In this interview, Leah remembers her childhood growing up on Capitol Hill, including day care with Mennie Rowe on 9th Street NE and many experiences at Capitol Hill Day School. She recalls the steps that led to her business career, first as an entrepreneur at Carleton College in Minnesota, and later working for Steve Cymrot at Riverby Books on East Capitol Street. She also explains the source of her store’s name and the process of establishing a new local business. She reflects on the support and inspiration of the Capitol Hill community and her on-going involvement. Leah and her parents Steven and Maygene were awarded a Capitol Hill Community Achievement Award in 2014, when the interview was conducted.
Interview with Leah Daniels
Interview Date: February 24, 2014
Interviewer: Stephanie Deutsch
Transcriber: David MacKinnon
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis
photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke
Leah Daniels, along with her parents Steve and Maygene Daniels, received a Community Achievement Award from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation in 2014. Two separate interviews were done, this one with Leah, and a second with Steve and Maygene.
TAPE 1/SIDE 1
DEUTSCH: This is Stephanie Deutsch. February 24, 2014. Leah, can you just say hello?
DANIELS: Hi, I’m Leah Daniels.
DEUTSCH: So Leah, tell me about your life.
DANIELS: I was born on Capitol Hill.
DEUTSCH: Were you literally born on Capitol Hill?
DANIELS: No. I was actually born at GW (George Washington University) Hospital. The old George Washington University Hospital. My parents moved to town a number of years before I was born, and they moved to Ninth and Massachusetts [Avenue NE] in ’78. That is the house that I came home to. That is the house that they still live in. My entire childhood was in one house at 816 Massachusetts Avenue, which at the time seemed amazing and perfect. I have an older brother [Eddie], and he’s 2? years older than me exactly. We were two years apart in school. And I followed his footsteps to Capitol Hill Day School [210 South Carolina Avenue SE].
DEUTSCH: Did you go to school before Capitol Hill Day?
DANIELS: I did. From my recollection—question mark, or [did my] parents help with me [remember]?—I actually went to daycare across the street in the unit block of Ninth Street [NE]. There was a woman named Mennie. She had a little daycare in her basement.
DEUTSCH: Like a family daycare?
DANIELS: Like a family daycare. I believe that she kicked you out at two years old. So it was little babies. But I went there, and it was amazing. It was right across the street. Mennie was an older lady who was always an older lady to me. But she lived there until her death—I don’t know, ten years ago maybe? So maybe in the early 2000s. She was old Capitol Hill and she kept me in line. I remember, growing up, she was always a consistent presence in my life.
DEUTSCH: You mean even after you weren’t in daycare, you’d see her?
DANIELS: Even after. Oh yes. My parents lived across the street. So we’d bring her a plate of Christmas cookies every year. She was just another mother in the neighborhood to me.
DEUTSCH: Had she grown up around here?
DANIELS: I don’t know, I don’t know. Her house was definitely her old family home. I think that my parents are going to be better at answering that question than I am.
DEUTSCH: I’ll be sure to ask them about Mennie. [Mennie’s full name was Mennie Rowe.]
DANIELS: Simply because the stories that I really know about my experiences with Mennie are all hearsay. They’re all what people have told me about my experience with her. The story that everybody likes to tell is … Knowing that I was going to be a strong and perhaps—my parents would call [an] aggressive personality—one of Mennie’s jobs was to potty train us. [Laughs] I apparently wasn’t interested in it, but I [made] sure that the other kids in the room were sure to be on their potties when it was time to go to the potty. I would sit there and tell them exactly what to do. That hasn’t changed too much. [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: So Capitol Hill Day.
DANIELS: Yes, well, and there was a time between Mennie and Capitol Hill Day. I went to Jenkins Hill [Nursery School, later Jenkins Hill Child Development Center] I believe for a year. Then I went to Capitol East Children’s Center [where] my father was actually president of the board. It was in the old Giddings School which is now Results Gym [G Street SE between Third and Fourth Streets].
DEUTSCH: Results. I know Capitol East because my nephew Tom went there.
DANIELS: Oh Tom went. Oh, wonderful.
DEUTSCH: So your dad was president?
DANIELS: My dad was president of the board when I was there. And I was a Sunshine.
DEUTSCH: You were a Sunshine?
DANIELS: I was a Sunshine.
DEUTSCH: That doesn’t surprise me a bit. [Daniels laughs]
DANIELS: And then I entered Capitol Hill Day in, I guess, the fall of 1985. It was kindergarten. I continued at Capitol Hill Day all the way through eighth grade.
DEUTSCH: Had your brother gone there?
DANIELS: My brother started in kindergarten as well, and he was two years ahead of me. He started in fall of ’83. Cemmy Peterson was there shaking our hands every morning. I have very strong, positive feelings about Capitol Hill Day from growing up in the neighborhood. Being able to walk to school. Most of my friends lived in the neighborhood. And my closest friends in life still are my friends from Capitol Hill Day School. I have one friend, Billy Bryant, who came to my house every morning for my younger years. His mom would drop him off at my house and we would all have breakfast together, usually oatmeal.
DEUTSCH: I didn’t know that.
DANIELS: Oh yeah. So every morning Billy had breakfast at my house and my parents took the three of us to school until maybe first or second grade. It’s a theme that has run through my life—my friends at Capitol Hill Day School. Just three nights ago I had dinner with two of my friends from Capitol Hill Day School, Billy Bryant and Carrie Soults. It’s great to have these people as touchstones. They all, if they didn’t grow up immediately on Capitol Hill, had very strong ties to the community.
DEUTSCH: And have come back to live in Washington, if not on Capitol Hill, very committed to the city.
DANIELS: Absolutely. Of my graduating class of 19, I can count on one hand how many people don’t live in DC or the immediate suburbs, which is pretty neat. So it means every year for Halloween I know whose houses to stop by to see my childhood friends. Most of the parents still live in the community as well.
DEUTSCH: Any favorite teachers from Capitol Hill Day?
DANIELS: Well, there are the classics of Della Spradlin and Sandy Burns. And the amazing thing about Capitol Hill Day is that I still see Mrs. Barnett [Betsy] and Mrs. Keeling [Barbara] at Eastern Market for breakfast every Friday morning. If I remember to walk by, I know that they’ll be there. I loved Pearl Bailes. She’s Ms. Bailes to me but to everyone else since she’s Pearl. I continue to see her in the community. She’s still here.
DEUTSCH: Playing the harmonica in front of Riverby Books [417 East Capitol Street SE] for God’s sake!
DANIELS: That’s right. That’s right. Seeing her on Eighth Street with her husband [Joel], playing harmonica while her husband’s playing the piano [with their folk and jazz band called the Capitol Hillbillies] on a warm summer night. It’s really magical to see my fourth grade teacher in a different way. I’m trying to think about other … I can list every single teacher that I had. I loved Ron King and I loved my experiences learning French from Madame [Ann] Craig and Monsieur [Achille] Ango and the field trips with Lisa Sommers.
