Locally Owned

July 26, 2011

Local businesses are few and far between these days. Each has its own folklore and flavor, and collectively they carry the history of their communities with them. Through the years, the owners of our shops, markets and restaurants have become the keepers of Georgetown’s stories. We hope everyone supports our local businesses, for without our support, they will surely disappear, and with them would go our personal history.

Bartleby’s Books: a book lover’s haven in danger

Bartleby’s Books is a store for book lovers, for people who get chills while running their fingers along the spines of dusty classics. There are no shiny advertisements for the latest beach read, but with a little bit of searching you can find some true literary gems. Bartleby’s Books sells rare and antiquarian books, as well as used books. It is a hot spot for both avid rare book collectors and those interested in simply finding a good read. The joy of Bartleby’s Books, as John Thomson, one its owners so aptly described it, is, “The ability to go into the stacks…and make discoveries on your own.”

The owners of the store, Karen Griffin and John Thomson, are a bookish pair. They have been in the business of selling books for 26 years. Their shop has moved around quite a bit but is now nestled on 29th Street. John and Karen have both always loved books, and as their store evolved, they found themselves focusing on progressively more rare books. Karen’s eyes lit up as she carefully showed me some of their more prized acquisitions, including a volume of Henry Thoreau’s writings containing a handwritten manuscript. Their store is part of the Antiquarian Book Sellers of America, and as such they have sold books to Georgetown University, the Library of Congress, as well as many private collectors. The collectors who come into Bartleby’s Books have diverse interests. “We learn from our customers,” says John, “because they are passionate about what they are interested in.”

During our interview, I watched John and Karen chat with a customer, sharing in his delight over a time-worn brochure. They answered his questions and offered recommendations. It was clear that they just love putting people and books together. Watching them interact with their customer reinforced just how unique this small business is. After spending just an hour with the owners of Bartleby’s Books, my heart ached to think that the shop will most likely be forced out of its current location when its lease expires in July 2011. Their landlord intends to replace the quiet elegance of Bartleby’s Books with a restaurant. It is unfortunate that Georgetown will lose this cultural jewel in favor of yet another dime-a-dozen eatery. Stores like Bartleby’s Books preserve the charm and personality of Georgetown.

If forced out of its current location, Bartleby’s Books will most likely retreat to the Internet. The literary treasures housed in Bartleby’s Books and the wealth of knowledge of its owners simply cannot be translated to a webpage. Searching for books on the internet also deprives the readers of the opportunity to peruse, to stumble upon great books. The loss of Bartleby’s Books will be a tragedy for the community. [gallery ids="99419,99420" nav="thumbs"]

Chadwicks: A Sense of Home in a Busy City

December 8, 2010

Chadwicks is a true neighborhood saloon, with the tradition, clientele, and warmth to prove it. It’s the type of local restaurant that chains attempt to emulate with manufactured charm. Yet, upon walking through Chadwicks’ doors, you gain a sense that it’s the real deal. From the homemade paper snowflakes dangling merrily above the bar, to its welcoming wait staff, the restaurant exudes the affable atmosphere one looks for in such an establishment.

Since 1967, when Chadwicks first opened, Georgetown has transformed into a bustling college town—home to affluent politicians and busy streets crowded with restaurants and designer clothing stores. Despite the frenzied evolution, Chadwicks has remained frozen in time, a beloved reminder of the past.

Tom Russo, owner of the Georgetown institution, is a proud part of its rich history. He first worked there during his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University. Russo’s face broke into a nostalgic grin as he revealed, “I’m a Hoya,” and it was easy to imagine him as a Chadwicks regular during his college years.

Beginning as a bus boy, Russo climbed his way through the ranks. After completing business school, he returned to his old haunt and eventually became a partner in 1986. As he puts it, he simply “fell in love with a girl, fell in love with the city, and stayed here.”

Over the years, Russo has watched the Georgetown neighborhood grow, but he remains at ease in his second home because, as he says, “Chadwicks is a place I would like to hang out in.”

In the last 25 years, competition has exploded in Georgetown. Russo laments how DC tourists often avoid local restaurants in favor chain names they recognize. Were it not for Chadwicks’ loyal patronage, it would be unable to compete. Fortunately, the familiar environment attracts plenty of locals, who order the same burger they’ve been enjoying for years.

Whereas restaurant chains rely on a center of operations located in some far-flung city, Chadwicks lacks these bureaucratic hang-ups. The saloon’s strength lies in its ability to provide the same quality and service it has for years. This constancy is not lost on Georgetowners, who can appreciate seasoned charm.

Chadwicks serves an assortment of classic American food, and is well known for its burger. Russo relates how lost souls wander in for the first time in 40 years to inquire if it still serves its famous clam chowder (The answer is a resounding yes, by the way.). Running from 4 to 7 on weekdays, the bar’s Happy Hour specials are favorites with professionals and students alike. What’s more, every Saturday and Sunday Chadwicks features a champagne breakfast, where the bubbly is unlimited, and the burritos are massive.

For the entire hour I sat with Russo, he greeted every lunch guest by name. His manner is impressively genuine as he asks each one, “How are you?”

The restaurant has no robotic hostess uttering her practiced, impersonal greeting. Guests here are met with a sincerity that Russo notes, “makes them feel at home.” It’s that sensation of being warmly received, of a homecoming, that makes Chadwicks unique. [gallery ids="99575,104858" nav="thumbs"]