Convenient Truths Inside D.C.'s ultimate local institutions: corner stores

D.C. residents don’t have especially unique names for the little shops in our neighborhoods. When we need to pick up milk, we don’t borrow a word from Spanish and stop by the bodega, like New Yorkers do. Need a bag of chips? Unlike Southern Californians, we don’t buy our snacks at “junior markets.” And even if it means we’re less fun, we don’t call our shops “party stores,” like Michiganders do.

Photographs by Darrow Montgomery

Here we say corner store, convenience store, or simply “the store.”

They can be the most forgettable shops in D.C. They have unmemorable names. They don’t usually have websites; some don’t have phone numbers. Too many of them don’t stock fresh food. Frequently, they’re overpriced. But just as often, they’re independently owned. They might let you buy now, pay later. Depending on where you live, the shop down the street could be the most practical place to buy pants, let alone breakfast. Your local shop owner might know you better than any other retailer, too. When’s the last time the check-out guy at Target asked about your kids?

Corner stores can be the easiest to forget, but sometimes they’re the hardest to replace.

The District government would like to make D.C. friendlier to corner stores. They’re factored into an overhaul of city zoning that’s been in the works for several years. Current regulations don’t permit new corner stores in residential areas, and that may change. The zoning update proposes a tweak that would allow new shops to open on residential corners under a limited set of circumstances. According to the Office of Planning, the proposed rules would open up big swaths of wards 1, 4, and 6—and scattered sections of the city’s other five wards—to new neighborhood markets.

That could be a great thing for parts of the city left behind by the District’s grocery-store boom, wealthy and poor neighborhoods alike. Then again, D.C. residents don’t necessarily love the corner stores they have now, even if they are conveniently located. Junk food, malt liquor, and Plexiglass—that’s what plenty of the city’s little shops are known for. How many want more of that?

The good news is D.C.’s corner stores are changing, often for the better. A DC Central Kitchen program is putting more fresh food into shops that didn’t sell any fruit or vegetables before. Stores in gentrifying neighborhoods are getting pricier, yes, but they’re ditching the Plexiglass. The standard for corner stores is shifting. Still, as long as they’re around, they’ll always be the most familiar place on the block.

Table of Contents

Nothing gets between Georgetown residents and their favorite corner store.
Convenience stores aren't just for junk food anymore.
A Deanwood market stands up for the good old days.
At her Anacostia store, Seres Snyder serves up hot style and taekwondo.
When gentrification rode into Bloomingdale, one corner store saddled up.
Chevy Chase has one of the best corner stores in town. Why won't its residents support more of them?
Which corner stores stock the best wine?
D.C.'s corner stores, mapped

On The Corner

Readers respond to the question, “What’s your favorite corner store in D.C.?”

City Market, 17th and M streets NW
“They make you feel better about humanity again.”
Capitol Supreme Market, 4th and E streets SE
“Best corner store in D.C. It’s been operated by two different Korean families over the past 30-plus years.”
Home Food Store, 2216 18th St. NW
“Mrs. Lee always seems concerned about my day and will sometimes slip in a banana to go with my Ben & Jerry’s. Mr. Lee is ready with some sage sarcasm and the latest news about the neighborhood.”
13th Street Market, 13th and Otis streets NW
“The owner, Noni, is a cornerstone of the neighborhood. She keeps an eye on everything, knows all the neighbors, and sometimes even holds events like an Ethiopian coffee-roasting ceremony out front. She helps make upper Columbia Heights feel like a real community.”
Sun Beam Market, Bryant and North Capitol streets NW
“Four PBR tallboys for $4.19. What a steal.”
Adams Market, F and 7th streets NE
“I have a special affection for the place because it’s owned by an older Korean couple. As a half-Korean, I enjoy a lovely dose of nostalgia when I visit them. Yup, Adams Market makes me miss my mom.”
Arthur’s Grocery, 11th and Lamont streets NW
“Mr. Arthur (as we call him) and his wife along with their sons work there. Friendliest people ever, and they are always happy to give our kids little treats.”
Sonya’s Market, 11th and Harvard streets NW
“They are always stocked with peanut M&M’s.”
All In One Market, 3rd and P streets NW
“They try to cater to everyone, so they’ve got organic milk and also wigs, $1 cigars, and Nutella.”
Corner Market, 4th and East Capitol streets SE
“It’s the single thing I miss most about living in that neighborhood.”

The Peanut Butter Index

Gallery

Our Readers Say

Market on Benning Road- Crack pipes cheap, cheap singles of Mad Dog, heroin and crack often from man in corner but more expensive than down block. Plenty of vomiting to watch, daily fist fights and weekly shootings. Temporarily closed for selling illegal drugs but will re-open shortly.
"Ninja Masks", condoms, and copper brillo pads displayed in front of hookas along Georgia Ave. I hate going into those places.
The copper brillo pads are for shredding and putting in the crack pipe. Often costs the same $2 as the crack pipe. People drive from all over MD and VA to buy crack pipes at corner stores in DC.
They aren't crack pipes; they're "love roses." Errybody know that. C'mon bruh.
The condo I lived in as a kid had a convenience store located on the ground floor. This was the 90's at the Carlton in Arlington. It was owned by an older Asian couple who I believe immigrated from China or South Korea. My family just called it the "little store."
When you do not have something good to say about a place or person , don't say nothing at all!! Just because crack and other drugs are all over Washington,DC Don't put the store down , with your bad comments!!
***Andre'a*** Criticism of people and things is the cornerstone of free speech and democracy. Would you really rather live in a country where criticism is suppressed? Corner stores have been a sore spot in many neighborhoods in DC, and the cause of much of the urban decay. Many of them are hubs for violence, drug sales, loitering, drug and alcohol abuse, littering, armed robbery, murder, and lewd behavior. Some of the stores in my neighborhood are so bad that you can't even walk by them without being harassed and bullied by the local hangout types. Once they get shut down, the neighborhood gets better. So, yes, there are a lot of valid criticisms of corner stores, and those voices should be heard!
THE CORNER STORE I GREW IN THAT WAS LOCATED AT THE SAME SPOT FOR 40 YEARS JUST SHUT ITS DOORS BECAUSE SHE GOT SQUEEZED OUT BY THE SAFEWAY ON 5TH STREET NW AND THE HARRIS TEETER ON 1ST AND M ST NE. A PROUD BLACK OWNED BUSINESS GONE.

40 YEARS OF PROVIDING A SERVICE TO A COMMUNITY THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN YOUR INCOME IS CUT IN HALF, THEN CUT IN HALF AGAIN? DAMN!!!

WOULD BE INTERESTING TO REVISIT THIS STORY IN 5 TO 10 YEARS AND SEE WHO IS STILL AROUND.
Corner stores are mirages in the food desert.

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