For around 100 years, generations of Capitol Hill residents have had their own neighborhood market at 233 12th St. SE. Most recently, it was known as Mott’s Market.
“It was sort of the most convenient spot to get a bag of ice or the last ingredient you needed for dinner or a bottle of wine on your way to somewhere else,” said Michael Skinner, a neighborhood resident and now one of the investors in Mott’s Neighborhood Market, LLC.
The most recent name remains on the building, but today it is shuttered after the store’s most recent owners decided to move on. Since then, there has been an effort by community members to “Save Mott’s Market,” and the grassroots campaign that involved community members putting their money where their mouth is has paid off.
The group of around 30 investors, some of them past residents, were able to raise enough money to secure $1.35 million to buy the building that housed the quick stop market.
The purchase comes after those behind the effort almost lost the building earlier this year to another buyer — a couple that, according to Skinner, wanted to turn the building into a home.
“We were really disappointed and thought that we had missed our opportunity to be able to save that market space,” Skinner said.
The building was listed again, and their bid was accepted.
According to Skinner, while support was there to keep the spot for a neighborhood market, people worried about the financial risks investors were taking. That ended up not being a problem, however.
He said that when the investments of between $5,000 and $60,000 started coming in, it was clear those who wanted to get involved knew it was a long-term investment.
“And that really what this is about — not turning a profit as much as it is putting our money where our mouth is, and saying this is the kind of thing that makes a community like Capitol Hill walkable. You go down to the market to get a bag of ice, and you run into a neighbor that you haven’t seen in a few days, and you catch up,” he said.
The group behind the LLC comes from all walks of life. Skinner is a documentary filmmaker, some work in the military or federal government in other capacities and others are retired. They also range in age from their 20s to their 70s. Some no longer call the neighborhood home.
“We have someone from as far away as Chicago who went to elementary school down the block at Watkins Elementary and used to stop at Mott’s on his way home from elementary school for a snack and he heard about the project and reached out from Chicago to become one of our investors,” Skinner said.
Skinner said the building consists of an apartment on the top floor, which he said is in good shape and will be rented, but the market space and basement are in need of renovation. That could cost roughly $250,000.
“The reason for that is to have a viable market space there, we believe that it needs to have as much customer-facing square footage as possible. And right now, it’s not a really efficient use of space,” Skinner said.
Once renovations are done, Skinner said the right tenant would open a market with possibly coffee service and areas for neighbors to sit down and catch up, like old times. Also, with a large backyard area, Skinner said that parking and electric vehicle charging stations could add to street side parking and a few homes with garages.
“Then you could have a spot where you could, you know, schedule a time to charge your vehicle, stop in and get the last ingredients you need for dinner, and then head on home,” Skinner said.
As for the Mott’s Market project, Skinner said it is still accepting investors and, after closing, will also look to raise more capital funding for the project.
As work to bring a market back begins in earnest, Skinner said he hopes what they are doing reverberates throughout D.C., especially in areas at risk of losing or without a neighborhood market.
“So I’m hoping that other people will look at this around the city and say, OK, well, if there’s something that we really want to see happen in our neighborhood, rather than saying, ‘hey, somebody should do it,’ and sending out a tweet about it, maybe it’s time to get together with some of your neighbors, and, and try and organize,” Skinner said.