Wells to the street to protest closing of MLK Library (but Mayor Gray finally found his Mayoral-ness)
Not everyone is taking the Sunday closing of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library sitting down. This Sunday, the first that MLK will be closed, Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-6) will speak at a rally outside the downtown library at 901 G Street NW at 1 PM.
While local media has cited the empathy deficit and inconsistency by the Mayor and City Council to the plight of the libraries, Wells, is nonetheless optimistic. “I find that most of my colleagues are sympathetic to the need, and I’ll continue to push to find the funds needed.”
In a vacuum of organized opposition to the library’s closing the rally is being convened by the DC Library Renaissance Project. “Budget hearing testimony from every ward was not enough to make clear to this particular government that residents want their libraries open more hours, not fewer—especially in difficult economic times,” says Robin Deiner, Executive Director of the Renaissance Project. “Sunday’s rally has become necessary to achieve that understanding with our officials.”
Though supporting funding for libraries might seem as wholesome as apple pie, some library advocates point to reasons why it’s not a top priority for city leaders. At a campaign forum last fall, former Washington City Paper and Washington Post reporter Elissa Silverman asked candidates if they supported restoring money for Sunday hours at MLK as well as to show the audience their DC library cards. Not one candidate—including now At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange—had a borrower’s card in their wallet
Library hours back and forth
Under Mayor Fenty, in the fall of 2009 Sunday hours at all 24 branch libraries were eliminated while MLK Library would stay open on Sunday, because of its accessibility to metro.
According to internal figures from the library, costs of keeping MLK open on Sundays and branch libraries during the school year are manageable. The cost of keeping MLK open Sunday, from 1pm to 5pm, all year is $316,000. To keep 11 of the 24 branch libraries open on Sunday, May to September, would cost $365,853. Included in the 11 libraries are one in each ward plus one additional library in wards 7 and 3.
All neighborhood libraries were open Sunday, September through May from October 2007 to October 2009. The city’s fiscal year begins October 1st. To keep all neighborhood libraries open Sundays, from September to May would cost $713,215 and to keep 11 neighborhood libraries open Sundays all year would cost an estimated $487,804.
Furthermore, the capital budget has provided for not only brand new or renovated libraries across the city to open – that are then not open on Sundays – but for a RFP to“complete the Interior Improvements to the Business Science and Technology Reading Room and the Great Hall” to hit the street. The renovation of MLK is historic and laudable, but at the apparent cost of public access is legitimately questionable and ineffectual.
Sunday’s Last Hour
Last Sunday’s fateful final hour passed slowly. Many of the people I spoke with had only just learned the library would be closed on Sundays.
“It’s terrible we have to go through this,” Iman Shabazz said as she used a public computer on the first floor. “What are we supposed to do? Go over the bridge into Virginia?
In the Washingtoniana division two UDC nursing students, Gallen Rodes and Demetria Byrd, were reviewing for an upcoming test. “We came here originally for the free internet access.” UDC, the city’s public university, does not maintain Sunday library hours. “It’s hard schedule-wise. Working, kids, full-time student,” said Byrd. “They don’t care.”
The second floor’s teen space was active with students studying, chatting, and digging through their friends newly uploaded photos on Facebook. Coolly leaning against a wall just outside the door was 17 year-old “D.” Although he frequents MLK with his friends, he hadn’t heard the library would be closing on Sundays. “I’m like jah mad,” D said to his friend nearby. “The Mayor, son, he’s gonna have to see me.”
“In five minutes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library will be closing. Please have all books and materials checked out,” announced a DC Library Police officer over the building’s loud speaker.
“This is a really great and progressive place to go just for pleasure sake,” said David McCullough, a high school student aware he shares a name with a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Along with his girlfriend, McCullough self-checked out seven graphic and manga novels a couple minutes after 5pm. With Love Sick by Jake Coburn the last book checked out, the commodious lobby of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library was abandoned.
According the press release announcing that Sunday hours at MLK have now been restored, it appears Gray will make a ceremonial appearance at the opening of the library. I wonder if Gray has a library card?
