Monday, July 30, 2012

Interview with Alex Padro, Chair of ANC2C

As a Real Estate Agent in D.C., VA, and MD, in addition to selling houses and helping people find their home, I feel it is my duty to connect to the neighborhood around me.  In this interview, I speak with Alex Padro, Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C and the Single Member District Commissioner representing 2C01 since January of 2001.

Kevin:  Alex, I appreciate you being able to meet with me with your busy, busy schedule.

Alex:  No problem.  It’s a pleasure.

Kevin:  How about we start with a little bit about your professional role in Shaw, and how you got there?

Alex:  I am the Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C and the Single Member District Commissioner representing 2C01 since January of 2001.  I am what is called is superlocal. I live in the neighborhood, I work in the neighborhood, I serve the neighborhood, and ultimately, I don’t plan on leaving the neighborhood.  All of this happens because I don’t get a lot of sleep (laughs).

Kevin:  And before you began pledging yourself to Shaw?

Alex:  I was born in the Bronx and grew up in Upper Manhattan.  I attended the Bronx School of Science, furthering my education at New York University with a degree in journalism.  I then worked in the publishing industry in New York until I moved to the D.C. Metropolitan area in 1994 and then to the 1500 block of 8th Street in 1997.  I have been in Shaw with my partner ever since.

Kevin:  What exactly is your role as commissioner of ANC 2C01?

Alex:  It’s all about representing the people who live in my district.  But my role has depth and breadth, from making sure that trash gets picked up to convincing the District government to make major investments in the neighborhood.  In the bigger picture, my role is to help move the revitalization of the Shaw neighborhood forward.  “Forward” does not only mean “fast.”  It means justly, sensitively, soundly.  We have to take care of the entire neighborhood.  When I began my service as a commissioner, the neighborhood was severely disinvested.  After the 1968 riots, the public and private sector largely distanced themselves from investing in Shaw, both commercially and residentially.  Except for the Metro system coming to the neighborhood in 1991, Shaw was disinvested until the construction of the new Convention Center began.  As the Convention Center neared completion, Shaw’s property values increased in a dramatic way.  

Kevin:  And what happened when the property values rose due to the Convention Center’s construction?

Alex:  Many people, who for a long time couldn’t find anyone interested in buying their properties commonly got multiple offers over the asking price.  Many families cashed in on the opportunity to sell their homes for half a million dollars or more, as is.  In many cases, they had paid less than $20,000 decades before.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  So, there was an exodus to the suburbs.  

Kevin:  What was happening in Shaw at that time?

Alex:  We had an underperforming O Street Market housing a ragtag collection of vendors.   Drugs were being dealt on every street corner and openly inside the Market.  Gang members were shooting each other on the street regularly. Schools, libraries, and recreation centers were crumbling.  Retail had disappeared.  A lot of storefronts were boarded up for decades.  It was bad.  It was a blow to lose part of the neighborhood’s institutional knowledge due to longtime residents selling their homes.  But with the new investment came more residents who wanted to improve the neighborhood.  

Kevin:  So you were elected at a time when Shaw needed some serious help.

Alex:  When I was first campaigning, knocking on everyone’s door, asking each future constituent what were the three things they most wanted to see fixed, one major theme that kept coming up was to ensure that affordable housing in the area was stabilized and that Section 8 contracts were renewed so residents didn’t have to fear displacement.  We had to ensure tenant’s right-to-purchase options were kept alive and protected.  

Kevin:  How successful have you been regarding this battle?

Alex:  We have been very successful.  Up until this day, we have not lost any affordable housing units due to redevelopment.  For example, at Kelsey Gardens, which is now going to be Jefferson at Market Place, the 54 affordable units that were there before are going to be part of 280 units that are in the new complex.  This took many years to achieve.  Last month, we had a ground-breaking with the once and future tenants.  And now, we want folks to come back so that we can be whole again, allowing them to enjoy the good times after having lived through the bad.  This will prove that we have walked the talk. 

Kevin:  It seems like you are, for lack of a better term, “super-invested” in Shaw.  How did you get to be this passionate about Shaw?

Alex:  I stay passionate about Shaw because I live here.  My initial attraction in serving the community was as a result of the establishment of the historic district.  

