Gentrification Good for Some Black Owned Businesses

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Owners at Lee’s Flower Shop say business has grown tremendously in recent years.

WASHINGTON — It is a busy time for Lee’s Flower and Card Shop, just days before Valentine’s Day, when Americans spend $1.9 billion on flowers and 64 percent of men and 36 percent of women give flowes to a significant other. The staff in the shop, located on U Street and 11th Avenue in northwest Washington, is swamped as workers rush tor fill orders for weddings, Valentine’s Day, and other events.

Two blocks away on the corner of U Street and Georgia Avenue, workers at Johnnie’s Florist, another black-owned floral shop in the Shaw neighborhood, are just as hurried.  Business is good. This year, business is better than it has been in a long time as the flood of new residents into the neighborhood, most of them White, have the cash registers at both establishments ringing like never before.

“In the past five years, we have seen business grow tremendously,” said Stacy Lee Banks, a third generation owner of the store her grandparents started in 1945.  “People want fresh flowers for their home, for dinner parties, for dates.

“Because the people of the neighborhood are changing, you have those with eclectic interests. There are more and more people into plants, herbs, and flowers. They have a passion for these things.  So they don’t mind spending.”

Johnnie Harris echoed those sentiments. “We have clients all over the D.C. metro area,” Harris said, “but the new boom in the neighborhood has definitely been a plus.”

In the past five years, U Street and Georgia Avenue have undergone tremendous change as new residents, most of them White, have moved in. Expensive condominiums, renovated homes and businesses, trendy bars, restaurants, and lounges have changed the landscape and demographics of the area.   Some long-time residents sold their homes at a profit and moved to the suburbs or to retirement communities.  Others, however, were forced out by climbing rents or newly constructed high-end housing.

While gentrification has been bad for some, causing businesses to shrink and close, it has been good for Lee’s and Johnnie’s.  “Gentrification has had no effect on my business in a negative way,” said Harris, who has been in business for 20 years. “We have profited for there being changes around the area.”

Lee’s has seen profits double in the past five years, said Lee-Banks, a business graduate of nearby Howard University who began working in the store at age 12.  “Business is booming,” she said.  “At one point, the majority of our customers were half and half, and now it’s mostly White. There is nothing wrong with it.  We accommodate our customers and business is better than ever before.”

Though profits are soaring and business is doing well, Lee Banks said she does have some regrets. “Although I love the new business and customers we receive, it has been bittersweet,” she said, “sweet for us and the business, but bitter for the people of the community who have lost their homes.”