It looks like they did it, folks. They saved Mott’s Market.
An offer to purchase the building that formerly housed Mott’s Market (233 12th St. SE) made by a group of Hill residents who called themselves “Save Mott’s Market” has been accepted.
“It’s been a really eventful summer,” said Michael Skinner, a Walter Street SE neighbor who is helping to coordinate the effort.
They’re still reveling in the success of a months-long effort that even those involved knew was a longshot.
But while the dream of reopening the space as a convenient neighborhood store and gathering point is now possible, it will take more work to make it a reality, say representatives of the ownership group, now known as Mott’s Neighborhood Market, LLC.
A Century of Mott’s
Until it closed in March of this year, there had probably been a store on the site for more than 100 years. Purpose-built in 1916 as a store and second-floor home for Samuel Gotkin, the building appears to have housed a corner store ever since.
For Skinner, as for many neighbors, the market was a place to get the last ingredient to complete a recipe, a site where neighbors ran into one another, and a spot many (including Skinner himself) trusted their children could walk to and meet.
Ki and Roy Cho were the the last to run the store, closing up just months before the building was put up for sale amid much buzz.
The effort to save the store kicked off on Walter Street. Neighbors immediately banded together in an effort to purchase the building. The group was only days away from making an offer on the 3,313 square foot, two-floor building when it was sold April 25 for $1.25 million.
But by June, it was re-listed for $100,000 more. When they heard they had a second chance, they immediately remobilized, holding meetings and beginning the formation of the Mott’s Neighborhood Market, LLC that will function as ownership.
A Group Effort
The group managed to gather a total of $475,000 for a down payment. That came from 30 or so different individual contributions of amounts ranging from $5,000 to $60,000.
“There’s no giant benefactor in the background, saying “I’ll cover half of it”,” Skinner said.
Many of those who put money in for the successful August offer were not involved in the first April effort. Some have moved to the Hill since then and want to have a corner market in their neighborhood. The vast majority of investors live within four blocks, Skinner said, although a good number in the group live on the Hill writ larger.
“They’re putting their money where their mouth is, saying, “this is something I want to see succeed, so I’m willing to put down this money for that”,” Skinner said.
One investor lives in Chicago. He grew up on the Hill and attended Watkins Elementary School (400 12 St. SE), often stopping for an after school snack at Mott’s and made the investment after his mom, who still lives on the Hill, told him about the project.
Each investor will own member units in the project. Once the market makes a profit, each will get a share —but that could be several years from now, Skinner said.
“You could probably put your money into things that would earn faster than this project,” Skinner said. “The difference is, that doesn’t change things on the ground in your neighborhood. This is an opportunity for folks to invest in something that actually makes a direct change in our neighborhood, in the fabric of things.”
“We’ve lost a lot of corner markets,” Skinner observed, “and I fear that we’re going to lose more.”
Fabric of Neighborhood
Including Mott’s, at least three corner markets closed in the first three months of 2022. Owners cited rising costs and a lack of customer even as neighbors lamented the loss of the service and the proprietors they had come to see as fixtures in their community and daily routines.
Purchasing real estate agent Todd Bissey said when he heard there was a neighborhood coalition trying to buy the former Mott’s Market building and save the historic corner store, he wanted to be a part of it.
“I just love how the Capitol Hill community rallies around what matters,” Bissey said. “While the convenience of Mott’s Market matters, what really matters are the relationships that are made when natural connections take place in a central neighborhood gathering place, which conveniently happens to sell wine, cheese and light bulbs.”
Corner stores like Mott’s maintain the fabric of the neighborhood, support small business owners and keep Capitol Hill the charming little village that it is, he added.
Funding came from First Citizens Bank. Justin Wilson, business banker at First Citizens Bank, said the financial institution was proud to be a part of the project. “We know how important the store has been to the fabric of this community. Our bank has helped families and businesses with their financial goals for more than a century, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to finance the purchase of this landmark location.”
Although the investment structure has changed, the vision remains the same. The market is intended to be responsive to community needs.
In visioning sessions, people said they wanted the market to be equitable and “carry things that people actually need,” rather than solely high-end wine and cheeses. Others spoke to a desire for grab-and-go items like coffee or sandwiches and a new Amazon delivery site.
Suggestions on potential uses for the large back yard include parking and possibly even charging stations for electric vehicles. One last possibility to explore having dedicated space for people to gather when they run into neighbors, possibly a patio in the back lot.
“It sounded like people want it to be even more than the convenient store it was before and there seemed to be a lot of interest in it playing an even greater role in the community,” Skinner said of the visioning sessions.
Will the market still be called Mott’s? Since someone else will run the store itself, the sign outside might change.
But as the building is now owned by Mott’s Neighborhood Market, LLC, the name will always be associated with the place, Skinner said.
The sale is expected to close in October. Now that the acquisition of the building looks secured, the group wants to renovate the apartment for lease and improve the commercial space. Mott’s Neighborhood Market will be in dialogue with the immediate neighbors about how they visualize a renewed market.
“I think there’s a chance to make a definite improvement in terms of how does the space look for the neighborhood and for folks walking by,” he said, “and to do that in a way that includes the input of the folks living closest.”
Mott’s Neighborhood Market is about to embark on a capital campaign to raise the projected $100,000 needed for renovations via donations. They will also need to find investors to the tune of about another $100,000.
“No one person had the ability to just wave a wand and make this happen,” Skinner said. “It’s taken dozens of people putting in their money and expertise. We’re going to need more of that kind of energy from that community to make it work.”
“But it will be exciting to see that new market emerge from it,” he said.
You can learn more about the efforts and how you can help by visiting www.mottsmarket.com