Hill Businesses Debate Opening On Inauguration Day

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Boutique on the Hill owner Dorian Bean-Lipscombe stands outside her business, which faces the backside of the Library of Congress, patroled by armed members of the National Guard.

Following last week’s violent demonstrations, the Capitol grounds look different with an established perimeter of non scalable fencing, increased police presence and the National Guard. By Friday afternoon, a north-south perimeter had been established along Sixth Street from Pennsylvania 

Overlooking the new seven foot fencing and armed guards are several local businesses who say they intend to remain operational throughout the 59th inauguration period and in the face of security concerns about violent protests. Meanwhile, on the Pennsylvania Avenue said, others say they will close as a precaution.

Nina Ngo, manager of Capitol Nail Salon (201 Massachusetts Ave NE STE S4) just across the street from the Hart Senate Office Building, said that while their staff has been increasingly vigilant following the Capitol insurrection. Ngo says that her employees feel safe with the increased law enforcement presence. 

“So far we feel very safe,” Ngo said. “Last week’s events were only inside the Capitol, not in the neighborhoods.” 

Ngo said that the large homeless encampment outside situated directly in front of the salon is her biggest concern, citing violence she has witnessed while at work. 

“The customers are afraid to come because they harass them,” Ngo said. 

Tuan, owner of Pho 79 DC (201 Massachusetts Ave NE), said that business is very slow because of the traffic and parking restrictions imposed by the District to establish a perimeter around the Capitol grounds for the inauguration on Jan. 20. 

“All the streets are locked,” Tuan said. “It’s so hard for businesses.” 

Tuan said they will remain open on inauguration day and said he believes that the area will remain secure with the strong law enforcement presence. 

“It’s very safe,” Tuan said. “We don’t see any problems here.” 

Elise Genderson, Vice President of Schneiders (300 Massachusetts Ave NE), spoke about business operations since last Wednesday’s Capitol insurrection. Genderson said that they closed on Jan. 6 at 4:00 p.m. for the safety of their employees and in observance of the city-wide curfew, but said not much has changed since the attack. 

“Everything’s been “business as usual” despite some hiccups with deliveries and road closures this week,” Genderson said. 

Genderson said that Schneiders plans to remain open in the days leading up to, and including, inauguration day citing the increased security measures put in place this week. 

“We feel very safe here,” Genderson said. “We really have a lot of respect and trust for the Capitol Police and they have been a wonderful ally for us.” 

Perin, manager at Bistro Cacao ( 316 Massachusetts Ave NE) also spoke about the cafe’s response to the insurrection. She said that in the days leading up to the demonstrations that business was typical, but following Wednesday’s events she has noticed a decrease in business. Perin said they have not decided whether or not to remain open for Biden’s inauguration. 

Pennsylvania Avenue SE was closed at Second Street Thursday, Jan. 14. By Friday, Pennsylvania was closed at Sixth Street SE.

On the south side of the Capitol grounds, some businesses say they will close. Many closures are centered on the Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor. Labyrinth Puzzles & Games (645 Pennsylvania Ave SE) announced Thursday that they would be closed on Inauguration Day for the safety of staff and customers. They also did not rule out closures for Tuesday prior.

Next door, East City Bookshop said that they would also be closed Jan. 20, “for everybody’s safety.” East City Bookshop is usually closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Some businesses, such as Sephora Studio (380 Seventh St. SE) and My Eye Dr. (233 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) had already boarded up their windows.

But many Pennsylvania Avenue businesses closer to the Capitol itself were planning to maintain their current hours of operation. At Roland’s of Capitol Hill (333 Pennsylvania Ave. SE), an employee said they expected to maintain regular business hours, adding that business had been slow. “I think that many of our customers are scared of what happened,” he said.

Most of their customers are military these days, he said. “We never hae had military customers like we’ve had these last few days,” he said.

Boutique on the Hill and Lustre Formal (208 Second St. SE) face the Library of Congress, now fenced off and guarded by the National Guard, who began carrying guns on Thursday. “I got goosebumps and scary feelings at the same time,” said Boutique on the Hill owner Dorian Bean-Lipscombe.

“I’ve never seen Capitol Hill like this,” sad Bean-Lipscombe.

She said that she feels protected, but sad, adding that she wished the guardsmen would be a bit more friendly. She and Lustre owner Brian Grozbean have been opening for appointment-only shopping, business decimated by COVID-19 and the violence that further reduced the cycle of celebrations that provided a needed shot in the arm for business. They’ll continue to do that as long as it’s possible, she said.

Customers dine outside at Belga Cafe (514 Eighth St. SE) Thursday, Jan. 14.

The day of the insurrection, Jan. 6, was quiet on Barracks Row, said Anna at Chat’s Liquor (503 Eighth St. SE). “We saw a few of them [Trump supporters] come by with their flags, but not really very many,” she said of business that day. The store expects to open Wednesday, depending on orders from the Mayor and the situation. “We’ll see how the environment looks that day,” she added.

The Barracks row restaurants also plan to remain open, as long as the situation warrants. Matchbox (521 Eighth St. SE) manager John said they expected to be open Inauguration Day. “I hope so,” he said, “I think it’s going to be great business.”

However, he emphasized that the Eighth Street location would wait for word from their head office (their are locations throughout the DMV). Logistically, he said, it was a concern whether the staff would be able to get to work and back that week, given road closures.

Similarly, Christa Machado of Belga Cafe (514 Eighth St. SE) said the restuarant would remain open regular hours if it was possible, respecting Mayoral orders and potential curfews. “It’s sad to see the city so longely,” she said. “We’ll try to do what we can.”

To receive updates about the inauguration from the DC government, text INAUG2021 to 888-777 or visit inauguration.dc.gov.

Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with HillRag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at [email protected]

Elizabeth O’Gorek is the Hill Rag’s General Assignment Reporter and online editor. She lives on Capitol Hill. You can reach her at [email protected]