Who do we give credit too for hours being restored? Does it matter? Maybe Gray or his people realized, they really shouldn’t close the one library open in the entire city. Gray might not be as tone deaf as we thought, but he still needs to deal with the Bellevue situation and other matters of running a big city. We give credit where it’s due, but credit for something that you should already be doing is not deserved.
“I’m not a Ford man, but I’ll sure sell ‘em,” said Dale Richardson, owner of the recently re-opened Astro Motors at 2226 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. With a hunter green model 1996 Corvette Coupe on his desk, Richardson confirms he’s a Chevy man. “That’s what I was raised up on. My dad had Chevys.”
Standing outside his small hut of an office, motorists passing up and down Maple View Place frequently wave their hands. Back in business, back in his element, any speculation on the death of Astro Motors has been greatly exaggerated; Richardson is back in Historic Anacostia.
A native of Smithfield, North Carolina, Richardson came to Anacostia when he was 21, an apprentice to his older brother, Gerald. “He was right out of the country and made it up here,” remembers Richardson, one of thousands of expatriated North Carolinians in the city. “Everything I learned in the business I learned from him.” In May of 1988, Gerald passed away in a car accident in his native state.
“When a person can’t afford to go through a new dealer, because their credit is as bad as all-out doors, they come see me,” Richard said understating his unique role in the community’s working class economy. With cars selling from $500 to $5000, Richardson requires a down payment of half the amount and then finances in-house. Avoiding auctions or personal sales, Richardson’s acquisitions are primarily from trade-ins at regionally known dealerships such as Rosenthal Chevrolet or Koons Fords. He estimates he sells about 300 cars a year.
“He’s a born negotiator,” divulges Cynthia Speed. “Some people have that skill to sell, Bubba’s got that.” To Speed and others that know Richardson, he’s affectionately called “Bubba” due to his country roots. Over their years of friendship, Speed, who knew Richardson’s late brother, says she’s bought no less than five cars from him. “They were good cars. They ran just fine till I dogged ‘em out.”
Fenty Crackdown on Used Car Dealers
For years, Astro Motors operated at 2001 MLK until the Fenty administration’s crackdown on used car lots had ricocheting restrictive consequences for shops like Richardson’s.
“They said the dealers were eyesores,” Richardson said while confirming the real intent was directed at unscrupulous dealerships. “But in the process they made it so you can only have 4 cars in the front of your lot.” No matter the size of your space, unless there is a garage or warehouse on-site, DCRA strictly enforces the 4 car rule. (A recent ride up Georgia Avenue NW revealed this rule tightly followed by most dealers.)
Fenty’s well-intentioned, but some say overzealous, assault on used car lots included raising bond regulations. In a DCRA press release they admitted new regulations “may be making it impossible for many legitimate dealers to obtain the licenses they need to continue operating their used car lots.” The bond requirement was lowered to $25,000, in addition to the $25,000 bond required for a dealer license.
2226 MLK’s Used Car Historicity
According to conversations on the street and old City Directories, the lot at 2226 MLK has long supported car dealerships. Classified sections from mid-1950’s newspapers advertise a ’51 Mercury, ’51 Studebaker, ’53 Pontiac Chieftan De Luxe among others for sale at Colonial Oldsmobile Co., “open till 9” at 2226 Nichols Ave. SE.”
In the early 1970s, Alco Auto Sales was here; from the mid 1970s to early 1990s it was Columbia Motor Sales, followed by B&L Auto Sales in the late 1990s. An association with this lot and used car dealerships precedes an Anacostia that is near monolithically black. When Anacostia was majority white, this lot was a used car dealership.
Newcomers to old city neighborhoods tend to make value judgments about what businesses belong and do not, based on their own values, often adversarial to history. Richardson and Astro Motors have been integral parts of the community for the past three decades. With Anacostia seeking new development and investment, Astro Motors will continue to build anew on its decades of goodwill.
*Print version to be published in September East of the River. *