DEUTSCH: What field trips do you remember?
DANIELS: There are always the bigger ones. When you get into the older ages, you’d go on longer trips. You’d go to Gettysburg. You’d go to Monticello. I remember two times going to Sheridan Mountain Campus [in Luray, VA] and doing trust falls and baking pottery in an actual outdoor kiln with wood rather than electric heat. Actually thinking about that experience at Sheridan kind of epitomizes my experiences at Capitol Hill Day School of everything interlocking. It’s not just field education. It’s not just art. It’s not just history. It’s not just literature. You have to link them all together and see how they intersect. Building a kiln with wood and putting pots in it to learn about how people made pottery 300 years ago and seeing the landscape. How it all crosses over. It’s not just math. It’s math in the world. I also strangely remember going to Walter Reed and seeing body parts. You know, it’s the odd things too. I’m jealous of all the field trips the Day Schoolers get to go on now. Watching open-heart surgery!
DEUTSCH: Do they really?
DANIELS: Yes. Every year. We did not have that experience. But I think it’s a very cool experience. And now the fourth graders all take an overnight to Ellis Island.
DEUTSCH: Oh, isn’t that nice.
DANIELS: So the program has continued to thrive and expand.
DEUTSCH: Are you on the board?
DANIELS: I am on the board of Capitol Hill Day School.
DEUTSCH: When did you join the board?
DANIELS: I joined the board—I believe this is the end of my third year on the board. So it’s 2014, so I started in 2011.
DEUTSCH: This is a little bit of a sidetrack and we can get back to it, but what are the challenges facing the Day School right now?
DANIELS: Well, the big challenge is financial sustainability. You’ve got this amazing institution with very [high] expectations of its teachers. You want to pay the teachers. You want to make sure that you continue to have a top-notch facility, [and] they’ve just redone their facility. You want to make sure that the kids get to go on field trips. That the teachers who have worked for the school continue to receive their pension.
DEUTSCH: And yet you want a nice mix of kids.
DANIELS: Right. Just schooling is much more expensive now then it was when I was a kid. How do you maintain the programs while trying to attract families beyond just one socioeconomic class? I will say it’s very exciting to me to see the kids at the Day School now come and visit me at my store [Hill’s Kitchen, 713 D Street SE].
DEUTSCH: Is that one of their field trips?
DANIELS: Oh second graders, absolutely. But you know, just the kids that come in with their parents, and they feel very connected to me in my store because they all come and visit me in second grade. How they are seeing the world is very exciting for me. It gives me great pleasure in seeing what I experienced play out in people who are younger than me.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, that is nice. So after Capitol Hill Day School. We’ll come back to the board later.
DANIELS: I attended Georgetown Day School in upper Northwest [4200 Davenport Street]. It was high school. [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: It’s a transition because it was away.
DANIELS: Yes, and it was difficult because it was away, but I think it was actually good that it was away. The same themes, I’d say, run through my going to college. I went to school in Minnesota. I learned to appreciate Capitol Hill by not being here. With Georgetown Day School, I was allowed to explore the city and have confidence in being able to ride the Metro on my own. It’s, I guess, an odd experience, but for me it was normal. I met up with my Capitol Hill Day School friends at Union Station every morning and we’d ride the Metro to Tenleytown together. And then as we grew older, my Capitol Hill Day School friends and I all carpooled together to Georgetown Day School. I, however, have never learned how to drive.
DEUTSCH: Really? You are a true city kid.
DANIELS: That’s right. That’s right. You have to use the public transportation the best of your abilities.
DEUTSCH: Was that a decision you made, “I’m not going to learn how to drive,” or you just sort of at one point noticed that, “Hey, I never got a driver’s license!”?
DANIELS: I think that it was more of the latter. I think that it was also that I became very aware of my own mortality fairly young. I had a number of friends in high school die in car crashes, and it all of a sudden became scary to me. If I had learned how to drive when I was very young, when I was 16, I would not have had that fear, but now unfortunately I’m afraid to.
DEUTSCH: Too much time had gone by and you …
DANIELS: I’ve driven a car. I have! [Laughs]. You need to practice. You need to find your comfort with driving, and if you don’t have time or, honestly, opportunity, to practice, you’re never …
DEUTSCH: Your life is very centered here.
DANIELS: I live on 11th Street. My parents live on Ninth Street, and I work between Seventh and Eighth Streets [SE].
DEUTSCH: You can walk everywhere.
DANIELS: I walk everywhere and I love it. Georgetown Day School was a great academic experience for me. And I have amazing feelings towards the teachers there and some good friends. But it was very difficult leaving my little nest of Capitol Hill to [go to] upper Northwest.
DEUTSCH: Why Minnesota? Why Carleton [Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota]?
DANIELS: My mother had actually gone to Carleton, so I was always aware of it. But growing up, I always thought that I would go to Yale.
DEUTSCH: Because that’s where your dad went!
DANIELS: That’s where my dad went. My dad, when I was a kid, had me get on the floor, pretend like I was a bulldog, and sing, “Bulldog, bulldog, bow wow wow, Eli Yale!”
DEUTSCH: Might be better if we didn’t let that out. [Laughter]
DANIELS: Well, I mean, we were singing fight songs. You know.
DEUTSCH: And you brother went to Yale, didn’t he?
DANIELS: And that is probably why I did not go to Yale. That I had already followed my brother Eddie from Capitol Hill Day School to Georgetown Day School, and I needed to find my own identity, my own …
DEUTSCH: Your own path.
DANIELS: Right. It’s very interesting, because Carleton and Yale are kind of night and day. Yale is this big post-graduate institution as well as being an undergraduate school. And Carleton is very small.
DEUTSCH: Is it actually a university or is it …
DANIELS: Carleton is a college. There are 500ish students per class. There are four classes. You’re kicked out after four years and one term. They really don’t want you to stay. I mean they want it to be a true four-year academic institution and a residential college. You’re expected to live on campus. And I loved it. It was hard being in Minnesota, because I was very separated from all my friends who were up and down the East Coast …
DEUTSCH: And it’s cold!
DANIELS: And it’s really cold! But I loved [it]. I really flourished there. I learned that small and community isn’t oppressive. Whereas I think when I left, I felt like I needed to go somewhere new and I needed to find new things. But I learned how much I really appreciated people checking up on me and caring about me and wanting to make sure I was making good decisions, within the academic situation as well as personally.
DEUTSCH: Which is sort of a benefit of community.
