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'small town' feel
Mount Pleasant works to preserve its diversity
(Published July 26, 2004)
Argyle Convenience Store sits on the corner of 17th Street and Park Road in Northwest Washington, where it’s been for almost 20 years. The owner, known to his customers only as "Rocky," stands behind the small, cluttered counter inside, framed by a window of candies, snacks, lighters and plastic souvenirs.
An older man with a white hat, glasses and a graying beard shuffles up to the counter.
"How you doin’ good man?" he says, handing Rocky a lottery slip and playing the "same ol', same ol'" set of numbers he always plays.
Outside, the midday sun beats down on the sidewalks, where men sit side-by-side under shaded trees and mingle in groups, chatting in Spanish.
Mount Pleasant, a place where community values are enlivened by a rich, multicultural base, is one of several District of Columbia neighborhoods that have become a focus for revitalization and growth through the D.C. Main Street program.
The program works to restore older neighborhoods physically and economically. It currently includes 12 different areas of the city.
Mount Pleasant was selected for the Main Street program in May 2003. Elinor Hart, who has been president of Mount Pleasant Main Street Inc. since 1993, has lived in the neighborhood since 1974.
"There’s a small town element about it," she said. "The stores are small, so if you shop somewhere, they know you."
It’s this small town feeling and the friendliness of the people that Haydee Vanegas said she appreciates most about the neighborhood, especially after visiting other cities. Vanegas, who has lived in Mount Pleasant since 1987, owns Haydee's Restaurant, a popular location on Mount Pleasant Street that serves American, Salvadoran and Mexican foods.
Along the main street, people socialize on the sidewalks and storeowners say hello to passers-by through their open shop doors.
"It’s a very laid-back neighborhood," said Bernie Bernstrom, a resident of Mount Pleasant for 10 years and owner of Tonic, a two-level bar and restaurant that opened last November.
"Having a small restaurant here is great because everyone loves a neighborhood joint," Bernstrom said.
Aside from the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, residents of Mount Pleasant agree it’s the neighborhood’s diversity that makes it special.
"It’s a neighborhood that has people from really all over the world," Hart said.
Rocky agreed the residents of Mount Pleasant are a variety of races and nationalities – "black, red, green…including myself," he said.
Silver haired, with a thick black mustache and glasses, Rocky moved to the United States from Iran in 1972. His cousin Mark, the owner of Marx Café a block up the street from Argyle Convenience Store, followed shortly after him.
The neighborhood’s diversity is clear in the variety of stores lining the main street, including Corado’s Guatemalan Restaurant, a Peruvian eatery called El Pollo Sabroso and Mi Pueblo, a company offering financial services for Spanish-speaking residents.
The grocery store La De Todos promises to offer "los primos productos latino" – prime Latino products – and just a couple stores down is a Super Save market, owned by a Korean family.
Vanegas, who has a long braid of black hair that hangs down her back, dark painted eyes and a friendly smile, said multiculturalism is what has made the difference in the community. She said she emigrated from El Salvador to the United States in 1985 and moved to Mount Pleasant, where her family already lived.
Like others who live there, Vanegas said every year the neighborhood gets better.
Since Mount Pleasant was selected for the program, members of Mount Pleasant Main Street have been coalescing their efforts towards projects to improve the area.
One product is a graffiti removal project, which residents formed after a gang-related shoot-out occurred in the neighborhood last fall. Under the notion that graffiti is often markings for gangs, a team of seven people remains on call to remove graffiti within 48 hours of its appearing on the sides of buildings, storefronts or public property in the area.
In April, Mount Pleasant officially became part of the District’s annual cherry blossom festival after Main Street members planted three decorative Japanese cherry trees in the neighborhood in an attempt to bring tourism there, said Alicia Milla, executive director of Mount Pleasant Main Street Inc.
Recently, Mount Pleasant Main Street helped sponsor "Art on Call," a project of Cultural Tourism D.C. that seeks to transform abandoned fire and police call boxes in neighborhoods throughout the District into symbols of art and history.
Mount Pleasant, which is the first neighborhood in the city to complete the project, chose to install bronze sculptures into nine call boxes situated throughout the neighborhood. The sculptures portray scenes of "the most significant and dramatic defining moments in the history of the neighborhood," said Michael Ross, the artist who created the sculptures.
Currently, the Main Street design committee is working on a project to restore building facades. On Oct. 16, the program will host a Fall Fiesta to help boost business in the area and provide entertainment.
Copyright 2004, The Common Denominator