Photo by John Shore

Roberta Blanchard

Roberta Blanchard opened Fairy Godmother book and toy store on Seventh Street SE in 1984. it's still in operation at the same location over three decades later. Prior to that, she'd had children and became involved in the neighborhood.

Roberta and her husband Jack moved to the Capitol Hill neighborhood in 1972 and soon began renovating a house on Independence Avenue SE. In this interview, Blanchard describes the status of the renovation movement during the 1970s, the neighborhood’s diverse and “quirky” demographic mix of that time, and nearly 50 years of retail development in the area surrounding Eastern Market.

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Interview Date
October 27, 2020
Patricia Adelstein
Nancy Lazear
Elizabeth Lewis

Full Directory

Interview with Roberta Blanchard
Interview Date: October 27, 2020
Interviewer: Patricia Adelstein
Transcriber: Nancy Lazear
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis

photo by John Shore

ADELSTEIN: This is Patricia Adelstein. A-D-E-L-S-T-E-I-N. I am interviewing Roberta Blanchard. She, along with her husband Jack, are the owners of Fairy Godmother book and toy store [319 Seventh Street SE]. We’re going to talk about how she and her husband came to DC, when they opened the store, and some of the changes here at Eastern Market. And today’s date is October 27, 2020.
Roberta, so tell me a little bit about how you got here.
BLANCHARD: We moved from Manhattan to northwest DC, probably in 1972, early ’73. Jack came down to be part of the Environmental Protection Agency under Russell Train …
BLANCHARD: … and he was there for several years, quite a few years. And then he went to the State Department. He has a PhD, I think it’s neurophysiology or neurochemistry. But he was working in the science sections for State and for EPA, and he led the task force for the James River Kepone problem when he first came down with EPA. And then we moved to Capitol Hill. At that time that was a less expensive part of the Hill without going too far out.
BLANCHARD: It was always pretty much intact from the Capitol until Sixth Street, maybe Eighth Street. [That] always remained very safe and expensive.
ADELSTEIN: Right, right.
BLANCHARD: So you had to go out beyond Eighth, and the next cutoff was pretty much 11th Street where that row of Philadelphia row houses are on 11th. And that was still pretty expensive, so we went out further. And then the next cutoff was 13th. We were originally on [Independence between] 13th and 14th. [1326 Independence SE]
ADELSTEIN: Now when was this?
BLANCHARD: Probably 1974. And the houses were larger. As you went closer to the Capitol, the houses were smaller except for East Capitol Street. And we had a house that was quite large. It had a big carriage house and big yard and, I guess, three bedrooms. But at that time a lot of people moved to that particular area with significant renovations in mind.
BLANCHARD: Which took many years. We used a well-known architect, Win[throp] Faulkner, [who] did our plans for our house. Some work was done by Jack; we hired other people. But it was also very difficult to find laborers with the skills that we were used to from New York in this area at that time. And the waiting time was quite long. But there also were a lot of architects that lived on the Hill in that area.
ADELSTEIN: During that time frame.
BLANCHARD: Annie Houston and Andre Houston lived down the street.
BLANCHARD: They did a beautiful renovation on their house. Bob Bell and his wife lived around the corner and they did a really nice renovation.
ADELSTEIN: Bob Bell, uh huh.
BLANCHARD: And then just off the alley—I can’t remember their name, but actually it was a former priest and nun that had bought a property [with] a really big carriage house that they were able to use as separate housing …
ADELSTEIN: Wow, yeah.
BLANCHARD: … because it had an entrance off the alley. So there were big houses and people were doing really nice renovations.
ADELSTEIN: So there was a shift in the neighborhood.
BLANCHARD: Yeah over a number … quite a few years. And Martha and Ray Marble did a house on the street.
ADELSTEIN: I’m sorry, who was that? Martha?
BLANCHARD: Martha Marble and Ray Marble. They’re not on the Hill anymore.
BLANCHARD: But many of these people are. Annie and Andre are still on the Hill.
ADELSTEIN: Well, Andre has passed away.
BLANCHARD: That must be very recent.
ADELSTEIN: Yes it is. Well, less than a year.
BLANCHARD: It is definitely less than a year. Because I know I’ve seen him much closer to that. I didn’t know that.