DANIELS: Exactly. I had to leave to really appreciate it. [I was] walking around Capitol Hill when I was 15, [thinking] “Why does this person want to know what I’m doing, can’t I just walk in peace?” Whereas, when I went to school in Northfield, Minnesota, a town of 14,000, I went to the same coffee shop every single day—Hattie’s—and I had my Americano [coffee] when I sat and watched the snow fall and studied. There was a group of ladies who met every single day and just had a little coffee time with each other. If I didn’t show up for a week and I finally showed up, they would ask how I was doing. And it all of a sudden stopped being, “Gosh, they’re in my business,” to [knowing] they really were wondering am I okay. And I started to appreciate Capitol Hill in a much different way, being able to find that it was out of thoughtfulness rather than malice.
DEUTSCH: That’s very interesting.
DANIELS: I loved going to school in Minnesota though. It was a small town. It was a small town very much in the same way that Capitol Hill is a small town.
DEUTSCH: Although it’s a real small town.
DANIELS: It was a real small town. [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: About 14,000 did you say?
DANIELS: Fourteen thousand. It’s now up to 17,000. But it was 14,000 when I was there, and there were just about 2,000 students. It was really small and I loved it. Walking over here I ran into a bunch of people and it delayed me getting here. And what I would say about going to school in Northfield, Minnesota, was it was very much the same thing. It would take me ten minutes to get anywhere, whether it’s the next building over or across campus, because you stop and you talk to people. You ask them how their day is going, you smile at them, and you feel like you’re a part of something more than just, “I’m in school.”
DEUTSCH: That’s so important.
DANIELS: I loved it! At Carleton, I had the opportunity to do everything. I had a radio show. I wrote for the newspaper. I was on tenure track committees for the History Department. I helped with psychology experiments beyond …
DEUTSCH: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You had a radio show …
DANIELS: I wrote for the newspaper. I was on tenure track committees for the History Department.
DEUTSCH: Were you a history major?
DANIELS: I was a history major.
DEUTSCH: Tenure track committees for History. And what was the last thing you said?
DANIELS: Oh, I helped with psychology experiments. You know, I helped monitor other people’s programs. I was an RA [Resident Advisor] for two years. So I was living in the dorms working with the underclassmen. I was the head of room draw to get people in their housing. I did fundraising for Carleton. I really had a chance to have my hands in many different pots and activities in the school. And I think the diving in and doing it made me appreciate it even more.
DEUTSCH: Do you think because it was a small school you had more opportunities to do that kind of thing?
DANIELS: Absolutely. I think that, if I had gone to a big school, I would have had to have chosen one thing, dedicate myself to it, and not have had the opportunity to try different things. Try artistic things. Try more business-type things. Try administrative things.
DEUTSCH: So did you try any business-type things?
DANIELS: Well, actually, my first on-my-own business experience was at Carleton. My senior year, I was really quite disappointed with the History Department tee shirt that the History Department people had come up with. I thought it was silly and I didn’t want it. So I said, “I’m going to do my own.” I didn’t make a tee shirt. I decided to make a pint glass. [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: Beer country.
DANIELS: That’s right. [Laughs] Carleton … it is not a dry campus.
DEUTSCH: No, and I think of the Midwest as—one of the things you learn when you go to the Midwest is beer.
DANIELS: Right. Lovely Chippewa Falls where Leinenkugel is made. I went and visited the factory while I was in college. [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: Okay, so you made a pint glass.
DANIELS: I made a pint glass. And on one side it said, “Down with Marxism.” And on the other side it said, “Carleton College History 2001-2002.”
DEUTSCH: “Down with Marxism!” Why did you choose that? As an old Soviet studies person, I really appreciate it. [Laughter]
DANIELS: But there are different understandings of ‘Down with Marxism” if you see it sitting on the table … “I’m down, I’m cool with Marxism”…
DEUTSCH: I’m down with Marxism. And then there’s down with—is there a beer called Marxism?
DANIELS: Drinking “down with Marxism.” There wasn’t. Oh my gosh, I wish there was a beer called Marxism!
DEUTSCH: What did the other side say?
DANIELS: Carleton College History Department 2001-2002. So I’m cool with Marxism, I’m drinking it down with Marxism, and also, DOWN WITH MARXISM! It encompasses everybody’s political views.
DEUTSCH: So how did it do?
DANIELS: I bought them for a dollar each and I sold them for three dollars each. And I made over $300.
DEUTSCH: So, bought them for one dollar, sold for three dollars.
DANIELS: Which is not very expensive.
DEUTSCH: No it’s not very expensive.
DANIELS: I mean, I was not looking to make money.
DEUTSCH: Even a college student can afford a three dollar …
DANIELS: Well, exactly.
DEUTSCH: And you made three hundred …
DANIELS: Three hundred dollars on it. But it was an experience, because I had to work on the graphics. I had to figure out whom to order them from. I had pay for them in advance.
DEUTSCH: And how many did you order?
DANIELS: I sold every single one of them. I think that a dozen or so came broken. But I sold 125, 150 of them maybe. And it was exciting because people beyond history majors were buying them, and people were buying four at a time, and I had to market them. What do you do when things come broken and how do you store them? Really kind of the root of learning how to run a retail business. People still call me and say, “Oh my gosh, I broke my mug. Can I get another one?” I still use mine every single day.
DEUTSCH: Really? I assume you don’t have a beer every single …
DANIELS: No, no. It’s my water glass.
DEUTSCH: It’s my water glass. [Laughs] I’ll have to see it. Is it at the store?
DANIELS: It’s not. I’ll bring one in though. I only have three left. I too have broken one.
DEUTSCH: That’s a great story. So you majored in history. Did you specialize in any particular area?
DANIELS: I specialized in the Civil War. I was more fascinated with Imperialism, but I had a special and unique opportunity to work with primary source documents relating to the Civil War that were personal in nature to me. My great, great grandfather fought in the Civil War, for the Union. He wrote letters.
DEUTSCH: Oh my gosh. So this is your …
DANIELS: And he wrote letters. My mother’s mother’s grandfather. Charles Finch Barber.
DEUTSCH: Wait a minute. Okay, Charles Finch Barber. And so B A R B O R?
DANIELS: E R.
DEUTSCH: B E R. So your mother had these letters or your grandmother?
DANIELS: My grandmother had these letters. It was particularly interesting. He was originally from Poestenkill, New York, which is near Troy.
DEUTSCH: Okay wait a minute. Let’s spell that.
DANIELS: Poestenkill, P O E S T E N K I L L, which is near Troy. He followed the train out west. And he ended up in a town called Polo, Illinois [between Rockford, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa]. The first letters I have from him are from 1859, writing to his parents in New York. He started a general store in Polo. And he had a business partner. He also had a sister in New York. So for his Civil War letters, I have letters written to his mother, his father, his sister, and his business partner. They were all together. All of these letters were together because everybody ended up moving out to Illinois. So all of these people are actually buried in Polo, Illinois.
DEUTSCH: P O L O?
DANIELS: P O L O. It’s near Dixon. So northwest Illinois. And I spent the summer of 2001 transcribing these letters.
