Dear PoPville – What’s the story with Monarch Novelties?

Dear PoPville,

We’ve lived in Logan for three years now and have never been in or seen anyone inside the Monarch Novelites store on 14th (just south of P). Not to mention, we’ve only seen it open a few times. Just curious if you know what’s going on in that place…

Back in June 2009 we learned a bit when I gave Monarch Novelites Door of the Day honors.

In 2005 the City Paper wrote:

The parcel within the Jefferson site isn’t the first bit of Robinson property that the family has fervidly defended. A 1968 photo from the Washington Post shows the Robinson boys guarding their father’s 14th Street shop, Monarch Novelties, on a summer day when business owners feared a reprise of the riots that had devastated the neighborhood earlier in the year. Standing inside their storefront, with children’s stuffed animals hanging innocently over their heads, Tommy dangles a pistol over his knee and Bo stands with a shotgun half-drawn.

Tommy has lived above that shop, in his father’s house, since he was a teenager in the ’50s. One of 11 children, he’s spent most of his life helping the family run their carnival-supply business—“Dad caught the carnival bug when he was 13,” says Tommy—and for decades they’ve been supplying whatever market there is in the District for giant inflatable crayons and oversized clown eyeglasses. His brother Douglas, an even greater eccentric with a mountaineer’s long gray beard, can usually be seen sitting still through the Monarch’s window, amid the pink and blue stuffed animals. Somehow the Monarch has survived as other old-school businesses have been taxed out during 14th Street’s transformation into an urban-chic commercial strip. But whatever the Robinsons’ trick is to surviving revitalization, it doesn’t involve courting walk-in traffic: Curious window-shoppers need to be buzzed in by Douglas before they can even enter the store.

Anyone else ever venture inside?

44 Comment

  • I went in once, in search of Obama pins for my family back home. It’s one of those stores that sells a bit of everything.

  • leftcoastsouthpaw

    I’ve been in there once a couple of years ago when I was looking for Halloween costume. It is sketchy at best. I’m pretty sure they have dungeon in the basement.

  • We used to buy balloons and other little party things occasionally when we lived around the corner. I don’t recall having to be buzzed in.

  • Monarch is really awesome. Want to peruse inauguration pins/button/banners from the 60? They got ’em. Need a giant stuffed animal or some carnival tickets? They have that too.

  • the building is a blight on the neighborhood. it’s so dodgy that I think the business has to be a front for something else… but given the state of that craphole, it’s obviously not making any money.

    I’m not advocating another overpriced craft beer/bbq/tapas place move in, but I think the family has a responsibility to adjust to the standards of the neighborhood.

    • Please keep these sentiments to your condo association meeting. “Blight” as you call it is character to the rest of us.

      • honestly? you call a rotting fire hazard of a building that has a rat infestation in the back “character”? you people should get off your high horse and realize that all buildings by law have to be properly kept. this one is not.

        • Maybe it was you obnoxious tone of “blight on the neighborhood” “has to be a front” “craphole” and implicitly only valuing “making money” and the worst part “a responsibility to adjust to the standards of the neighborhood.”… get over yourself. Better yet move to Singapore.

          • yep, and don’t chew gum when you get there

          • please do explain why the word blight is an affront to you. as far as I can tell, there is no derogatory way of using that word.

            “an ugly, neglected, or rundown condition of an urban area”

          • wow. you’re viewing the world through quite a thick, foggy lens. how on earth did you get that I only value making money? my point is that it’s never open and they don’t make money so I don’t understand how they still own the building. that’s it. remove the chip from your shoulder.

      • additionally, you can take your “I’m so progressive” attitude elsewhere. fyi, I’m light years away from owning property and I live in a building that has roaches, mold, and rats… so my standards are pretty low.

    • really? I think they have a responsibility to pay the required taxes and keep their building up to code. That’s about it.

    • lots of assumptions here. and no they DON’T have a responsibility to make sure you like they way they look. thank you, braver!

      • again, my point is just that they can’t let the building rot. a lot of assumptions from you all. have any of you actually been in there?

    • Worst. Comment. Ever.

    • I’m shocked at how this is somehow a controversial comment.

    • One man’s trash is another mans Popeye’s. If you want rat infested, you should look down the block.

  • It’s not super nice, but certainly not dodgy. I’ve been in here to buy a hat, nice people. So what if it’s not Snooty enough….

  • Read the linked story! Its much more interesting than the carnival shop!

  • That City Paper story was fascinating in a “WTF!?” kind of way, especially the bit about the tiny parcel of land in the midst of re-development. Good for them for sticking with it, but I suspect a bit of dysfunction at play here. Anyway, they aren’t hurting anybody and are free to run their business as they see fit. Let ’em be!

  • I went to have a custom sign made and they couldn’t help me but if you’re looking to have a themed party this is the place to go for just about anything ridiculously and annoyingly festive.