ADELSTEIN: And Bob Bell?
BLANCHARD: The Bells have left. Well, they’re not on the Hill; I’m not sure about him. But Susan Van Den Toorn was on 11th Street. She’s still on the Hill. Jane Nuland was around the corner. She’s still on the Hill.
ADELSTEIN: Jane Oland?
ADELSTEIN: Nuland, okay.
BLANCHARD: Now some of these people over the years have switched husbands and wives.
ADELSTEIN: [laughs]
BLANCHARD: As some people died or they got divorced and they remarried. Or they’re not married but they’re living, you know, together.
BLANCHARD: And Guy Martin and Nancy Martin were on the Hill. And then there were a number of people with young children at that time, and none of us knew much about taking care of children.
BLANCHARD: So there were some play groups in that area. Of maybe four families and you would alternate houses, and among them were Nancy deKieffer.
ADELSTEIN: Nancy deKieffer?
BLANCHARD: DeKieffer. They’re not on the Hill anymore.
ADELSTEIN: Okay, all right.
BLANCHARD: Her husband came down with, I guess, the Reagan administration. And Becky and Jim Welsh had a really nice house. They were both [in] beautiful houses on Massachusetts Avenue. And they were part of the play group. And the Martins were part of it.
ADELSTEIN: Now is that close to Lincoln Park?
ADELSTEIN: Yeah, yeah it’s beautiful over there.
BLANCHARD: And as a result of that, actually, there weren’t any children’s stores on the Hill. Except eventually there was Cat and the Fiddle, which was a really nice clothing store. [Blanchard later noted that this business eventually became Phineas Frog.]
ADELSTEIN: And when was that?
BLANCHARD: On Seventh Street. I’m not sure when she opened. It was before we opened ours.
ADELSTEIN: On Seventh Street.
BLANCHARD: It’s where Prego is.
ADELSTEIN: Ah. Where what is, I’m sorry?
BLANCHARD: Prego [Deli 210 Seventh Street SE].
ADELSTEIN: Oh, Prego is. Oh, Cat and the Fiddle. I’ve never seen it.
BLANCHARD: It had some other name after that.
BLANCHARD: And Perelucci, which is the women’s store, was a beautiful, beautiful shop [owned from 1968-1981 by Gertrud Hodgson and a silent partner identified by daughter Anne Hodgson on her website as “Lucy.”]. Which is where Clothes Encounters [consignment shop at 202 Seventh Street SE] is now.
ADELSTEIN: Right, right.
BLANCHARD: But it was hard for them to survive because there wasn’t the mass of people living in the area to buy enough. It’s the same as you hear now.
BLANCHARD: There just aren’t enough people living on the Hill to support various kinds of shops. So Nancy decided she would have sort of a by-invitation gathering of friends at her house. I think we did it once a week or every two weeks or twice a week. And I would bring children’s books and take orders for them, and she would bring various toy vendors with items and take orders for them. So it wasn’t exactly a store but it was sort of a store.
ADELSTEIN: So this was before the store?
BLANCHARD: Oh yeah. And that was how it started.
ADELSTEIN: In your house, or you would bring them over.
BLANCHARD: No it was her house. It was her house. On Massachusetts Avenue.
ADELSTEIN: Okay, got it.
BLANCHARD: And at that time also there really weren’t babysitters, so you had the Capitol Hill babysitting co-op.
BLANCHARD: Where someone would call and say, “Could you come over for four hours?” And then you got a [paper] chit for that time to use [for babysitters for your own children]. A lot of us acquired a lot of chits because people wanted sitters but there weren’t any places to go.
ADELSTEIN: In the area.
BLANCHARD: Unless you went …
ADELSTEIN: … over to Northwest …
BLANCHARD: … to a movie. Yeah, and then you had to use [many chits], you were gone a long time.
ADELSTEIN: Right, right.
BLANCHARD: And there was also the cooperative playschool and cooperative nursery school which was at the church on, I guess, A Street, Sixth and A [later confirmed to be at Capitol Hill Baptist Church at 525 A Street, NE].
ADELSTEIN: Was that Miss Frances [Slaughter*]?
