Saturday, February 25, 2023

Still Life with Robin: Oh, the Good Old Days (NOT!)

by Peggy Robin

My, how we adore the rosy glow of nostalgia in these visits to the stores and restaurants of old. Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Except when it doesn't.

I don't know why I'm feeling inclined to find some thorns among the roses (I'm usually as willing as the next sentimental fool to wallow in some good, old-fashioned nostalgia. But today, I guess I'm just feeling a little prickly. Let me give you just three examples:
Yenching Palace
Photo by Bill Adler

1. Yenching Palace.
Yes, I know it has a long, storied history. And you got great big platters of northern Chinese cuisine at a very modest price -- but toward the end of its life behind the gleaming turquoise & black facade, there were an awful lot of rodents on the loose! I remember at one big family banquet, staring up at the beams that crossed the ceiling and watching a parade of furry little mice scurrying by. That was the last time I ever ate there.

2. The Cereal Bowl. Maybe you've forgotten about this little breakfast/lunch bar by the Uptown Theater. It wasn't there very long -- and for good reason. Who ever thought it was a bright idea to sell cold cereal in a bowl with milk as if it was something you needed to go to a restaurant to get? And pay regular DC lunch prices for it, too! I wish Shark Tank had been around back in the day, so the sharks could have taken a whack at the whole crazy notion. 

3. The "Soviet Safeway." That's what we called our little Safeway at the corner of Connecticut Ave and Ordway, where the Streets Market is now. It had long lines and not a whole lot of selection. Of course, anyone who's ever been to a store in the waning days of the Soviet Union would have told you the nickname was a misnomer; ANY American food store, no matter how small and limited in scope, was an absolute food paradise compared to any Soviet store (even those special "dollar stores" set aside for shopping by foreigners and high party officials). But we weren't making literal comparisons to the Soviet food shopping scene -- we were comparing it to any other nice, clean, well-laid-out, decent sized grocery store you'd find anywhere else in Maryland or Virginia or even other parts of DC. Our little Safeway felt so sad and neglected -- and its corporate parent, Safeway, finally decided they just didn't want it any more and they announced they were getting rid of it. That spurred a lot of members of the Cleveland Park community into action. We hastily formed a "Save Our Supermarket" committee to try to find a replacement grocery store for the space.

Photo by Bill Adler
(That's me with Mayor Barry
at the Grand Opening in 1987)
Here's where my nostalgia for the good old days finally kicks in: I was on the SOS committee, along with Bill Adler (later to become my husband) and Woodley Park resident Margaret Hare, who became the SOS Committee Chair, -- plus about 200 other hard-working volunteers. We were doing everything we could think of to keep a grocery store in that location, with the most successful approach being to form a research subcommittee to see if we could identify a grocery store owner who would be interested in taking over the space. Our research committee (headed by Bill) found the Shirazi brothers, owners of the Brookville Market in Chevy Chase, MD, who quickly put in a successful bid for the property and within just a few months, opened the Brookville in place of the old Soviet Safeway 

While I have lots of reasons for looking back on the old Brookville Market with nostalgia, I still have to say, our current Streets Market beats it hands down! Sometimes newer really is better!
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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