Keeping the corner store alive: Buying a bodega in an online era

September 27, 2017

WTOP/Rachel Nania

An old corner store in new hands keeps things the same in a changing DC neighborhood (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON When a long-standing bodega in the Northeast neighborhood of Eckington went on the market last year, neighbors Peter and Lyndsi Sitcov did something they never imagined: The young couple put in an offer.

“We knew that since all this stuff is changing in Eckington, that it was probably going to be a condo,” Peter said. “This store has been here longer than I’ve been alive, so it felt like we should have just kept it a corner store.”

All-cash offers from developers and restaurateurs rolled in, but it was the Sitcov’s bid that proved most attractive to the sellers — a couple who had owned and operated the business for 35-plus years. Peter and Lyndsi promised to keep the neighborhood market a neighborhood market.

“They didn’t want it to go to a developer; they didn’t want it to be a condo or a farm-to-table restaurant. They wanted it to stay a store. This was their life’s work,” Peter said.

On the corner of U Street and Summit Place, just off Rhode Island Avenue, a red-lettered sign hangs from a green brick building and reads, “Welcome to Yang Market.” An ad for Newport cigarettes and an “ATM inside” poster decorate the window, safeguarded with iron bars.

Inside, shelves are lined with Pringles, toilet paper, snack cakes and cat food. But customers will also discover a few products new to the neighborhood.

Peter Sitcov recently purchased Yang Market in D.C.'s Northeast neighborhood of Eckington. His offer beat out developers and restaurateurs because he promised to keep the longstanding bodega a neighborhood market. Sitcov kept many things the same, but added a deli counter — something he said the neighborhood needed. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Peter Sitcov recently purchased Yang Market in D.C.’s Northeast neighborhood of Eckington. His offer beat out developers and restaurateurs because he promised to keep the long-standing bodega a neighborhood market. Sitcov kept many things the same, but added a deli counter — something he said the neighborhood needed. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
On the corner of U Street and Summit Place, just off Rhode Island Avenue, a red-lettered sign hangs from a green brick building and reads, “Welcome to Yang Market.” An ad for Newport cigarettes and an “ATM inside” poster decorate the window, safeguarded with iron bars. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Inside, shelves are lined with Pringles, toilet paper, snack cakes and cat food. But customers will also discover a few new products, including nitro coffee, bottles of Virginia wine, and made-in-D.C. cocktail syrups. Fresh bread sold at Yang Market is from nearby Lyon Bakery. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Next to a four-pack of Sutter Home merlot is a bottle of Veuve. 24 ounce cans of Budweiser are within reach of a 2015 bottle of Barboursville chardonnay, and jars of Prego red sauce sit alongside boxes of Brooklyn’s famed Sfoglini pasta. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
“We’re just trying to find the balance between providing people with the things they grew up buying here and the people who are moving in that want, you know, prosecco for the weekends,” Sitcov said. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
“I think people like that it’s not Odd Provisions in Columbia Heights and that it’s not Whole Foods, but it’s not like a dark, dirty corner store. It’s kind of both. We have Peanut Chews and we have artisanal ice cream sandwiches.” (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
A mural, painted by artist Chloe Rubenstein, breathes new life into the old neighborhood. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)  (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
In an age where machines threaten brick-and-mortar stores and on-demand delivery services bring food and basic needs to the doorstep, Sitcov’s move to open a neighborhood food market may seem risky to some. But he says there’s no way technology could replace the bodega. “New York will never let that happen. Ever,” he said. (WTOP/Rachel Nania) (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
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Peter Sitcov recently purchased Yang Market in D.C.'s Northeast neighborhood of Eckington. His offer beat out developers and restaurateurs because he promised to keep the longstanding bodega a neighborhood market. Sitcov kept many things the same, but added a deli counter — something he said the neighborhood needed. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

Next to a four-pack of Sutter Home merlot is a bottle of Veuve. Twenty-four-ounce cans of Budweiser are within reach of a 2015 bottle of Barboursville chardonnay, and jars of Prego red sauce sit alongside boxes of Brooklyn’s famed Sfoglini pasta.

There’s also nitro coffee on draft, homemade ice cream bars in the freezer, and best of all, a new deli counter, manned by Peter. Flower boxes and a mural — the modern day stamp of approval from the city’s creative class — lend a new look to the intersection.

“We’re just trying to find the balance between providing people with the things they grew up buying here and the people who are moving in that want, you know, prosecco for the weekends,” said Peter, who admitted he went through a bit of an identity crisis at first over what he wanted to do with the store and how he wanted to stock it.

“I think people like that it’s not Odd Provisions in Columbia Heights and that it’s not Whole Foods, but it’s not like a dark, dirty corner store. It’s kind of both. We have Peanut Chews and we have artisanal ice cream sandwiches.”

Behind the deli counter, one of the few grab-and-go spots in the area, Peter tries to achieve the same balance. He describes his sandwiches as “not cheffed up,” but not low quality. The bread is from nearby Lyon Bakery; the rich, butter-like pastrami is sourced from a local supplier.

Menu options run the gamut from a $2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to a classic Italian sub.

Then, there are more inventive options, such as a prosciutto sandwich with chili-infused cantaloupe and arugula salad. Another favorite, inspired by local pizzeria All Purpose, is filled with capocollo, genoa salami, fresh mozzarella, basil salad and honey-chili aioli.

On Sunday afternoons, Peter, who has worked in the hospitality industry for years, rolls out and sells homemade pasta. He also gets creative with cannolis. (His wife’s family owns a cannoli shell company in the North End of Boston, so he ships them down and fills them with nostalgic flavors like cookies and cream and Fruity Pebbles.)

In an age where machines threaten brick-and-mortar stores and on-demand delivery services bring groceries to the doorstep, Peter’s move to open a neighborhood food market may seem risky to some. But he says there’s no way technology could replace the bodega.

“New York will never let that happen. Ever,” he said, adding that many of his customers treat a trip to his store as a social activity and consider it more like a meeting point in the community where they can escape work for a bit and interact with neighbors.

“This is part of their routine. They come down to the corner store, chit chat with us, steal my air conditioning, go home, do whatever they do,” Peter said.

“I know almost everybody that comes in here, and everybody knows me and my wife. They know the guys that help us out, they know where we live, they say hi to our dog. These aren’t just my customers; they’re my neighbors and a lot of them are my friends now.”

Yang Market is located at 138 U St. NE.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday.


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