BLANCHARD: I think eventually many, many years later she did it, but she was not the original part.
ADELSTEIN: Okay. Who started that?
BLANCHARD: It was started from us in the Capitol Hill babysitting co-op.
ADELSTEIN: Right, right.
BLANCHARD: And then it expanded, there were some other babysitting co-ops and other things. But it was in the church, and you had to think of an activity. You had to bring snacks for, I think, probably maybe eight children. I don’t think there were more than that. And it was two days a week, I think. Those were the two year olds and the three year olds. And it was only I think two hours. I don’t think it was more than that. And then it became the Capitol Hill Co-op[erative] Nursery School and we hired a teacher. So it was a teacher and a parent. But again, it was maybe one additional day, maybe that was two days a week for a few hours.
ADELSTEIN: But it was all a collection of mothers or parents who got together to pull this …
BLANCHARD: Yes, except we did hire …
ADELSTEIN: Finally hired somebody, a teacher.
BLANCHARD: But the parents were always in control of it. And responsible. And we paid for it. We had to pay the rent to the church, we had to pay for supplies, and that was how it worked for a long time. And then I think other groups started on the Hill because there really weren’t many options for childcare and most of us really didn’t want more than a few hours with these little kids. Now people put two-year- olds in all day, but we did not want to do that.
ADELSTEIN: Right, right.
BLANCHARD: So that was the co-ops. And then the same group pretty much got together to work on using Peabody [School], which is what was needed. The turnaround in most of these schools … You had to have a significant core of parents, maybe ten or 15 families, that would really look after what was going on in the school and contribute money and time to help out. So quite a few of us went to Peabody, which was then Pre-K through second. And there were some wonderful teachers. Lois Kauffman was there for quite a few years, and both our son and daughter had her. She was Pre-K and K. And there was also someone, Debbie, I can’t remember her last name, who was a really wonderful first grade teacher. And at that point, by second grade, most people started to leave because the schools weren’t very good.
BLANCHARD: There wasn’t much in the way of private school, but we had spent so much money renovating our houses that we couldn’t afford private school, that was for sure. And Capitol Hill Day School at that time was very small. It was in the basement of a church.
ADELSTEIN: So this was about, what, late 70s that you are talking about?
BLANCHARD: Well, let’s see, Kara was born in ’79, so by second grade it was about ’85, ’86, somewhere around there. I mean, we started to use Peabody when Elliott was in preschool, so that’s early 80s probably.
ADELSTEIN: Right. And that was before the Reggio [Emilia Pre-School] program at Peabody?
BLANCHARD: Oh yeah, it was way before that. And that whole use of the attic was way after the transition over to Watkins because then you had [Veola Jackson] [as] the principal.
BLANCHARD: And then she ended up with all three schools [the Capitol Hill Cluster Schools are Peabody, Watkins, and Stewart-Hobson], which was not really easy to make function. So parents would move to Virginia or Northwest because there was Janney and Stoddert and another school on Reno Road, all of which … .
BLANCHARD: Deal was down further, but people did go to Deal. But I think the grades were a little higher. I don’t think it was second and third grade.
ADELSTEIN: Well, there’s Eaton …
BLANCHARD: John Eaton, right. And Lafayette, which was much bigger. And so for quite a while, people really didn’t use the public schools as much. I mean, there was a big attempt to move from Peabody and then put the kids in Watkins, and then a core group would go over to Stuart Hobson. Which did work for a number of years. I can’t say anything about it because my children didn’t make that transition. Kara only stayed at Watkins the first year and then a lot of people left. It was just a really bad transition year.
ADELSTEIN: They went to independent schools after that?
BLANCHARD: Yep, yep. Elliott was out by second grade. His teacher at Peabody said, “You’ve got to get him out. He just won’t survive here.” There was a big movement not to allow tracking. And so, if your child was really ahead of some of the group, they wouldn’t work at their level, they would make them teach another child. And it was not satisfactory.
BLANCHARD: And then when he was in first grade, I guess—it must have been first grade—he would finish his work earlier and they wouldn’t allow him to bring a book. I had said, “Just bring a book to read.” They just gave him extra homework, which you know was not really very satisfactory. At any rate, so you had that sort of gap for a while where people were leaving at about second grade. And then many, many years later you had families do the same with Brent where they got together sort of en masse and put a lot of time and effort into the school, and Maury now also. But that’s really what it took. An active parent-teachers group and contributions, financial contributions, which now I’m not sure you’re allowed to do.