DEUTSCH: Oh that’s hard work, isn’t it?
DANIELS: It was, especially because paper was scarce, so he crisscrossed. He would write something left to write, turn the paper, and write it left to right again.
DEUTSCH: I’ve seen that. It’s so hard to read.
DANIELS: But I had stories of the exact same incident to three different people, and he gave a different perspective to each one, which was fascinating. So I wrote my thesis on the emotional enthusiasm of a Civil War soldier in the West in 1861.
DEUTSCH: The emotional enthusiasm of a soldier.
DANIELS: In the West, which didn’t get a lot of coverage because the East Coast got much more coverage than that the West Coast in 1861.
DEUTSCH: So was that because you only had letters from 1861, or …
DANIELS: No, it’s because I needed to narrow down.
DEUTSCH: Limit it.
DANIELS: I ended up talking about 1862 and some of the big battles as kind of a postscript.
DEUTSCH: What battles was he in?
DANIELS: Oh gosh. Now you’re stretching my memory here. He was near Wilson’s Creek, which was in August of 1861 in Missouri. And that was really the first battle he knew. And I think he was at …
DEUTSCH: We’re apt to forget those western … you know, we’re all focused on Bull Run and Virginia.
DANIELS: Right. Actually, what was written about for many of his letters was: “We don’t have guns.” To his mother, it was a sense of pride: “I’m marching. Our brigade is marching so beautifully, we’re in line. We have so much pride.” Whereas, to his business partner, he would say things like: “They haven’t paid us.”
DEUTSCH: “This is a mess.” Yeah. Did he talk at all about the big ideas, the big idea?
DANIELS: When it came to contraband, you would start to see some of his thoughts. I’d have to reread the letters to really focus [on] whether he was an abolitionist. He certainly appreciated “contraband” as he would say.
DEUTSCH: When you say “contraband,” you’re using [it] in the sense of “slaves who were in the Civil War sense?”
DANIELS: Slaves in the Civil War sense, contraband. That was the term he used though.
DEUTSCH: Really, interesting. [Interruption] Okay, we’re talking about Leah’s thesis.
DANIELS: Yes, and contraband in [the] sense of an escaped slave or a captured slave. Someone who has now joined the ranks of the Union Army. Charles Finch Barber was the adjutant for his regiment. So he was in charge of much of the communications, which is, I believe, why he has so many letters and why he had access to be able to send so many letters, as this was part of his responsibility within the unit. So he had his own contraband to help him. Charles was fascinating because he spoke in grand words to his mother and really much more honest words to his business partner. He was at the Battle of Shiloh in April of 1862. He’s mentioned in the official accounts of the Battle of Shiloh because the top people in his unit were all killed, as many people were in the Battle of Shiloh.
DEUTSCH: It was awful, yeah.
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 1
TAPE 1/SIDE 2
DANIELS: He was mustered out officially in 1863, right before the Battle of Vicksburg, but the last letters … It’s so poetic, the last letters that I have are … [There’s] a little postscript at the end of [one], maybe written a week later, before he had had a chance to send the letter: “July 4th 1863. Vicksburg has fallen.” It’s stirring.
DEUTSCH: I got goose bumps. And why did he leave?
DANIELS: He became sickly. I think he got malaria. He was in the swamps, fighting in the summer in the swamps, without appropriate care. He did go back. In the end of 1862, he went back to Illinois because he was sick. Came back to the military, but never really recovered from it.
DEUTSCH: What did he do for the rest of his life? Was he in business?
DANIELS: He was in business, actually. So he had a general store. Again, this good question for my mother to follow through the life of the Barber family. He worked for the Armour Fruit Company.
DEUTSCH: A R M O R?
DANIELS: I think there’s a U.
DEUTSCH: Yes, I think it is.
DANIELS: He married a woman from New York who came out, and they had a couple of kids. Included in that was Henri, my great grandfather. Henri with an “I”, interestingly enough. He was named after Henrietta, I believe, an aunt who died in the Chicago fire. My mother’s family all continued to be in the greater Chicago area through my mom’s childhood.
DEUTSCH: So after college, what did you do?
DANIELS: I came home and I slept for a good month. I watched a lot of movies. And there was a day in July of 2002 where my mom looked at me and she said, “Leah, you are never going to get a job if you do not apply for one.”
DEUTSCH: I think those exact words have been said by thousands of mothers everywhere. [Laughter]
DANIELS: Well, my mom was wrong. That afternoon …
DEUTSCH: Just a second, I’ve got to get this. “You’re never going to get a job if you don’t apply for one.” [Laughter] “My mom was wrong.” Okay.
DANIELS: That afternoon, my father called me at my parents’ house and he said, “Steve Cymrot is looking for somebody to watch the store for a few days while both of his employees are on vacation.” I went that afternoon. I talked to Steve, and he said, “We’re looking just for Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” I said, “Sure.” Friday was the day after my 22nd birthday. That was my first day. July 26th 2002 was my first day at Riverby Books.
DEUTSCH: What was the date?
DANIELS: July 26th 2002. It took them six years to get rid of me. One of the employees decided to stay in Wisconsin. He didn’t want to come back. Slowly but surely, I made myself ingrained in the Riverby Books community. I loved it. I had no idea how much I would love it.
DEUTSCH: What did you love about it? I can imagine, but tell me.
DANIELS: I loved being part of an academic community. It was a good bridge for me after college, especially history. I loved being around books. I loved the smell of the place. I loved that it was my pediatrician’s office. Dr. [Ricardo] Kleiner [had been] at 417 East Capitol Street [SE]. Where the fiction section, now the Washingtoniana section, was [at Riverby], I have great memories of Dr. Kleiner drawing a smiley face on my arm, but without a nose, and giving me a TB test where the nose should be. I had strong memories of the place, but lov[ed] the architectural reconfiguration that Paul Cymrot had done in the space. I loved seeing the same people. People checking in, stopping in, seeing how it’d go.
Steve Cymrot had set up afternoon tea. At 4:30 every afternoon, he would have tea. There was a group of men and women who would come by and have tea and cookies every afternoon. And Steve let it be known that part of my job was being a host to this group and talking with them, learning from them, learning about them. This is where I fell in love with Tom Kelly, who every afternoon would walk his dog Poppy, leave the dog outside, come sit down for a cup of tea, and tell me why the best education is by doing rather than going to school. He would tell me about his times in the Navy, growing up on Capitol Hill [on] B Street, [now known as] Constitution Avenue. This is where I really learned how much I loved being part of Capitol Hill.
DEUTSCH: And I’m sure for Steve part of what he liked about you was you could be host to the afternoon tea crowd.
