, Snowden said her office is continuing to try to secure retailers in demand by the community.
Snowden, whose position Bowser created when she took office in 2015 to focus on the needs of overlooked communities, said that there are some who “are fearful of progress and what it means for the future” but that the vast majority of residents are “hungry for retail.”
Taboris Johnson, a maintenance worker who lives across the street from Maple View Flats, is one of those residents.
“It’s bringing business to the area, and a diversity of people,” said Johnson, 28, a Bowser supporter. “And they have free WiFi.”
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com
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