ADELSTEIN: I don’t know.
BLANCHARD: But anyway, so that’s the school system.
ADELSTEIN: So there was a shift in neighborhood, people came to the area, you know, to develop, build lovely interiors and exteriors and then many felt like the education wasn’t good enough and moved on to either Virginia or Maryland or somewhere else after second grade.
BLANCHARD: Yeah, but a lot of people stayed on the Hill as I mentioned. I mean, many of the families are still here.
ADELSTEIN: Yep, that’s right.
BLANCHARD: Many of them went to the Day School, Capitol Hill Day School. And many of them taught at Capitol Hill Day School. Otherwise, there were carpools from the Hill to Georgetown Day School and NCS [National Cathedral School] and St. Albans. So they stayed on the Hill but the children went to school off the Hill.
ADELSTEIN: Okay, so go ahead.
BLANCHARD: And at that time Seventh Street was … Well, where Radici [Italian market] is now [303 Seventh Street SE] was a laundromat called The Tubs, which was there for a long time because … Bob Schramm bought that building. He’s a well-known lobbyist and still on the Hill. I don’t know if they live on the Hill but he has his office on Stanton Park. They bought it, and his wife [Nancy Williams] put a dress shop in there for a few years, but again, there weren’t enough people to support it. And then—what was the group, the Tibetan groups that were always out playing their music asking for donations …
ADELSTEIN: Falun [Gong]?
BLANCHARD: I don’t remember what it was. Anyway, they wanted to buy the building.
BLANCHARD: And instead, Stanton Development bought it because it would have impacted the other properties they owned on the Hill on that block. And they have had it ever since. But where the Forecast is, or was now [218 Seventh Street SE; the store closed permanently in 2018], she started with a small leather goods shop about two doors down which was very nice. And at the same time as I said, Perelucci was there and Cat and the Fiddle was there. [Blanchard later noted that Pamela Barkley, a dress shop, was also on that side of the street.]
ADELSTEIN: And the antique place on the corner [Antiques on the Hill, 701 North Carolina Avenue SE]?
BLANCHARD: That was there, yeah. Her mother was there. Gina [Sangster*]’s mother [Libby Sangster] had that for many, many years and that was really very nice. And then you had, where Tunnicliff’s is [222 Seventh Street SE], antiques also. It was [all] sort of things, you know. Buildings were being torn down. And then there was Hine [Junior High School, 310 Seventh Street SE. Redeveloped in 2015]. Oh, and then there was Kresge’s [666 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Redeveloped in 1987].
ADELSTEIN: Oh yeah, Kresge’s.
BLANCHARD: On the other side on the corner, Kresge’s. They also had a soda fountain.
ADELSTEIN: There was a Safeway there at one point.
BLANCHARD: It was basically sort of, not [where] the Forecast is, probably the building next to it, maybe where the …
ADELSTEIN: Right, right, the clinic [Medstar Health Urgent Care is at 228 Seventh Street].
BLANCHARD: That was the Safeway [at 228 Seventh Street SE from 1940 until 1986], which apparently, financially made the most money per square foot but it was small. It was convenient. You could buy dry goods there and go into the Eastern Market and buy all your fruits and vegetables. It actually worked quite well.
ADELSTEIN: So how did the store play into that? Your starting the store. What prompted you to start the store?
BLANCHARD: Well, as I said, I was doing it with Nancy deKieffer out of her place. And we were watching for some properties, and the building Yarmouth is in [309 Seventh Street SE] went up for sale, but that sold quickly. We had bought our house from Barbara Held and she owned the property where the store is, and so they let us know when that was becoming available.
BLANCHARD: But I had spent a number of years before then learning the book business and working with book reps and publishers. So it was difficult because the kids were still in school but they could use the upstairs. You know, they were dropped off after school and did their homework and whatever they had to do. The upstairs was really an apartment.
ADELSTEIN: And what year did you open?
BLANCHARD: I think ’85.
