GMS Vignettes: How Historic Businesses Stick Around in Georgetown

Georgetown is a historic neighborhood, founded before the District of Columbia itself, and throughout its history, has invariably grown and changed over time: eventually becoming a part of Washington, D.C., profiting from shipping businesses created by the canal, and pivoting once the shipping industry moved away.

Few businesses have seen all of Georgetown’s history, but many know what it is like to grow and change over time. W.T. Weaver and Sons, established in 1889; Martin’s Tavern, established in 1933; and Just Paper & Tea, established in 1989, have all stuck around by balancing a commitment to their founding principles and personal relationships with to community with a willingness to adapt and change with the times.

The oldest of the trio, W.T. Weaver and Sons operates as a hardware store, specializing in decorative fixtures for baths and kitchens, and has supplied Dulles Airport and Ford’s Theater with custom made hardware. Brothers Bryce and Mike Weaver own the store, now in its fourth generation of the Weaver family. Martin’s Tavern is in its third generation of family ownership, run by William Martin Jr., and boasts its own rich history featuring the iconic Kennedy booth, where JFK proposed to Jackie, along with other named booths—including one after the late Madeleine Albright—and a classic façade.

Slightly younger than the other businesses, Just Paper & Tea has been owned and operated by Carolyn and Nick Wasylczuk since its founding, but evokes the same feeling of strong and deeply grown roots that Martin’s and Weaver and Sons possess. The store currently offers custom stationary and paper products—especially well known for their wedding invitations—as well as a wide selection tea.

Mike and Bryce Weaver standing in W.T. Weaver and Sons showroom.

The aura of longevity that all these businesses exude is matched by their adaptability. When it was first founded in 1889, W.T. Weaver and Sons was a “pump and harness business,” Mike Weaver says, shaped by the canal and harbor that drove the local economy in the 19th century. Now, Weaver and Sons features high end bathroom and kitchen fixtures, a far cry from the “nuts and bolts” Bryce Weaver says they used to sell, but a fitting evolution as Georgetown grew from shipping hub to luxury shopping district. “What we were selling in 1889 is very different than what we’re selling now.”

The Wasylczuks are no strangers to a change in product. According to Carolyn, “when we started, it was Georgetown paint and wallpaper” alongside faux finishes. During this period, the store was extremely successful, working with Oprah Winfrey and Andrew Lloyd Weber to provide finishes and paint for their homes. But as large corporations like Home Depot moved in, they undercut smaller businesses’ paint and wallpaper prices. Fortuitously, at the time, a nearby paper products shop was closing and Carolyn was a former stationary buyer herself, making paper products an easy addition to the store. “Then it just took off, … and it’s been that way ever since,” says Carolyn. Tea was added slightly later, once the store had transitioned towards paper products.

Just Tea & Paper, a Georgetown classic on O Street.

As products change—or, in the case of Martin’s Tavern, booths are refurbished and menus updated—the heart of these businesses stays the same. For Billy Martin that means “continuity of staff—getting to know who they are, who their families are, being involved in their life.” In fact, this commitment to a personal connection seems to be the through line uniting a restaurant, a hardware store, and a shop for paper and tea products. The Weavers see it the same way: “You can get a faucet anyplace,” says Mike, but “people have figured out that they like to have local sources for things,” adds Bryce, where they can receive guidance and advice from experts they know and trust. This philosophy drives Just Paper & Tea too; Nick Wasylczuk believes that as a small business, especially one the frequently helps with weddings, “we become part of their lives,” and what makes Just Paper & Tea special is the environment they cultivate, where they customer is put at ease because they feel they can trust the business.

Big box and department stores can rise and fall, move in and out of Georgetown like tidewater, but the businesses that remain, that have and will continue to last, are the local ones that know the residents and know their customers. Martin’s Tavern, Just Paper & Tea, and W.T. Weaver and Sons are not historic because of when they were founded, but because of their connections to the community and history of Georgetown.

Billy Martin seated at the Madeleine Albright Booth at Martin’s Tavern.

GMS VIGNETTES brought to you by Georgetown Main Street and The Georgetowner.




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