Kevin:  Would you mind explaining that?

Alex:  In 1999, the Historic Preservation Review Board was going to approve two new historic districts as part of the effort to preserve the neighborhoods around the Convention Center:  one for the area west of 9th Street and north of the Convention Center and one east of 7th Street.  People to the west got upset.

Kevin:  Why?

Alex: At the first ANC meeting I ever attended, there was a battle-royal and lawsuits were threatened over the potential use of “Mount Vernon West” for the western historic district’s name, rather than “Shaw.”  Most people wanted to have the historic district’s name match the neighborhood’s name.  But in some people’s minds, the name “Shaw” was too closely associated with urban renewal and the riots and would have a negative impact on their property values. 

Kevin:  Enter your journalism skills?

Alex:  Exactly.  Using my journalism background, I did the research and built the case as to why the new historic district should be called “Shaw.”  I helped organized neighborhood stakeholder groups to support it and in 1999, the HPRB agreed that it would be called “Shaw.”  

Kevin:  So it worked.

Alex:  It worked.  Because of this effort, the following spring, residents in my ANC Single Member District began urging me to run for the ANC.  The commissioner at the time seemed to be too closely associated with the Convention Center and residents felt uncomfortable with that situation.  The new Convention Center, then under construction, was, at the time, the 100 ton elephant in the room and very controversial.  I campaigned and won in a three way race by a very small number of votes.  It was during that campaign, as I knocked on doors, that the neighborhood’s priorities were solidified in my mind.  First was that affordable housing had to be protected.  Second, for many people, were rats.  We had a huge population of rats!  The Convention Center was the largest excavation on the East Coast at the time, so the rats went nuts.  We got rid of the rats.  And third, people wanted to see businesses come back to 7th and 9th Streets and the O Street Market.  We started Shaw Main Streets to respond to that priority.

Kevin:  What about the Main Streets designation?

Alex:  We applied for and received a DC Main Streets designation for 7th and 9th Streets in 2003, which has been a huge help in strengthening existing businesses and attracting new ones.  The funding we have received from the District government has helped us attract 90 new businesses to central Shaw in the past nine years.  

Kevin: What other improvements would you count as your major accomplishments?

Alex:  I spent 10 years building our new library, making improvements in parks and schools, including new skate and dog parks, have gotten most of the sidewalks in my SMD repaired or replaced, have gotten hundreds of street signs that had been bleached by the sun for decades and were unenforceable replaced, gotten major development in the neighborhood kicked off and progressing rapidly, reduced crime in the area, and got property tax relief for residents who own their homes.  And along the way, got streetlights repaired more quickly, helped families of moderate income during the holidays, cleaned up graffiti, found jobs for residents, helped kids get backpacks for school, helped seniors get out of their homes to enjoy events at the Verizon Center, and much more.  But one of the things I was the most excited to be able to accomplish was re-treeing the neighborhood.  There were over 70 empty tree boxes in my single member district alone when I took office.  

Kevin:  And now?

Alex:  No empty tree boxes, except for trees that have very recently fallen or died.  Another thing was a dog park.  

Kevin: How have you been able to get things done?

Alex: Here’s an example: There was a great desire to have a dog park in the area.  We had proposed a number of locations for the Department of Parks and Recreation to consider, but they said “no” to all of them.  We had Mayor Fenty come out for a neighborhood walkthrough and the Mayor told his teams, “I want this built in 90 days.”  It was finished in 72.  I have had, and still have, very good relationships with our Mayors, even though I did not support some of them initially.  Despite these differences, we have still been able to work together.  It’s not about the politics; it’s about serving the people in the community.  I am speaking for a community that has expectations.  

Kevin:  What about delivering the voice of Shaw?

Alex:  I’m often called upon by the media and the District government to speak for the community because I’ve been fighting for it for so long.  I’ve made cogent arguments and framed the needs to demonstrate that the investments are warranted, so I’ve been able to have Shaw’s voices be heard and its needs met.  

Kevin:  How do you feel Shaw’s history plays into its future?