BLANCHARD: Yeah, we’ve had it since then.
ADELSTEIN: It’s a wonderful asset to the community.
BLANCHARD: Well, thank you. It’s the same problem for all the small businesses, though. There’s just not enough people to keep these really afloat well. I mean, you have to like what you’re doing and work hard and know you’re not going to make much money doing it.
BLANCHARD: But of course, that’s before all the online shopping and the big box [stores]. I don’t know if you remember there was a beautiful antique shop where Dawn Price Baby [325 Seventh Street SE, closed in 2018] was for a few years.
ADELSTEIN: Yeah, I don’t remember that.
BLANCHARD: I think it was Tom and Terry, I can’t remember exactly their names. [They] put in a really beautiful [store]. It was French antiques, and the hope was that interior designers would come down to the Hill to look, and of course they never did. And Northwest people still don’t come down here often, which was a problem when the crime accelerated in the 80s. They would always write stories about all these shootings in Southeast but they would never mention the street area was mostly across the river or other areas rather than Capitol Hill. So it really scared a lot of people to come down here.
ADELSTEIN: Did you feel the change in environment between the 70s and by the time you opened your shop? I mean, did you feel like crime was higher in the 80s, in the early 80s?
BLANCHARD: Oh it was always pretty high. But yes, it went up more. It was probably when crack cocaine was around.
BLANCHARD: But also there were just a lot of drugs. I mean, we could hear people running over the rooftop of our house on Independence Avenue and the police used to say [that] they were coming out of one through the transoms on the roof and running across and taking it to down into another house and someone [was] picking it up or they were selling it.
There used to be a really nice event called Market Day, which was run by Friendship House once a year. And it was very much a family event and there were tables of nice quality food and merchandise and pony rides in the parking lot at Hine. And they put up a music stand at the end of Seventh and Pennsylvania and it was folk music and things. Until one year, I think it was when Marion Barry was here, all of a sudden the music was basically almost strippers gyrating and half-naked on the stage and that was the last year, the last year of Market Day. It really was awful.
ADELSTEIN: Well, how was your clientele? It sounds like you hung in there with the number of people that you got and you managed to stay in the neighborhood. What’s changed about your work? I mean, as far as who the clientele is, I guess.
BLANCHARD: Well, also if you talk to any people who moved here when we did, it was a much, much artier, funkier neighborhood, which is why we moved here. It was the closest thing to Greenwich Village that ever existed in this area. And there was a large gay element with some of the bars, and it was much quirkier.
As time has gone on, the renovations are not probably as interesting because the houses cost so much more that there isn’t a lot of extra money to put into them. Often, the houses were done … The first renovation maybe was in the 70s, and then they were sort of updated again in the 80s, with the kitchens needing updating. Because the original changes were so significant—I mean, you had to redo all the plumbing, wiring, heating—and so the next go-round was a bigger upgrade. But it’s a much different group living here now.
ADELSTEIN: What was it like that first year you were in the shop?
BLANCHARD: In the shop? Or living on the Hill?
ADELSTEIN: In the shop. You know, how did it feel to be one of the few stores on that street? I don’t know.
BLANCHARD: But there were other stores. There was Kresge’s and there was the Forecast and there was the Cat and the Fiddle and there was … . I mean there were shops all along.
ADELSTEIN: Yeah, and there [were] the Eastern Market vendors I would imagine.
BLANCHARD: Which was always there, yeah. And there was a kitchen shop, I think where Quavaro [leather goods store] is now [323 Seventh Street SE]. That was a kitchen shop and a gift shop. So there were always businesses. They were just small, and they stayed a few years, or they stayed because they liked to do it or they left and then the rents went up and somebody else came in. Which is the biggest problem now because the rents are absurd on a lot of those small buildings. Now even when some of these projects were started—for example, where the Prompt Care [MedStar Health Urgent Care, 228 Seventh Street SE] is—that building, those were supposed to be retail shops. I mean, there are agreements that are done when buildings are proposed and zoning changes are asked. That was supposed to have been retail and they never put retail in.
ADELSTEIN: Where was this again, I’m sorry?
BLANCHARD: Where the homecare [Foundation for Hospice and Homecare, 228 Seventh Street SE] building is.
