Tuesday, July 10, 2007

DC Economic Refugees Welcome on North Capitol Street

Early this morning I met with Joe Vamboi, the erstwhile owner of Joe's Steak & Egg Restaurant on 9th Street N.W.

Joe is an economic refugee, a symptom of an overbearing and compassionless District of Columbia government. Everywhere Joe looks-- the Mayor's office, Councilman Jim Graham, Ward One advisory neighborhood commissioners, and assorted community leaders --they all pat themselves on the back for having forced Joe to "voluntarily" close his restaurant.

Councilman Graham in particular exerted extreme pressure upon Joe’s Steak & Egg Restaurant due to a June 28 fatal shooting on the premises. You can read an in-depth articles here and here. Graham called for the DCRA to revoke Joe's business license and asked the D.C. attorney general to investigate the business.

Councilman Graham and others in the community seem to believe that businesses exist at the pleasure of government and that no evidence of wrongdoing is needed to close a restaurant on account of violent crimes committed against its customers. Rather than meeting with the business owner and trying to find solutions, Graham decided to slander the business as a "crime magnet" and demand that every regulatory tool of government be used to wipe this small business off the face of the earth.

Joe hired security to cover his store over the weekends, but he couldn't afford full time security. When I asked Councilman Graham what he expected Joe to have done, he wrote that the owner should have hired fulltime security, but at the same time Graham acknowledged that it was unaffordable. Sounds like a version of "If you can't afford to take the heat, get out of the kitchen."

The North Capitol Street corridor between New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue welcomes business owners with an entrepreneurial spirit. While starting a new business in Eckington-Bloomingdale is not an easy task, residents will welcome responsible business owners with open arms—and will open a dialogue if concerns arise. North Capitol Main Street, Inc. provides businesses with assistance on a wide range of matters ranging from developing capital to improving the business interior and facade.

I want business owners everywhere to know that neighbors here are committed to working with businesses to make them better, rather than grinding them under a regulatory heel. Simple respect and decency require nothing less.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Kris, for working to hard and reaching out to exactly the kind of buisnesses N. Cap needs. I hope you're successful at raising the profile of our district and I'm so grateful that you're reaching out to small buisnesses that will give N. Cap character and authentic local flavor!

Anonymous said...

"residents will welcome responsible business owners with open arms—"

except if they are opening strip clubs.

cardozo_shaw said...

Commissioner Hammond, I've heard good things about you from friends that live in your area and I support your attempts to reach out and support small businesses, but before you reach out and embrace Mr. Vamboi, you might want to answer a few things and ask yourself some questions.

Joe's had 3 shootings over the past four month's, the last resulting in Michael Richardson's death. Joe's was widely known throughout the community as a place that dealers and prostitutes strolled in and out of to conduct their business. And yes I have personally witnessed activity of this nature at various times of the day and week.

Given this level of activity on the premises what actions would you take as a business owner to protect your employees and customers?
What about security? I'll agree that hiring security is cost prohibitive for small businesses, however what about security cameras?

Well Mr. Vamboi had them installed, however according to MPD they were not working. Seems like any responsible business owner that had two shootings in his establishment might have checked and made sure that his security was working.

Yes, I have gone into Joe's and left my card trying to reach out to them to get them to participate in meetings for the Hospitality Resource Partnership Pilot program a program designed to help plan, manage and police 24-hour destination areas that is targeted specifically for 9th & U and never heard from him.

So before you reach across North Capital to embrace this poor victim of a business owner, you might want to ask yourself how responsible he will be if he locates in your neighborhood. Irresponsible business owners harm their fellow small business neighbors.

Scott Pomeroy

Kris Hammond said...

Mr. Pomeroy,

Let me start by thanking you for being very involved in your community. Given that you are the former head of the MidCity
Business Association, we share a mutual interest in attracting and maintaining quality businesses in the District.

I didn't issue my statement without conducting the best investigation I could within a short timeframe. Although I disagree with Councilman Graham, he was very responsive. PSA 305 did not respond to my phone call and e-mail. Alex Padro
responded as soon as he could, but it was after I released the statement.

You and I share a common vision, and part ways only in terms of where to draw the line. The District has a reputation for being hostile to business. I believe that a much higher standard should be required to subject a business to the drastic act of closure, an act demanded by Councilman Graham right after the second shooting (I believe there were "only" two shootings, not three).

You focus on the fact that Joe's cameras were allegedly broken. Do we have reason to believe the criminals knew that? If not, then the cameras would not have been a deterrent even if they had worked. And if you've seen the video of the recent Le Droit Park robbery, you'll recall that the bad guys usually wear a disguise, rendering the cameras of little use after the fact.

You left your business card for Joe, but do you know if he received it? Did he understand the worthy program you hoped he would join? I think Joe did need help and he could have made some better choices. If Joe does come to our neighborhood, he'll be in partnership with someone else, and that's going to help a lot.

It's very frustrating to know that progress can be slow. But we must respect the rights of others in order to achieve our objectives. There is much focus on Joe's shortcomings and little focus on the people who pulled the triggers. It is easy to focus our anger on the storeowner who we can see, and yet lose sight of the hitmen who came, fired, and departed, never to be seen again.

I welcome your continued efforts to attract business and to make the District a safe place to live.

Kris Hammond

Anonymous said...

Wow... while I'm glad that you aren't my ANC rep, I am sorry that you are next door to my district! I'd much rather see a secure vacant store front than a crap retail establishment that attracts thugs. Or do you consider 7th Street to be a "thriving and vibrant" corridor?

Kris Hammond said...

Anon #3,

If you lived on or near North Capitol Street, you'd probably rather have a restaurant that you could work to reform than no restaurant at all. Joe seems to be open to reform.

We have zero sit-down restaurants on North Capitol. I suppose that when one has several restaurants in a neighborhood, closing one stirs little regret, given that the vacancy will be easily filled.