DANIELS: Right. [Laughs] Right. I often felt that I was spending too much time chatting with the men rather than doing work! [Laughs] But it all worked out really quite well. I loved being at the bookstore. I enjoyed the buying and selling of used books. I enjoyed the adventure of what was inside each book, because with a used book, it’s a treasure trove. You don’t know if somebody annotated the inside of the book—which, let’s be honest, I wouldn’t buy if somebody wrote in the book. But you never knew if there was going to be an inscription, “To my daughter on her 10th birthday.” You never knew whether there would be …
DEUTSCH: A letter or a bill, or a receipt.
DANIELS: Letters or dollars, or … You never knew why they folded over a page. And it was an investigation. It was really quite neat. I loved gaining relationships with my customers there. Knowing what books they were looking for and making sure that, if I saw that book come in, I would put it aside. It was quite amazing. Steve and Nicky Cymrot were the best mentors for learning how to be a business owner in a community.
DEUTSCH: What do you feel you learned from them? Can you distill it into a couple of things?
DANIELS: One thing in particular is that I distinctly have had conversations with Steve and Nicky Cymrot about, is giving things to auctions and races. This is a community of active fundraising. We’re all looking to improve whatever group we’re involved with. And this is, I think, a positive thing. Steve and Nicky would tell me very clearly, “The reason to give to auctions is not because you think that you’re going to get advertising out of it. The reason to give to a fundraiser is not because you’re going to gain a customer. It’s because you believe in what they’re doing.” I give because I believe in what this community does, not necessarily because I think that somebody is going to see this very cool pot that I give to the Capitol Hill Day School auction and say, “You know what, Hill’s Kitchen, that has great stuff.” I think that I’m giving it to Capitol Hill Day School because I really believe in what they’re doing and I would love to be able to fund another field trip, or I really respect the Spanish language integration program at Tyler Elementary. I want to make sure that they can get another teacher who speaks Spanish with the children.
DEUTSCH: Your goal is not better business for your store. Your goal—you’re investing in the community.
DANIELS: That’s correct. And that was a very important lesson that I learned from Steve and Nicky Cymrot. I actually had a conversation with Steve last night in front of Riverby Books where I said, “You know, the point of my life isn’t to sit back and count money. The point of my life is to be part of a community.”
DEUTSCH: I’m sure Steve would have agreed with that.
DANIELS: Well he did. [Laughs] I think Steve was a little proud of me right there. But you know, it’s not about global expansion. It’s about being part of something beyond yourself. Steve is a much more laid back business owner than I am, and so I try to think back on his more calm take on things than I. I tend to be a little more wound up in the everyday dealings of the store and Steve is very much more, “It’s going to be fine.”
DEUTSCH: Let’s talk about the process of deciding you wanted to start the store.
DANIELS: Well about 2? years into my working at Riverby Books, December of 2005, I realized that I loved working at Riverby, but it was never going to be my bookstore. Steve has a son who’s very much in place and very involved. Paul is very involved in the business. It was never going to be mine. So I had to think of what was my next [step]. If I’m not going to continue with the bookstore, what am I going to do with my life? It was about that time that I sat in my parents’ third floor study brainstorming about what kind of business I could open. And my mom was very excited. My story that I tell is that I was looking for something to get my mom to do after retirement. Mind you, that was almost 10 years ago and my mother is still working. [Laughs] But we were thinking about specialty foods stores and my mom really thought it’d be great having an olive store. For some reason, that’s something that sticks in my brain. But I’ve never worked in a restaurant. I don’t really know about food storage and when things go bad. I mean, that’s never been something that …
DEUTSCH: You could have learned it.
DANIELS: I could have learned it. But I was much more a thing retailer. Somehow cookware, kitchenware stuck. Thought that was great. I always did want to have a restaurant. My first grade teacher, Annette Alsop, will tell you that I always wanted to have a restaurant, even in first grade. But again, I have never even been a hostess at a restaurant. I’ve worked at coffee shops.
DEUTSCH: I know, I remember seeing you at Union Station.
DANIELS: Primo Cappuccino. [Laughs] But I never experienced the true ins and outs of a restaurant. But I knew how to run a retail store. And I never went to culinary school. And to be honest, I never really had an interest in going to culinary school. I love to cook. But I don’t necessarily have the creative gene of putting together different flavoring combinations. If somebody tells me a flavor combination I love to replicate it.
I had a lot of trouble from [having] the idea of a kitchenware store to opening it. I had a lot of trouble figuring anything out. I felt a little amiss. I started studying for the bar, thinking I might go to law school. I started studying for the business school [admissions] test.
DEUTSCH: You thought about getting an MBA [Masters in Business Administration]?
DANIELS: I thought that I actually wanted to do a dual program [law and business]. I did a lot of research into it. I took practice tests even. But I really wanted a store. When it came down to it, if you’re going to spend all sorts of money going to business school, borrow money, and you want to have a retail store, you might as well just spend that money and borrow that money to just do it. The words of Tom Kelly sitting in my head.
DEUTSCH: Oh stop. This is wonderful. So you got the idea …
DANIELS: Of a kitchen store, but nothing was falling into place. So this is why I was starting to take all of these tests and things. I believe it was my father’s birthday. It was either my father’s or my mother’s birthday dinner. The three of us went to Aatish on Pennsylvania Avenue [609 Pennsylvania Avenue SE]. We were trying to figure out a name for my store. For months we’d been working on this.
DEUTSCH: That was going to be my next question. Where did the name come from?
DANIELS: We’d been working on it, but, you know—“The Whirling Wisk”? I mean, it’s so trite. You know, I was just struggling. Nothing was falling into place. I couldn’t find the trade show I needed to go to. I didn’t know if I should rent or buy a building. Nothing was working until this dinner at Aatish. And my father came up with the name “Hill’s Kitchen.” And it just worked on so many levels. It’s kind of punny. You’ve got the like young …
DEUTSCH: It’s kind of like, “Down with Marxism.”
DANIELS: Right. [Laughs] It’s exactly, that’s exactly right actually. It references the neighborhood. It references what the business does. It’s a little modern, a little edgy. At that point, everything started to fall into place. I found the right trade show. I had a great experience at the trade show. My mother went with me. It was in Las Vegas. It was great. It was great.
DEUTSCH: That was your first trade show?
DANIELS: My first trade show was in Las Vegas in the spring of 2006. Actually we flew in from the trade show, that day, and went straight to the Community Achievement Awards dinner. That was the point at which I started to actually publicly talk about my business a little bit more solidly because the trade show … I had to figure out, “Can this business work?” So I had to go to booths and talk about how much they’re going to sell to me for. Do they give me programs? How much am I going to retail it for? What I learned was the equivalent type of big box store to me—Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table—everybody sells things for the same price. They get discounts on their end so their costs are lower but if I can make the cost work for what I was going to sell it for, I didn’t really care what Williams Sonoma was buying it for if it worked financially on my end. The important thing was that [that] meant most of the companies I work with control their prices and really seek to maintain an even playing field [for] their independents. So I came back from the trade show saying, “I can financially make this business work.”