ADELSTEIN: Oh, oh. Well, I think they’ve got retail in it now. Right? Or no, no, you’re right, you’re right, they don’t.
BLANCHARD: It was a bank and something else. You know, the man who owned it didn’t want retail in it and it’s his property.
BLANCHARD: But that was part of the original agreements, the same with the Hine project. That was not supposed to be as I recall from … . Market Row used to have our own meetings, which were the shops on Seventh Street between Pennsylvania and the Market. And often things would be discussed by developers or report what was coming up. And as I recall in the Hine project, originally the basement was going to be the Shakespeare Theater. And then the big recession hit and their donors stopped donating money and they couldn’t do it anymore. So there were various plans put forward for those spaces, but as I recall, there were not supposed to be any national chains going in there. If it was a chain, it had to be local with no more than I think than three locations. So they put Trader Joe’s in [750 Pennsylvania SE].
ADELSTEIN: And Orangetheory [Fitness, 330 Seventh Street SE].
BLANCHARD: And Orangetheory. And then the banks. So there really isn’t any retail over there. And now they’re putting in that huge three-restaurant complex on the corner of the project at C and Seventh which is basically the same food that Radici is selling and Acqua [Al 2, 212 Seventh Street SE. Restaurant that closed in 2020] was selling and, in my opinion, that’s not necessary. They could have put in some other nationality type food there, it didn’t have to be Italian that’s going in. But at any rate, there’s no retail over there at all which it was supposed to [have].
ADELSTEIN: Well when you think of kind of the golden era of Eastern Market, has it passed?
BLANCHARD: Well, I think some of us who have been here a long time realize that actually the Glasgows* in some ways saved that Market, although they always get criticized for not running it well or properly. But it was in terrible shape. It easily could have ended up the way the one did in Georgetown; it was all fast food and it has closed since then. But they always had good quality fish and meat and the vegetables were in there and the Calomirises* were there. And it really is unique and we’ve always shopped there.
ADELSTEIN: No, I love Eastern Market. The kids grew up with Eastern Market.
BLANCHARD: Everyone always complains about the Glasgows not taking care of it, not paying rent for years, but there was also John Harrod* who didn’t pay rent for years …
ADELSTEIN: And who is he? John Harrod?
BLANCHARD: He had the North Hall. It was supposed to have been an arts and crafts or something but that went on for years with court cases because he wasn’t paying any rent or he was paying very little. And then he started the flea market with [Tom Rall*].
BLANCHARD: Yeah. [Tom Rall] I think was the beginning part, but somehow it was in combination with John Harrod and it got kind of nasty.
BLANCHARD: And there was another flea market in the Hine group which had really good quality furniture and things when they started. And Dan [Donahue*] from Agora Farms was part of that and others. And it all got complicated and kind of nasty and dissolved, as well as the other projects and problems with John Harrod, who was protected very well by the city for many years.
ADELSTEIN: Let me make sure I understand. First at Eastern Market, obviously the market itself has been ongoing since it started, right? I mean that’s one of its heritage parts, it’s been sustaining. And then they started selling produce outside on Saturday mornings? Is that what happened? And then they started the flea market? Is that, was that kind of the sequence?
BLANCHARD: Well, the indoor market was always there. And then I don’t know why the city expanded it outside. Because that is semi-competitive. It was supposed to only have been locally grown produce outside under the shed, which often isn’t the case. If you see a pineapple, it’s not locally grown.
ADELSTEIN: Right, right. Or a banana.
BLANCHARD: And then the flea market. It had some interesting vendors. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. It was supposed to have been craft for the most part, arts and crafts vendors who made their own things rather than a lot of clothing from India or socks and sunglasses, which happened a lot in the flea market at Hine. So that has always been a difficult combination. But you recall the fire at the market. Now also there were always these big meeting groups about the Eastern Market, necessary improvements and what to do with it. I mean it went on for 20 years! And various groups would be paid a lot of money to do analyses of the Market and what they thought should be done. Then there were local people. Jack [Blanchard, her husband] was on a couple of those committees, as well as a lot of these older people, and then nothing was ever done. And in the meantime, the city would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these reports …
ADELSTEIN: … on these studies, yeah.