Alex:  For much of Shaw’s existence, the neighborhood was very vibrant.  It had a very nice blend of residential and commercial.  It has always had fantastic location and transportation access.  Shaw was also, at one point, one of the country’s centers of African American intelligentsia and culture.  For example, before there was the Apollo Theater, there was the Howard Theater.  Very soon, banners celebrating 11 prominent historic figures will grace 7th and 9th Street, many of them African American.  We have the Heritage Trail signs all around Shaw showcasing our heritage and building pride in our history.  But there are parts of our history that we certainly would never want to see again, like the riots, the drug wars, etc.

Kevin:  Also, Shaw is in a perfect location. 

Alex:  Absolutely.  It’s easy to get here, so it draws people here.  1968 dealt a blow to that. The business owners who had insurance weren’t willing to risk further destruction moved to the suburbs.  In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a nationwide trend towards moving retail out to the suburbs.  But businesses and residents are coming back.  Now we have massive new mixed use development in the neighborhood:  City Market at O, Progression Place, the Marriott Marquis and much more!  It is a place that will continue to be a source of pride, a place for families, a place for people who come to be entertained, shop, dine, and everything else.

Kevin:  What is Shaw going to be like in 10 years?

Alex:  Not even ten!  Four years and Shaw’s makeover will be over.  Parcel 42 and the JBG buildings on the 700 and 800 blocks of Florida will all be done in four years.  The redevelopment of Shaw Junior High School is the last remaining major issue.  We’ll have a great mix of businesses filling the new and older retails spaces, more new families in new housing, new streetscapes, a greener, cleaner, safer neighborhood with higher employment and better schools.  With everything that Shaw has to offer, in the end, people want to be here because of its location.  Our location is great.  What’s even better, though, is the community within the location.

Kevin:  Alex, I appreciate your time, being able to accommodate this interview, and I hope after the next four years, you can start getting some more sleep (laughs).

Alex:  Thank you, Kevin.  The interview is my pleasure.  I look forward to catching up on sleep after a number of years more service are complete.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Open Houses July 28th - 29th, 2012 for Shaw and D.C.

In this link are the Open Houses in Shaw for the weekend of July 28th - July 29th, 2012.  Also included is the link for all D.C. Open Houses (below).  CALL (202)-441-1757 if you have any questions about the properties.

Here is a link for all of the Open Houses in D.C. this weekend (alphabetically grouped by neighborhood):  Open Houses, Grouped by Neighborhood for D.C.

CALL 202.441.1757 for questions about these properties, or advice about the home-buying process.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

D.C. Real Estate Agent Interviews Andy Shallal: Owner of Busboys and Poets (Part 2)