Then that summer of 2006 we worked with [realtor] Phyllis Jane Young to find an appropriate space for the store. We were open to many things, renting or buying or renovating. We were quite open. Phyllis had this quite illuminating idea of taking Hugh Kelly’s old real estate office and envisioning the space. It was this warren of little rooms and small hallways and very narrow stairs. But it had the best front door between Seventh and Eighth Streets [SE] on D [Street] connecting the Eastern Market Seventh Street to the Eighth Street Barracks Row right on Metro plaza. She had us vision what that building could be. Take the bars off the windows. Make everything clean. Open the space up doubling the size of the building.
DEUTSCH: Were you initially skeptical?
DANIELS: I was initially scared because it was a major project. It wasn’t just move into a building. It set my timeframe back quite a bit to have to do that. I guess skeptical is a good word. I just didn’t know how it would work. She really opened our minds to how great it could be. And then we as a family worked together, actually very beautifully, to find an architect. We bid out the job with different architects. We worked on different layouts, different views of how the store could be. My parents ended up buying the building. So I’m a renter from my parents.
DEUTSCH: So you pay rent to your parents?
DANIELS: I pay rent every month. The landlord certainly lets me know when it’s due. [Laughs] I get friendly messages, “Please pay your rent.” We were able to find a great contractor for us that worked with what we needed to get done. We ended up finishing the building substantially in April of 2008.
DEUTSCH: And so did they finance the restoration as well?
DANIELS: My parents. They own the building.
DEUTSCH: They own the building and they did that.
DANIELS: That’s right.
DEUTSCH: So you had a good contractor.
DANIELS: Good contactor. Architect was great. We worked with Rich Markus [2601 P Street NW]. We used P&P Construction.
DEUTSCH: Rich Markus?
DANIELS: M A R K U S.
DEUTSCH: P&P Construction.
DANIELS: Rich is still around. I don’t think P&P is operating in the same way anymore. But where they were at the time was perfect for us.
DEUTSCH: How long did it take, the restoration?
DANIELS: Permitting actually was a major, major thing. We were able to start with historic preservation and working with the architect in the fall of 2006. We submitted for permits, I think, March of 2007. We got a demolition permit in maybe June of 2007. But we didn’t get building permits until maybe August of 2007. So it was almost an entire year through the historic preservation planning permitting to being able to actually start. We dug out a basement by hand because everything goes through the front door at Hill’s Kitchen. Still does. So we started building really in August of 2007 and then I opened on May 17th 2008.
There were a couple of things that happened before opening that I always think back on of how it was such a great opening experience. I had all sorts of products coming into the store and I needed help labeling them. So whom did I call on? My Capitol Hill Day School friends. My parents would go and buy Subway sandwiches around the corner. We’d have a big party. All of my Capitol Hill Day School friends turned out to help me sticker, including …
DEUTSCH: I’m getting tears in my eyes. [Laughs]
DANIELS: Including Chris Deutsch [interviewer’s son]. It was a real community effort to get my store up and running. It was great. Four days before I was to open, I was scared of opening. It’s hard to remember how terrified I was. But I went to the Capitol Hill Community Achievement Awards dinner. Gary Peterson was winning an award for all of his amazing service to the community throughout the years. Gary Peterson is also known for having hit an intruder over the head with a frying pan.
I believe it was on a Tuesday, the Community Achievement Awards dinner in 2008, and Gary stood up at the front of the room with his frying pan, and he called me up to the front of the stage, and he made a public announcement that Hill’s Kitchen would be opening on Saturday. So I guess, gosh darn it, I was going to open on Saturday! And he presented me with the frying pan. And it still to this day sits at the front cash register at Hill’s Kitchen.
DEUTSCH: That’s a great story. How did the opening go?
DANIELS: It was a whirlwind. It was great. We sold things. It shocked me! [Laughter] My parents helped me quite a bit that first day, and really for the first while I had one employee for the weekend and one for the weekday. My first weekday employee was Ann Angarola, the daughter of Jane Angarola, Capitol Hill Day School employee.
DEUTSCH: She was your first weekend employee?
DANIELS: Weekday employee. I remember going to Old Siam [restaurant, 406 8th St SE] with my parents, and my brother showed up at the end of the day kind of saying, “What just happened? And we have to do it again tomorrow?” [Laughter]
But the store has grown and evolved since those first few days of being open. My inventory has expanded by leaps and bounds. Seeing pictures of the store at the beginning, everything looks so bare, though at the time I thought, “Geez, I’m squeezing so much stuff in.” But now I have maybe four times the inventory that I did when I opened. I’ve expanded from just pots and pans and bakeware to really focusing on anything for the kitchen. We do linen—table placemats and napkins now that I didn’t when I started. I’ve really delved more into gifts, kitcheny giftware. Cheese servers and things that make beautiful gifts. I do salad bowls now that I didn’t when I started. And I think that it’s just listening to my community to see what they’re looking for. Where there are holes, what other businesses in the neighborhood aren’t [offering], [what] we’re just missing. I think that the adaptability and being able to talk to my customers is what helps continue the store in such a strong way—I’m able to change.
DEUTSCH: Well, also you’re in there all the time.
DANIELS: I am there seven days a week. It is true. And I love it. It’s exhausting but I love it.
DEUTSCH: Tell me about lessons and classes and stuff. Upstairs you have a …
DANIELS: We have a kitchen studio area. It is meant to be a nicer-than-your-home kitchen. It’s not meant to be a professional kitchen. It’s meant to be what you could imagine yourself doing at home. I started off with an amazing instructor, a man named Brock Kuhlman. Brock developed the program at Hill’s Kitchen and he lived in the neighborhood. He was fantastic. He was dynamic.
DEUTSCH: He’s not there anymore?
DANIELS: He’s not there. He started classes in 2009. He left in the spring of 2010 because his partner was moving to Thailand. I was sad to see him go because he had developed a really amazing program. But it was a great opportunity for him. He is now the executive chef at the American Embassy in Japan. He’s gone on to really cool things. In the summer of 2010 a woman named Marta Mirecki …
DEUTSCH: How do you spell that?
DANIELS: M A R T A M I R E C K I. I’m just double checking.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, I know it’ll come back to me if I don’t get the spelling.
DANIELS: It’s just hard to see it not in front of you. M I R E C K I. Marta started teaching classes. She lives on the Hill. She sends her kids to St. Peter’s. She continues to teach classes to this day. She’s been wonderful.
DEUTSCH: What are the most popular classes?
DANIELS: It seems that everybody needs to learn how to hold a knife. So, basic knife skills is incredibly popular. We also do a pasta making class that’s been very well received. Marta’s Polish, so [there’s] a pierogi making class that’s she’s done very well with. There’s a sauces and stocks class. You know, kind of the basics of kitchen is what she’s been particularly good at. Brock did lots with Asian foods.