BLANCHARD: … and never did anything. So nothing got done until really after the fire. And I think if Mayor [Adrian] Fenty hadn’t been the mayor at that time, I’m not so sure the Market would have been rebuilt. I mean, he stepped in right away, and the refrigerator trucks were brought in so that the vendors could still work outside. But that made them put in the air conditioning and change the wiring and the heating that they had talked about for 35, 40 years. So that stabilized it.
ADELSTEIN: Now when did the crowds come on the weekend? I mean, it seemed to me that …
BLANCHARD: That’s the flea market. Mike Berman* is Sunday with Diverse Markets [Management]. I think originally he had sort of one or two flea markets, the Hine playground and something else. He actually has a lot of flea markets, and people have done financial guesswork as to how much it brings in. It’s a very lucrative business.
ADELSTEIN: So, help me understand. He owns the flea markets?
BLANCHARD: He owns something called Diverse Market[s Management] now. That’s now the name of his group. And they run now … Well, it only expanded to Seventh Street in the last year or two which I didn’t want. A number of us are not happy about it expanding into a private street, and we’re private businesses and it’s closed down the street and access to our businesses.
ADELSTEIN: Right. That just happened fairly recently.
BLANCHARD: It’s a couple of years ago. And apparently it was illegal. People have looked into the legality of which mayor at the time gave them access to the street. I think it was for three months or six months or something and that time is long ago expired. And then they just said they could do it by fiat, so there’s always been a question whether it’s even legal to have closed the 300 block of Seventh Street.
But then the city gave—I guess it’s DMPED [Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development] is the group, I’m not too sure of some of this—I think it’s DMPED really [that] is in charge maybe of the Market and the flea markets, which is on Saturdays managed by Barry Margeson*, who manages Eastern Market for DMPED. And they are the ones who let the leases on those … The specifics I am not sure of so I’m not going to say any more about it.
ADELSTEIN: I remember [vendors], this was way back in the 80s, lining up to get a place in the Market. You know, outside. And I thought they were paying the Glasgows but I guess I was wrong.
BLANCHARD: That was probably Harrod, John Harrod. Because then for a few years he worked with [Tom Rall] and they had these big hefty—we used to call them goons—that would go about and, you know, make sure it went their way.
ADELSTEIN: Oh geez. [laughs]
BLANCHARD: There’s been a lot of discussions about the quality of the flea markets, and I think it’s a little better this year than it was, but it’s a huge moneymaker. When there was a question of losing the flea market because of the Hine playground, it looked as though with the signs that the poor Eastern Market flea market people were being put out of business. But in fact, the loss would have been to Mike Berman rather than the vendors particularly.
ADELSTEIN: I see. I see.
BLANCHARD: So it would have been a big loss to him as well as the individual vendors. But, um, it is what it is. [laughs]
ADELSTEIN: Yeah, and you’re still here.
BLANCHARD: We’re still here. In the meantime, we’ve had the house on Independence Avenue for ten or 12 years or whatever. The other thing that happened was [that] these huge renovations often weren’t finished because people ran out of money before they were finished, and they had to sell the houses in order to pay back the mortgages and then go elsewhere.
BLANCHARD: That was not so uncommon. I mean, I think we put in at least $230,000 into that house which in 1970s, early 80s, that was a lot of money.
ADELSTEIN: Absolutely, yeah, yeah.
BLANCHARD: I think we moved every wall in the house and we put a clerestory in. Everything was top of the line, but you always had to go to New York for the most part to find most of the tile and bath fixtures and all because they didn’t exist down here.
ADELSTEIN: What are your thoughts about all the apartments coming up around Eastern Market?
BLANCHARD: Eastern Market? Or are you also including Navy Yard, Potomac Avenue and all of that?
ADELSTEIN: Well, I guess either one for that matter. I mean, it makes it different for our generation.
BLANCHARD: I don’t know who they think is going to fill all those apartments.
ADELSTEIN: [laughs] Yeah.
BLANCHARD: Especially down around Potomac Avenue. I think people are moving in down there not as much knowing the history of the area as perhaps some of us do.
ADELSTEIN: Yeah, yeah. And they don’t care I guess in some ways.