As a Real Estate Agent in D.C., VA, and MD, in addition to selling houses and helping people find their home, I feel it is my duty to connect to the neighborhood around me.  In this interview, I speak with Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets.  This is Part Two of a Two Part interview.  To read Part One, click here.  (All photos and pictures are courtesy of the Busboys and Poets website,  
Kevin:  What about your food are you most proud of?
Andy:  The vegan options.  We have expanded these offerings tremendously.  We now offer vegan pizza, vegan eggs, vegan sausage, etc.  Up until recently, as a vegan, you were basically stuck with a salad at places which even provided vegan options.  Now, vegans can dine like everybody else.  We have won several awards for our vegan food, one being the Best Vegan Restaurant through City Paper and the Best Vegan Restaurant through “Veg DC.”
Kevin:  While looking through your website, I came across the “B Corporation” section.  Would you talk about that?
Andy:  Of course.  As a B Corporation we aspire to higher standards of corporate responsibilities.  B Corporations are new.  They are starting to take hold.  B Corporations demand a fundamental shift in a business’s DNA:  in its blueprint.  If the company is later sold, it is sold as a B Corporation.  The higher standards, therefore, cannot be dismissed; the DNA cannot be changed.  It’s an excellent way for us to keep a focus on our ethics.  We did it so it would be an intentional reminder that we cannot just act for our benefit; we must think before we act.  Being a B Corporation forces us to think more often, and results in better decisions.
Kevin:  After having lived in India for two years, I began to notice a difference in people's approach to food (compared to the American tradition in which I was brought up).  Can you explain your phrase, "the power of food?" and how food relates to food culture and activism?
Andy:  Food is powerful.  It is essential.  We all eat.  It is one of the common elements that we all share.  Every culture, from around the globe, contains an infusion of food culture that is relative.  So we all have something to share.  Busboys and Poets uses food to lure people into its space.  Our food is very good, so people come for that.  Then, once they arrive and settle, they can begin to experience other things about the space:  poetry, authors, music, art, all the stimuli that surround them.  Food is the first step that brings people to the table.  Then, after that the unexpected happens and you begin to make connections in an environment that is safe, welcoming, and beautiful. 
Kevin:  I want to take an excerpt from your website and then ask you a question about it: 
"The U Street Corridor has long been a center of DC’s cultural and activist scene. In its cultural heyday, the U Street corridor was known as “Black Broadway,” a phrase coined by jazz singer Pearl Bailey. A strong desire to pay homage to U Street’s traditional identity led proprietor Andy Shallal to reach out to community leaders, neighborhood groups, churches, schools, and other civic organizations during the development of Busboys. What emerged is a dedication to preserve this historic community and an unwavering commitment to its residents."
Andy:  Yes, U Street has enormous historical significance. 
Kevin:  So can you talk about what you were feeling while opening your first location in the U Street Corridor?  Did you feel responsible to its history?
Andy:  I don’t do traditional business.  I’m not a “business man.”  Some people wake up every morning and think about business ideas, formulate plans and think about how to make more money.  Money is not my motivation at all.  So, yes, I felt a lot of responsibility to the business other than the fiscal initiatives.  Again, we are more than a restaurant; we are part of a community.  After living in D.C. for a long time I observed what I felt to be a lack of connection amongst the people within the city.  I questioned myself to see if I could be a force in trying to bridge some of the gaps.
Kevin:  What do you mean some of the “gaps?”
Andy:  A lot of people move into the city who are not originally from D.C.  Take U Street Corridor for example.  A lot of young people moving in there.  Great night life, great entertainment, but how many know about its history?  Some do.  Others don’t.  I feel racial tensions are growing in this city.  Busboys and Poets is a space that attempts to provide a communication channel for people of all races to engage in healthy dialogues about important issues.  Coming to America as a young child, I was confused about this whole race thing.