DEUTSCH: So lots of people come and take the classes?
DANIELS: Lots of people come. We have classes maybe once or twice a week. It’s not the focus of the store but it’s an amazing addition to the store. I love it that the store gets to smell great after classes. We had a pies class on Saturday and the scents were just wafting down and it was just amazing. So it adds another dimension to the store.
DEUTSCH: Tell me about Christmas at the store.
DANIELS: Christmas at the store is a sprint or endurance, whichever one. It seems like an enduring sprint. It is a mad house. We have lines that reach 50 feet back in the store. It is constant activity. It’s wonderful to see so many people giving the gift of cooking.
END OF TAPE 1/SIDE 2
TAPE 2/SIDE 1
DANIELS: Yes, it’s a scene to be seen at Hill’s Kitchen Christmas. I feel that just as it takes you a while to walk across Capitol Hill because you run into your friends and neighbors, it’s the same experience at Hill’s Kitchen Christmas. You walk into the store to go shopping and all of a sudden you run into everyone who you’ve been meaning to see for the past month. You stop and you chat. It’s really quite fun to see friends and neighbors reconnect while in line. I also feel at Christmas time that I’m the neighborhood secret keeper. That I know what everybody is getting for the holidays and I’m not allowed to tell. It’s exciting when people have me hide things behind the counter and cycle back after ten minutes to get things because they don’t want the person they’re shopping with to see it. It’s really quite fun. It’s exhausting, again. [Laughs] But quite fun.
DEUTSCH: Your parents, I know, are a big part of it.
DANIELS: My parents come in. They put in weekend duty during the holiday season. The week before Christmas, my father usually takes off of work and is around to help me. Whether it’s from helping me pay my bills because I’m just working constantly or it’s helping people find things on the floor. Restocking cookie cutters. My mother is so amazing at helping people find the correct gift. She understands people very well, so she loves putting together little compilations of things and helping people pick out the right color. It’s quite a family affair during the holidays at Hill’s Kitchen. Perhaps more so than they would like! [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: I think you told me you worked until whatever on Christmas Eve.
DANIELS: Christmas Eve, as long as people are coming in, I’m there. This year at 5:00 or so, the store was quite quiet. I sent home my employee. My mother’s family came to do their Christmas shopping at Hill’s Kitchen. We were all planning on closing down, until at 5:55 a neighborhood store owner, Kathleen [Donahue] from Labyrinth, came running over saying, “Wait, wait I need my Christmas presents!” She was my last customer on Christmas Eve. After that, [we] closed down for a day or two.
DEUTSCH: Changed all the merchandise.
DANIELS: That’s right. That’s right. This year, Valentine’s Day was a Friday night. I got to the store early Saturday morning and made the store from red to green, ready for St. Patrick’s Day. You have to change the front window in the store over to represent the season. But that’s fun too, the complete makeover. Thanksgiving Day is actually the real start of Christmas for us. I actually hold off until Thanksgiving Day to change the store window over. I’m open early on Thanksgiving. I opened at 8:00. I close early. We closed around 2:00.
DEUTSCH: Do you have people coming in to buy a roasting pan?
DANIELS: Absolutely. Thanksgiving morning, 8:00, somebody bought a roasting pan this year. And this past year I had Spring Mill Bakery [701 Eighth St SE] make me up a tray of sticky buns.
DEUTSCH: Ooh, sticky buns. I’ll be there this year!
DANIELS: [Laughs] I gave samples of Spring Mill Bakery sticky buns out to my customers who came in. I had cider going.
DEUTSCH: Oh. Do that again this year.
DANIELS: [Laughs] We had apple cider. It’s a real festive day. I tell people that Thanksgiving is actually one of my favorite days to be open because you’re helping people who are in a panic. So you actually feel like you’re doing a service to the community. But you’re also the neighborhood entertainment, because once you get …
DEUTSCH: People bring their family or bring visiting parents.
DANIELS: Once you get that turkey in the oven, sometimes you get a little bored and you need to get out of the house, so you show off your neighborhood to your family. We then close early. So this year we closed at 2:00. I have to take everything down. We completely flip the store from anything brown and orange and yellow to everything red and green. It is a long day because you’ve got to be ready the next morning with all your Christmas stuff in line. Christmas cocktail napkins are enough to overwhelm you! [Laughter] And that is definitely a family affair as well. My dad helps me sell things on Thanksgiving morning and my mom is the artistic touch on Thanksgiving afternoon, making the store into Christmas. It’s an amazing community day for me.
DEUTSCH: So what’s next for the store? Are there particular challenges coming up? Or any changes?
DANIELS: Well, I think that what’s next for the store is that I’ve decided that, at least for the moment— no doors are closed—but at least for the moment, I don’t want a second store. I actually enjoy being in my store. Managing people is not my favorite part of the business. Interacting with customers is. And being able to listen to them and hear them. So, what’s next for the store is trying to figure out how I can not be there every second of the day. Business-wise, my goal is to try to find a way to find somebody to take over the cooking classes maybe.
DEUTSCH: You mean managing them.
DANIELS: Managing them and making that a project of somebody else’s so I can focus on the store. What’s next really is trying to keep up with the trends. I think owls are out. What’s going to be the next face?
DEUTSCH: Why have owls been so big?
DANIELS: I think that they’re cute and woodsy.
DEUTSCH: But they’ve always been cute and woodsy. Why suddenly is everything owls?
DANIELS: I don’t know, but I’m a little tired of it personally. I’m ready to move on to foxes. Foxes are my things. I hope foxes … I did a fox and hedgehog theme two years ago and it was well received, but people still preferred the owls. So I switched back to owls again. I’m hoping foxes. [Laughter] Birds are always popular. [Laughter] You know, it’s to try keep up with the trends. What are the new cool toys and gadgets? One of my favorite things, that is accessible to anybody, over the past two years, has been ice cubes. Spherical ice molds have been one of my most popular items. It’s quite interesting. And they continue to be popular.
DEUTSCH: Spherical ice cubes? A contradiction in terms.
DANIELS: Of course. That’s right. One of the things that I’ve tried to do with Hill’s Kitchen is to create custom items every year. To find fun things that represent not only…
DEUTSCH: Like the DC cookie cutter.
DANIELS: Exactly. So we’ve done a DC cookie cutter. We’ve done a Capitol Dome cookie cutter. A Washington Monument cookie cutter. We’ve done a DC-shaped cutting board. A Capitol Dome cutting board. We also have cocktail glasses with the shape of DC etched on them. What I’m particularly proud of with that is we have the Anacostia River in it. With molds, like cookie cutters, it has to be an outline. It can’t show the true body of separations of land because of the Anacostia. So when I was able to do the etched glasses, I was able to put in the Anacostia and Haines Point and Teddy Roosevelt Island.
