On My Blocks of Independence: Growing Up at 30th & P in Georgetown
By June 23, 2022 One Comment 292•
On my blocks of independence… buying gum… neighbors helping neighbors… saying goodbye to local havens and hello to new owners…
Growing up near 30th and P Street NW, my first taste of independence came with running “errands” around the block. In my Kindergarten years, I’d venture four doors down to Morgan’s Pharmacy, always greeted with a smile from Maurice as I perused the candy selection at the checkout counter.
Morgan’s has, and remains, my staple for all things. The progression of my age could be seen in the receipts of my account there – gummy worms to chocolate bars, chocolate bars to razors and shaving cream, shaving cream to special hair oil, and now back to chocolate.
As I’ve aged, the pharmacy has too – and quite gracefully. The new store owner, Sahar Kassem, has transformed the corner store with a new bright green “open” sign, Ring camera system, and streamlined aisles with hard-wood floors. She is the young woman with long dark hair and kind eyes managing the pharmacy in the back.
And Maurice is still there, greeting me with a smile and complimentary Ritter’s Chocolate Marzipan squares.
Once I graduated to my pre-teen years, Sara’s Market was my next landmark of independence. I’d take our late lab, Angus, around the corner and up the block until I arrived at the cream colored building and tie him up at the fence next door (more like loosely wedge his leash between wood panels). There I’d enter, and go swiftly to the cookie aisle to purchase Oreos, then a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked flavor from the frozen section and the carton of eggs my mom had requested. I’d use the cash she’d handed me, and if I had any left over, I’d buy a lavish box of Ice Cubes Gum and drop a few pennies in the “take a penny leave a penny” tray. To this day I still don’t really understand how that system works.
I remember the evolution of that storefront. I remember the bars put on the door after a break-in in the early mid- 2000s. I remember when the chime was installed, then the camera. I remember when they added dry cleaning services and when they shortened their store hours. And I remember the yearly changing produce and snack selections, the way they dwindled during Covid, the way my one-stop-store had now become a place I went only to pick up paper towels.
Sara’s Market owners Girma Hailu and his wife, Chuchu, also ran the 7-Eleven a few blocks over for decades. I can still taste the Coca-Cola flavored frozen slurpees in jumbo cups with neon straws after an afternoon sweating at Rose Park. After the store recently closed – in what seemed like a day’s notice – they’ve struggled to manage costs at Sara’s Market, given this abrupt loss and the compounding pandemic.
Beth Hague, a Georgetown resident and interior designer, led a group of neighbors in helping revamp the store. They contributed new drapery hardware and panels for the windows, oatmeal linen curtains, new interior and exterior paint colors and new butcher block countertops.
Today, over a decade older than when I first ventured there, I walked down the frozen food aisle. I was indeed pleased to see they still have a token Ben & Jerry’s flavor – Cherry Garcia – as well as a substantial selection of Jeni’s ice cream. Girma said that when he called Jeni’s to notify them of their closing, they sent a generous re-stock. They normally only supply two flavors to Whole Foods and other chains.
I bought a case of canned margaritas, because I can now, and a pack of gum at the counter. I spoke with Girma about the closing.
“I really tried, but it just doesn’t make sense anymore,” he said. “I love this neighborhood. This place is home.”
He showed me a picture of Sara’s Market in 1915, the year it was founded. He pointed to the steel fridge in the back, to the ceiling fans, to all the details that have remained.
There was no bowl to leave pennies. I checked out with Apple Pay and said goodbye to Girma and the place I’d call home, too.
At 30th and Q, I paid my respects, and I encourage you to do the same.