Kevin:  Can you explain that?
Andy:  I feel in America we seem to categorize race as if it’s something real rather than something that is constructed to maintain a power paradigm.  Sometimes it is self-identified; sometimes it is societal pressure.  So America is this melting pot, but we don’t seem to be talking about being a melting pot!  Race is real!  When I was a boy in school, I had to fill in “white” or “black” on certain school forms.  Sometimes, when I checked “white” my teacher would say. “No, Andy.  Check black.”  Other times, when I checked “black,” a different teacher would say “white.”  It was confusing to me because it seemed so arbitrary.  You see, I am not a supporter of sheepishly putting a check mark next to a category and moving on.  For many people, race has caused them much personal aggravation.  That’s not fair.  Something needed to be done.  I needed to do my part. 
Kevin:  So how does your space seek to accomplish this without making people uncomfortable?
Andy:  Rather than creating a panel where people are usually speaking from planned agendas, or answering direct and usually intimidating questions about race, we wanted to create a space that would allow for all races to interact and intersect.  What’s better than a restaurant, or a live speaking event, or a book store, or a coffee shop?  Why not just put those all together and give it our best shot.  Once people get inside the doors of Busboys and Poets, then they have the opportunity to partake in book events and live spoken word or simply conversation with the person next to them at the bar.  We want Busboys to be local, international, and everything between.  We want to acknowledge the beauty of all races without categorizing anyone.  When you come to Busboys and Poets, you are welcome to just be yourself.
Kevin:  How do you see Busboys and Poets in relation to urban renewal? 
Andy: I humbly believe Busboys and Poets is one type of model business that is being responsible in the midst of urban renewal.  We are doing the best we can to maintain a space of inclusivity.  I think such places are important.
Kevin:  What would you like to say to/about the community of Shaw?
Andy:  Hmm…Dear Shaw, change is difficult.  Change is difficult and urban renewal is an interesting thing.  It is easy to think about the negatives concerning urban renewal.  There are positives, too.  A grocery store with fresh organic fruits and vegetables:  that’s a good thing.  Crime drops.  Open air drug markets cease to exist.  You have farmer’s markets instead.  The challenge with urban renewal is how to get the government and community involved in mitigating the negatives.  Shaw is an example of this right now.  Urban renewal is underway.  I would like to see a gathering take shape to have a healthy dialogue, or forum, maybe in Shaw, to discuss what’s going on.
Kevin:  Andy, There is a paragraph on your website indicating that you “refuse to sign the Civil Rights mural titled 'Peace and Struggle' at Busboys and Poets 14th & V, saying this would be a 'final gesture' that would preclude [you] from making revisions later.”  What do you mean by that?
Andy:  There is mural at 14th and V that contains many significant world leaders.  I refuse to sign it because I have forgotten to put some really important figures on there (laughs).  The omission was unintentional, but for example, I left out Malcolm X.  I think Malcolm X was a pretty important guy, so I can’t sign the mural until it’s complete.  There are another four of five figures I want to see up on the wall. 
Kevin:  After having spent six months in Durban, South Africa, I must ask if Nelson Mandela is on the mural.
Andy:  Yes, he is.  And his daughter signed it.  We have three Nobel prize winners sign the mural.  Famous women.  Joan Bias.  Alice Walker.  A lot of neat people are involved in that mural.
Kevin:  Andy, how would you define “politics?”
Andy:  “Politics?”  Politics is the art of triangulation.  It’s the art of compromise.
Kevin:  How would you define “success” in relation to a business?
Andy:  “Success?”  Marrying your passions with your business. 
Kevin:  And it is never about the outcome.  It’s about the process.
Andy:  Oh yeah.  Absolutely.  There are no outcomes.  There is only a process.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