DEUTSCH: That’s nice. I’ll have to go get some of those. Does Chris have any?
DANIELS: I don’t think so.
DEUTSCH: I’ll have to get him some.
DANIELS: Okay. [Laughter]
DEUTSCH: That’s an aside.
DANIELS: But so I need to think about what’s my next custom item going to be.
DEUTSCH: I know you have a lot of DC insignia stuff.
DANIELS: Yes. So we have the flag on a tea towel. We have the flag on a tote bag, a lunch bag. We have other DC towels that have snow globes on them, which I was very excited [about]. The snow globe one has Eastern Market on it. We also have plates and bowls that have different icons of DC. I think that the thing that I have learned from doing all of these DC things is that what people like are neighborhood and community DC rather than Federal DC.
DEUTSCH: National DC.
DANIELS: One of my DC tea towels has elephants and donkeys around the edge, and I really don’t like it. I sell it. I sell it quite well, but to me it’s a tourist towel. That’s not DC to me.
DEUTSCH: DC is home.
DANIELS: Right. And it’s how do you find the things that are iconic of home and DC that are beyond just Capitol Hill? Or if it is Capitol Hill, what is the icon? And the DC flag has been really successful in being that image of what DC as home rather than DC as work is. So it’s the trying to get companies that aren’t in DC to understand what we as a community are.
DEUTSCH: We as DC?
DANIELS: Right. I would love to do something with the Emancipation statue, the Lincoln …
DEUTSCH: At Lincoln Park?
DANIELS: At Lincoln Park. That is iconic to me. Mary McLeod Bethune. That statue really holds significance to me as a community. And if I’m thinking beyond the community, I love the Einstein Memorial. How do you get these images together on a kitchen-related thing of course? [Laughs] To signify what the city and what this community means that people actually want these things in their houses. I sell a whole lot of things that I have no desire of having in my house that have to do with DC. I have a Capitol Dome tea towel that has cherry blossoms around the edge. It’s very pretty, but it doesn’t mean home to me. Meanwhile the DC flag—it’s the same towel and I love it.
DEUTSCH: CHAMPS [Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals].
DANIELS: Yes. I’ve been on the board of it. Julia Robey Christian was the executive director when I started and she really pulled me into being involved with CHAMPS. I grew up with her. She had a lot of sway with me because she was my friend from childhood. CHAMPS is an organization that works to be a resource and support network for small business owners in the community. I really enjoy it because I work alone. Although I have employees, I really am alone. Being able to interact with other small business owners, talk about, oh, this tax question, or what trash service you use. It actually is very helpful. Just the mundane things, as well as the larger questions of how you find employees.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, talking shop.
DANIELS: Right. To people who are in similar situations. CHAMPS has had some problems because Barracks Row and CHAMPS and the business improvement district [BID] all kind of overlapped. I think that it’s a problem with too many people in this community wanting to help. Too many people want to do a fundraiser. Too many people want to work on an initiative. For me, I haven’t been as involved recently as I was right when I opened the store. When I opened the store it was invaluable. And it was and it is exciting to be part of the Hillys, the neighborhood business awards which are voted on by the community. I won the very first Best New Business.
DEUTSCH: What year was that?
DANIELS: The award was given in 2009. November of 2009 was the inaugural Hilly Awards. I distinctly remember standing in Eastern Market, the renovated Eastern Market, in the North Hall being so thankful that I could take my parents to an event and not my parents taking me. It was a coming of age moment for me to be the one who bought the ticket rather than my parents buying the ticket. And the Hillys continue. They were just held at Nationals Park this past year, which I thought was fun because I’m a massive baseball fan.
DEUTSCH: Really! I had no idea. [Laughter]
DANIELS: As I walk in with my Nationals jacket on. [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: Well I guess you’re looking forward to spring.
DANIELS: I certainly am. I actually just bought tickets to go to opening day in New York. My brother lives in New York and I will go up and I will visit with his sons for a day and then we’ll go to the baseball game. Then I’ll head back home that night. Quick trip but worth it.
DEUTSCH: Who do they play in New York?
DANIELS: The Mets. They’re playing the Mets on opening day. I’m very excited actually.
DEUTSCH: So we have an election coming up April 1st for …
DANIELS: It’s coming up soon, really soon actually.
DEUTSCH: The mayoral primary and the City Council. Are you involved in that at all?
DANIELS: I have been involved. I’m not an overtly publicly political person. However I have had really strong interactions with Tommy Wells’ office as a [Ward 6] Council member. He’s been very helpful to me in getting my business up and off the ground as well as whatever snags I’ve hit down the road with tax office and permitting and business licensing. His office has been incredibly supportive of me. So I am supporting Tommy in political materials as well as personally. As well as Charles Allen, who was Tommy’s chief of staff, for Ward 6 Council member. I’m hopeful that he will continue the good work and focusing on the community that Tommy has. It’s kind of neat that Charles was my friend before he was my potential Council member.
DEUTSCH: Did you meet him through Tommy?
DANIELS: You know, it’s one of those “how do you know people?” moments. I think that I met him while Tommy was running for his first campaign out of Riverby Books and I was working at Riverby and I became friends and acquaintances with many people in his campaign. I think that’s how I met Charles. But I also knew Charles when he was dating his now-wife, Jordi. And I remember when their daughter was born. He is socially a friend of mine. It’s quite neat and exciting to see your friends go from the back burners to the limelight. It’s neat. I think that that’s the evolution of the community.
DEUTSCH: Well, speaking of the community, I assume you get inundated with requests for donations.
DANIELS: Every day. Sometimes multiples a day. I think back to Steve and Nicky Cymrot and why they give. I have had to focus my giving just because I get asked for everything under the sun. If you are a school and you are asking me for something, I will give you something. A school in the community. I do support my schools that I have attended as well. It’s funny, when block parties ask me for raffle items, I’m much more hesitant to do that. If you are program within a school or a Capitol Hill Classic, or any of those things, I’m always happy to give to. You probably get a signed ceremony cookbook if you’re American University, but you’ll get something more exciting if you’re a community school. [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: Could you put a numerical figure on how much you donate a year? The value of?
DANIELS: Honestly, off the top of my head, no. But if I looked at my taxes, yes. I’d say that I end up doing $50 to $100 item gift baskets for every school. Some schools have five fund raisers. The Cluster Schools I feel like I’m endlessly giving things to, but, you know, Two Rivers asks me once a year, so they might get a slightly bigger item. I don’t know. Three or four dozen it seems like, at least. Just yesterday, Jan’s Tutoring House and River Park Nursery [School] asked me for donations, so I was able to put little baskets together for each of those.
DEUTSCH: Thank you Leah.
DANIELS: Oh, this was fun.
DEUTSCH: This was fun.
END OF INTERVIEW