During the day of New Year’s Eve, Rita Faddouue stood behind the counter at Roland’s of Capitol Hill (333 Pennsylvania Ave. SE). She carried on a conversation between customers as they come in at regular intervals on this, the last day the shop will operate under the Roland’s sign in more than 60 years.
They didn’t want to close, Rita said. They were forced to –there just isn’t enough business. “It was a tough decision, a sad decision,” Rita said. “We didn’t close one day during the pandemic, and now we had to put an end to it.”
Together with a partnership of four other people, Rita bought the business in 2018, undertaking a complete renovation of the two buildings that house the grocery store and deli before reopening in 2019.
“When we opened it started to do well,” Rita said, “and then COVID started.”
Employees at the Capitol, a huge source of customers, started to work remotely. Roland’s did whatever it could to remain open for the neighbors and the community, she said. However, between succeeding waves of COVID and competition from the large grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Safeway so nearby, Rita said they just couldn’t make it work. It it was time to make the decision.
“We didn’t close one day during the pandemic, and now we had to put an end to it,” she said, shaking her head. “Not even one day.”
Roland’s has been part of Hill folklore for decades. “Everybody knows it,” Rita said. “That’s why when we took over, we didn’t change the name. The neighborhood people came [and] tried talking about Roland, we loved the stories.”
Roland Pelletier and his father-in-law Harry Kaplan opened Penn Delicatessen (313 Pennsylavania Ave. SE) in 1960 opening Roland’s of Capitol Hill in 1968. For years, it was the only grocery on the Hill open until 11 p.m.
Pelletier sold Penn Delicatessen in 1970 and Roland’s of Capitol Hill in 1991, before moving to the Chesapeake and then to Florida.
“It’s the loss of a neighborhood icon,” said Rick B. He’s been shopping at Roland’s for 36 years, he said, back when it was the only place he could walk to for milk.
For much of the latter part of that period, Rick said, the shop was a dingy place. He was gratified to see how bright and clean it was after Rita and her partners renovated it. They served the best breakfast sandwiches around, Rick said.
Roland’s in 2013. Via Facebook/Old Time DC
For Rick, the closure is emblematic of the changes that have happened in the area since he’s lived here. He remembers when there was a men’s clothing store at 336 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, now home to a Capitol One bank. He mourns the loss of the former pharmacy and then, record store that were located at 301 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, now being renovated into what he calls “another bloody restaurant.”
“If you look up and down this block and the next, it’s fallen businesses all over the place,” Rick said. “And it’s really so strange that in one of the most important neighborhoods in the world, we have all these vacant storefronts.”
“It’s very sad now that the store is very nice, we’re losing it,” Rick said, as he paid for a chocolate bar, wished Rita well and told her he’d see her around the neighborhood. She lives a block from the store.
Rita said that the partnership, which purchased the building a year-and-a-half ago, is in talks with a real estate agency to rent the space. They have some interested parties, but said the talks have been “nothing serious” so far.
Roland is open until 6 p.m. Dec. 31, 2021.