D.C. Real Estate Agent Interviews Andy Shallal: Owner of Busboys and Poets

As a Real Estate Agent in D.C., VA, and MD, in addition to selling houses and helping people find their home, I feel it is my duty to connect to the neighborhood around me.  In this interview, I speak with Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets.  This is Part One of a Two Part interview.  (All photos and pictures are courtesy of Busboys and Poets website,  

Kevin:  Andy, would you mind saying something about yourself before we get into the interview? 
Andy:  Well, I have been in the restaurant business (officially in D.C.) since 1987.  Before that I was actually in the medical field.  I went to Howard University’s College of Medicine and then dropped out.  After that I worked at the National Institute of Health (NIH) focusing on leukemia research.  
Kevin:  What was the impetus for you to move from medicine to owning your own restaurant?
Andy:  It’s good work.  The medical field does a lot of admirable things.  But frankly, I just got bored with it.  Once I became aware of that fact, I returned to something very familiar to me.
Kevin:  Restaurants.
Andy:  Yes.  As a child my family owned and managed a small restaurant.  I really enjoyed it.  Surprisingly, my father discouraged his children from getting into the business.  He wanted us to become something more “professional.”  Well, I did that, and you saw how that turned out. 
Kevin:  So you stayed true to your interests.
Andy:  Yeah.  I’ve always had an affinity for the restaurant business.  I find serving people exhilarating.  I love making people happy.  I decided to come back to the restaurant business.
Kevin:  Where did you grow up?
Andy:  When we first came to America we stayed in D.C., but I grew up in Arlington and Fairfax, Virginia.  Now, I am back in D.C. where I started!
Kevin:  Which Busboys and Poets came first? 
Andy:  The first was the location at 14th and V. 
Kevin:  Is that also the largest? 
Andy:  No.  The Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville is 9,000 sq. ft.  The second largest is the one on 5th and K, then 14th and V, and finally Shirlington, VA, which is about 6,000 square feet. 
Kevin:  Your business is more than a restaurant.  You are a cafĂ©, bookstore, and frequently offer live spoken word poetry.  Which one of these as an idea came first?
Andy:  I created the business model so the concepts could converge together all at once.  The idea from the beginning was to have this be something much more than simply a good restaurant.  For me, going out to eat is not just an experience to feed your body; it is an opportunity to feed your mind, feed your soul, and a way to connect to the environment around you.  One of my goals with Busboys and Poets was to create a space where people could come and linger, experiencing the layers of the space which are multidimensional depending on what location you go to and what time a day you may go.  I love books.  I love poetry.  I love places to hang out.  Food is the foundation.   Everything is built around the fact that we have excellent food.
Kevin:  How much say do you have in the food?  Do you have a history with cooking?
Andy:  I thoroughly enjoy cooking, and I am personally invested in our food.  If I didn’t own Busboys and Poets, I probably would have become a chef.  I am not as good as some chefs out there now, simply because I haven’t been doing it for a while.  But, I know food very well. 
Kevin:  We’ll come back to the food in a couple of questions.  I want to ask you about your bookstore.
Andy:  Sure.  The bookstore is the “feeding the mind” part of the triangulation (“triangulation” being three angles of the mission:  feeding the body, feeding the mind, and feeding the soul).  Books are very special to me.  Books are important.  Unfortunately, bookstores are a dying breed.  People order their books on the web and never leave the house. 
Kevin:  So what are you trying to emphasize with your bookstore?
Andy:  That a book, a book store, an author speaking at an event, are all more than just books:  it’s about the community around it.  Our bookstore is run by a non-profit called Teaching for Change.  All the books that sell go 100% to the program.  We don’t charge them for the space, we don’t charge them for rent, we don’t charge them for electricity or phones or anything like that.  The take care of the store and make the money.
Kevin:  Where does the money go?
Andy:  Teaching for Change uses the money to provide educational materials for schools to make students more engaged, and more civic-minded. 
Kevin:  If you feel bookstores are a dying art, do you also feel the same way about spoken word poetry?
Andy:  No, I don’t.  I can speak for this area for sure:  spoken word poetry has seen a big resurgence.  I like to think that has something to do with Busboys and Poets.  Poetry is an incredible form of communication.  People use poetry to express many of the issues they hold dear to their heart.  Our poetry program(s) have tremendously grown.  We began with one program a month, from there went to one program a week, and when you begin to count all of our restaurants together we now have 24 poetry events occurring each month.  They are packed.  People  flock to them.  They love it.  People listen, soak it in, and I can see the internal movement occurring inside these people (and inside of myself) as they listen to the artists.  It’s art.  Art is very good at conveying strong messages quickly, sometimes in a subversive manner.
Kevin:  And one could say your food is art as well.  With a menu boasting vegetarian, vegan, non-vegetarian, and gluten-free, are you always updating the menu for each of this categories or did you simply sequester the food from your original menu into these four groupings?
Andy:  We have constantly evolved since we opened.  Busboys is a big four ring circus (laughs), so it has been a challenge keeping the menu small as our restaurants grow in popularity.  We want to offer something for everybody and we want to keep the menu tight.  My wife is a vegetarian on her way to being a vegan.  I am, for the most part, a vegetarian.  So we are slowly making our way towards a healthier approach to eating.  We continue, and will continue, to have other options of course.  We do all of our non-vegetarian items well:  our meats are well sourced.  Most of our vegetables are well sourced.  For the size of Busboys and Poets it’s an impractical goal to want everything to be organic.  That being said, we still do a good job.  For example, in the summer months 1/3 of our vegetables are sourced organic and/or local.  Overall, at least 50% of our food is either organic, local, or both.

(...To continue reading, click PART 2 here....)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Quarter 2: Look at Townhouse Sales

As a Real Estate Agent specializing in Shaw Townhouse purchases and sales, I would like to provide you with information for Quarter 2 (April to June) 2012:
Shaw Townhouse sales show a highly desirable pattern continuing to emit from the Shaw market.  There has been a larger increase in Close Prices than in List Prices:  a signifier for a gifted market.  Sales speeds are picking up dramatically:  with the average number of townhouses sold in only 11 days.

For statistics on how Shaw Townhouses are doing year over year, click here.

This is a wonderful time to sell your property if you are thinking about selling.  This is also (with mortgage rates lower than ever) a perfect time to buy.

CALL 202-441-1757 for more information on the dynamic market in Shaw.   

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Open Houses for Shaw: Sunday July 22nd, 2012

In this link and the link below are the Open Houses in Shaw this Sunday, July 22nd, 2012.  Please call me if you have any questions about the properties.  Thank you.

To view Open Houses on July 22nd, click the Shaw Open House Link