Neighbors Band Together in Effort to ‘Save Mott’s Market’

A Group of Neighbors Works to Buy --or Preserve-- Historic Corner Store

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A group of neighbors is fighting to buy and preserve Mott's Market. Photo: Courtesy @savemottsmarket

Mott’s Market is –well, on the market.

The 3,313 square foot, two-floor building was just listed Wednesday with an asking price of $1.25 million. And a group of neighbors are working quickly to buy it with a view to saving Mott’s Market —or anyway, saving the corner store retail.

They want folks to make an investment in the future of the corner store.

Save Mott’s Market

The movement was founded on the porches of Walter Street SE, involved neighbors said.

Walter Street is a close-knit community that hosts events like July 4th parties, and, during the pandemic, a socially-distanced wedding, right in the middle of the street. “Our front porches are like a common area in a dorm, almost,” Noah Bopp and Jordan LaCrosse said in Zoom call. They’re two of the more than 25 people that are part of the effort.

When neighbors realized Mott’s was closing in early March, Bopp said, they felt gratitude but also sadness. More than one family told tales of a harried spouse rushing to the little store as night fell to satisfy the craving of their pregnant wife or to find the missing staple in a dinner party recipe. Some of the families on Walter Street have been there nearly as long as Mott’s, Bopp said, and keenly felt the loss.

The effort evolved organically from the conversations, LaCrosse said. “it’s kind of funny how we basically were all on the same page.”

“For Community, By Community”

It’s a “for the community, by the community” effort, Bopp and LaCrosse said, to “save Mott’s Market” (also their website domain, www.savemottsmarket.com). They want to preserve the property as a community-serving retail space, if possible by working to purchase the building themselves. Failing that, they will advocate for the next owner to maintain a retail space.

The move to resurrect corner stores is a relatively new one. Once ubiquitous throughout the District, many corner stores have closed or been converted to homes. In 1958, the zoning code was changed so that corner stores would default to residential when their leases lapsed. That default was later dropped, but in 2013, zoning to permit corner stores in residential areas was limited amidst resident concerns about trash and liquor sales.

But the corner store revolution was already coming to the District. In 2009, Cornercopia opened their market and sandwich shop at the corner of Third and K Streets SE; Union Kitchen opened their first Union Kitchen Grocery on Capitol Hill in 2013, (538 Third St. NE), showcasing DC-made products alongside essentials like Coca-Cola and toilet paper.

Neighbors of Mott’s are building on this new corner store wave. “The idea is to keep it in essence like it was,” Bopp said, meaning a convenient place to get essentials, but “with neighborhood enhancements” —an arts or performance element, perhaps, or a rotating counter selling goods produced by neighbors. In emails and phone calls, LaCrosse adds, neighbors reiterate four traits: they’d like a space that is safe, convenient, involved with the community and accessible.

Accessible to All

The ownership model has not yet been solidified —it could be some kind of partnership, or a cooperative— something they hope will allow everyone to be welcome.

“We want it to be accessible to all,” LaCrosse said.

The group is serious, and they’ve done some legwork; they already have substantial, if not yet sufficient, financial commitments as well as a loose concept, Bopp and LaCrosse said. The two say the group figures they’ll need to raise about $400,000 for a down payment, renovations and carrying cost, funds they hope to crowdsource from the neighborhood.

“We would like to be able to come in with an offer. Part of that is money, but part of that is also about preserving the neighborhood that the seller will see as attractive and that there is really community consensus,” said Bopp.

They have a website and are printing signs in an effort to get folks more involved. But they are asking for more support from the wider Hill community —and hoping to get it from the seller.

Significant Interest in Mott’s Property

Neighbors have were already watching the building as it was shown several times prior to listing. Compass Real Estate Agent Crystal Crittenden, who represents the seller, said that there was significant interest in the property, although as of Monday evening no formal offers had been received.

The building is currently owned by the Choi family. Hyon Ku Choi and Young Hui Kim have owned the building for nearly 40 years, running the store themselves until 2010, when the two retired and handed the business on to the Cho family, who ran the store until its recent closure.

Reached through their agent, their son, Jay Choi said the family still feels attachment to the store and to the community.

“For the past 40 years, the store at Mott’s Market has meant everything to our family,” said Choi.  Motts was special in that it allowed neighbors a space to interact, to learn about each other, and become family. He remembered holiday events, community initiatives and children who grew up only to later bring their own children into the store.

The family witnessed how a community comes together to show love and support for each other at his parent’s retirement celebration at Mott’s in 2010, Choi said. “It is bittersweet that we are closing this chapter in our lives, but we are excited to see so much interest in the property,” Choi added.

Asked to comment on the community initiative or the future of the site, Choi was committal. “We hope that whoever the new owners are, that they realize they are inheriting one of the best blocks on Capitol Hill and truly the best neighborhood in all of DC,” said Choi. “We hope they will continue to be good neighbors to our neighbors — in whatever future endeavor they decide with the store.”

A Lot of Interest in Site

The site has already generated a lot of interest in part, because it is well-known. It’s also because the space seems to open itself up to possibilities: the building sits on a larger than usual corner lot that backs to Gessford Court, opening the potential for expansion to the rear. The lot is zoned residential, but the commercial use of 233 12th St. SE as a store has been grandfathered in.

It’s a property that is attractive to a wide variety of people, from families looking for a lot large enough for expansion to business owners or even a developer willing to jump through a few historic hoops.

The structure is a contributing building in the Capitol Hill Historic District, said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) for the area Steve Holtzman (6B05), meaning changes cannot be made to façades visible from public space without review by the ANC and the DC Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), and it can not be torn down. That means whatever the next use of the building, its appearance from public space has to reflect its historical use as a corner store.

Planning Pivot

All the interest adds to the pressure; real estate already moves fast in the District, a trait for which large groups are not usually known. But the Walter Street collective has met several times, and have engaged a lawyer and a broker. They’ve already put in a request to speak to the seller.

“Time is of the essence, that is the exact point,” LaCrosse said.

But they know someone could swoop in and offer far above asking, concluding the sale within a day. If that happens, they’ll pivot.

They hope a developer will see the value in preserving the retail space for the neighborhood, but if not, they’re ready to work with the buyer to share their vision and to make such a project worth their while.

“It is worth fighting for Mott’s, and hopefully that doesn’t mean fighting a developer,” Bopp said.

Bopp and LaCrosse say they welcome all neighbors and whatever resources they have available, be it time, money or energy.

“Our interest is that we want this store in our back yard, and if there’s someway to collectively do it, we will,” LaCrosse said.

Learn more about the effort to save Mott’s Market by visiting the website at  www.savemottsmarket.com or by emailing savemottsmarket@gmail.com

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