BLANCHARD: Well, it just wasn’t safe, but now that the other Safeway opened again, I think it is safer than it was years ago. But Mangialardo’s* [Italian Deli, 1317 Pennsylvania SE] is still there.
ADELSTEIN: I know, I know [laughs]
BLANCHARD: What I recall vividly is when we moved here the subway wasn’t here, so while that was being constructed over many years you always saw Mangialardo’s was filled with policemen. They all had their lunch there and all the people working on it …
ADELSTEIN: The G Man, they had a G Man sub [sandwich].
BLANCHARD: They still do. Which is what I get.
ADELSTEIN: Yeah, we went … Well, what shift did you see after the Metro came in? I mean, there must have been …
BLANCHARD: Well, for myself, when I first moved here, even the profession I worked in was very different down here. It was way behind what we were working on in New York or the interpretation. So I worked in Northwest for a little while. When we moved here I really wanted to work at NIH [National Institutes of Health] but the bus trip from Capitol Hill to NIH would have been horrific. I mean, it was bad enough just going up to Northwest and then changing on two buses.
ADELSTEIN: What was your field? I’m sorry I didn’t hear.
BLANCHARD: Research assistant in medicine in a couple of different fields. Which is why I’ve always had a heavy science section in the store. I mean, science and biology and history are of great interest to me.
BLANCHARD: But then after we were here, we went down to North Carolina for two years because Jack had a job down there. And then we happily left North Carolina. But at that point the schools were really not good enough for Elliott to go back into high school here, so we ended up in Chevy Chase for a number of years.
BLANCHARD: We always had the store, but there were a number of years that …
ADELSTEIN: … you were somewhere else.
BLANCHARD: We were in Chevy Chase in a big house up there.
BLANCHARD: And then the kids went back to Georgetown Day School anyway eventually. And then they went on and graduated from college, and we happily—at least for me—got rid of the house and moved back to the Hill. I had seen this apartment ten years before, before we moved into it, before it was available.
ADELSTEIN: Right, right. You knew it was coming. It just seems like our generation is going to hang out in this area even after our kids are gone, now that our kids are gone.
BLANCHARD: Oh I think so. I mean, it’s perfect. The subway is a big plus or we can walk down to the Capitol or we can walk down to the museums.
BLANCHARD: And the Eastern Market for us is still terrific. I don’t think a lot of the younger newer people really value small businesses. I mean, you can go in as we do and say, “I want half a pound of salmon,” and they’re good at cutting it and that’s what you get—half a pound of salmon. As opposed to going into a supermarket and …
ADELSTEIN: … and getting a package.
BLANCHARD: … getting a big piece.
BLANCHARD: Or you have to get two giant pieces of chicken breast. The Eastern Market is hard to shop in if you’re buying for family of four because it is a little more expensive. But for all of us, it’s great because we can buy what we need when we need it and it’s all very fresh and it’s very good.
ADELSTEIN: It’s very convenient. Yeah, it’s perfect. Okay, well is there anything else you’d like to add, any other bits of information …
BLANCHARD: No. It will be interesting to see what happens. You know, we talked about some of the other places that were on the Hill. What was the bakery? Oh, Sherrill’s [233 Pennsylvania Avenue SE] was there.
ADELSTEIN: Oh right, right.
BLANCHARD: Which is gone. So a lot of those stores are disappearing. I mean, they’re all becoming bars, and as I mentioned at the very beginning there was a big gay population which then mostly moved up to Shaw and that area.
ADELSTEIN: Logan Circle.
BLANCHARD: Yeah, which was, it was a nice quirky mix of people and now I think it’s mostly young professionals. I think with the newer buildings, apartments, you’re getting more single people but I they don’t spend a lot of time on the Hill. I don’t know, it’s different. I mean, it’s certainly safer and easier to live here. And a lot of the older, our generation are either coming back or staying here.
ADELSTEIN: Uh huh, yeah. My daughter came back but I don’t know how long she’ll be here.
BLANCHARD: Well, you don’t need to use a car much either.
ADELSTEIN: No, she doesn’t own a car, she doesn’t want to drive so … Yeah, it’s a great city for that kind of thing. Okay …
BLANCHARD: Well, thank you.
BLANCHARD: I’m sure I missed a lot but …