City Desk

The Sad Final Days of the Souvenir Shops Displaced by Donald Trump

pavillion

No one really loves Donald Trump right now in the Old Post Office Pavilion. The remaining souvenir shops and food counters in the historic building's now-dreary looking center atrium will shutter this week to make way for a Trump Organization luxury hotel. And on one of their last days of operation, the kitschy stores weren't filled with tourists, but rather the sporadic customer looking to buy cheap sweaters, watches, and bags in bulk during the closing clearance sales.

"We've had people from the whole world come here," says Lalit Ohri, who has owned Sonya Leather for 24 years in the pavilion and is closing shop today. On Tuesday, he sold a man 15 leather-looking fanny packs for $25. Still up for sale in his shop that he says used to see 100 customers a day during the high tourist season: a 2008 John McCain campaign shirt going for a buck.

The shopkeeper at the family-owned City Photo, which has been in the building for 29 years, was more reluctant to talk to a reporter Tuesday. The sprawling souvenir shop filled with outdated bobble heads, the standard assortment of D.C. shot glasses and snow globes, and a photo booth that allows people to take a picture with President Barack Obama, posted a sign alerting customers that the store would be closing because of Trump. When I tried to take a picture of the sign that featured a photograph of Trump yelling, I was asked not to, with the shopkeeper alluding to the fact that Trump is a wealthy, powerful man.

One of the people working in Chocolate Gallery similarly didn't want to talk, only saying that the store is closing and there was nothing that could be done.

But at least one woman had a more positive outlook on the federal government evicting its longtime loyal tenants in favor of Trump, who has his own reality show and constantly mulls running for president. Doler Shah, owner of the vegetarian Indian Delight in the pavilion's food court, says that in recent years the federal government has let the building languish.

Shah opened her food counter in 1983 on the day the building opened its retail space after major renovations. She remembers the place was once packed with tourists and locals. But ever since Sept. 11, 2001, she says, most of the entrances have been closed for security reasons. There is a checkpoint at the remaining entrance that gets jammed when classes come in for field trips, dissuading many visitors from popping in. Shah says she now pays around $3,000 in rent per month, about a third of what she used to pay during the building's heyday. The building is also now primarily used as federal office space.

"It has been really good to me," she says of her spot in the Old Post Office Pavilion. "I'm emotional because I'll miss my friends who have been visiting me for so many years here, but on the other side, I think this is the right time for me to close this chapter."

The General Services Administration awarded the Trump Organization a 60-year lease of the building in 2012 so it could transform it into $200 million luxury hotel. In redesigning the building, Trump said in September that "cost is no object, 'cause if it were, I wouldn't do it. There are other ways to make a buck. It's like a painting."

Construction is slated to start this year, with the hotel expected to be ready for business in 2016. Under the Trump Organization's deal with the GSA, the clock tower at the top of the building will still be open to the public and managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service—though there likely won't be any affordable gift shops in the lobby of the building.

UPDATE: A spokesman for GSA says plans to develop the Old Post Office Pavilion have been longstanding, and the retailers have been operating on month-to-month leases for years in preparation. He added that leasing out the building to a private developer would ultimately create jobs for the city.

Photo by Perry Stein

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