  • This is one of the great mysteries of DC. If commercial rents are so high in this part of town and the demand for their goods is so low, how does this place survive? Apparently the commercial real estate market isn’t as cutthroat as we may think. Those who bemoan the demise of independent businesses should take note.

    Other places which would seem to fly in the face of economic reality: the take-out place on the southwest corner of 14th and P, all of the identical convenience/bric-a-brac stores in Mt Pleasant, the check cashing place at 14th and U…

    • They probably own the building (same with the 14th and P place, I think); thus, no rent. Property tax increases have an annual maximum, I think. Hasn’t the check cashing place closed?

  • i hope it stays there just as it is. At least some bit of character is left in the neighborhood and hasn’t been razed to build another blah and overpriced Hoffman bldg or a restaurant packed with shrieking millenials spending their student loan money. Who the hell is anyone in this forum to say what they should and shouldn’t do with their bldg? They were here first…you came later, after everything was made nice and pretty for you.

    • I’m dumbfounded by how few people (esp those who purport to be progressive) understand urban development, social progress, community building, and economic improvement.

      • I didn’t say I didn’t understand it, Anonymous. I’m just saying I don’t have to like all aspects of it (urban development), esp when it leads to loss of character. There’s always a linear progression of good development in what had been blighted neighborhoods in this city, and then they start to lose the edginess that lured people to them in the first place (think: Dupont). Not to mention the fucking hike in prices here. Why do we all have to be as rich as a lawyer, or more, just to lead an almost middleclass life here. Why does every new apt building have to be a “luxury” bldg with granite countertops, bamboo flrs, etc. Incidentally, I have both those amenities chez moi too, and they’re not what they’re cracked up to be 🙂

        • okay. but I don’t think this building classifies as character. I think the (working) fish shop, the transformer gallery, pulp, the chinese restaurant on 14th, etc. are all valid examples of this. not a building that is never open and is becoming more dilapidated every year.

        • “Why does every new apt building have to be a “luxury” bldg with granite countertops, bamboo flrs, etc?” -> Because the demand exists.

  • I was looking for a lottery/bingo ball machine (the kind that scrambles numbered balls and spits them out). They were incredibly helpful. I just went on some random weekend, if I remember correctly. And, yes they have all manner of party favors / theme party decorations.

  • At least it’s a good story.

    The building-around-the-house outcome is a lot like the apartment near H and Mass in Chinatown built around a now-shuttered building and the house in Foggy Bottom surrounded by another new building. But in those cases the seller just lost his gamble for a higher price (former) or had a house and just didn’t want to leave (latter). This place was just some dirt that belonged to some guys. Seems like the price they wanted to charge was high enough that they knew no one would buy it, because they just didn’t want to sell.

    So that’s actually pretty cool: these guys have something, and their their little plot is way bigger that the land that most of us own. It’s theirs, they felt like the company and the neighborhood tried to make them give it up, and a biblical level of gumption to push back.

    All those other suckers took their money and no one cares about them. They did the “responsible” thing and weren’t “pariahs.” But these dudes will be a cool story for this neighborhood for a long, long time. And they’ve added way more character to that street already than all the once and future microbrewpubs ever will.

  • I’ve always been vaguely creeped out by this store (I think the stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling did it for me!) and I agree that it doesn’t look particularly nice, but I have to admit that it is a character on that stretch.

    And for what’s it’s worth, they do pay about $13K regularly in taxes each year.

    I wonder how the 2005 story ended. Any updates?

  • I know that the family owns properties all over the city. The properties were purchased years ago by their fahter. The remaining siblings have to agree on any sales. If they can’t come to an agreement the property will sit. The entire family is from a different time.

  • Whatever, I think its badass and weird and I like that it exists.

    You guys are boring.

  • special_k

    I lived in this neighborhood for years, walked by Monarch all the time, but it was always closed. I finally called the number posted on the front door to find out what their hours were and the answer was pretty much that they don’t have regular hours.

    Then one glorious day we walked by when they were open and bought some awesome postcards of Nixon from the 70s and creepy clown cutouts. We also chatted up the owner, who was friendly and interesting. I remember him saying that they sell a lot of things to schools and other organizations for fairs, fundraising events, etc.

  • I agree with many previous posters that the facade appears badly run-down, and no, that’s not “character”, it’s neglect, and I’ll say it’s even halfway to “blight” (though for something to hit “blight” in my book, it needs at least one plywood window…)

    My bigger problem with this place is the difficulty of access and the irregular hours – it doesn’t contribute to the pedestrian experience that way. If they fixed those two things, I’d be all for it staying forever, even with the run-down look. All three, however… well, as they say, three strikes, you’re out. I hope it gets upgraded (preferable) or replaced (better than existing conditions).

  • I live nearby and went in once a few years ago…it’s definitely a bit unusual…everything was covered in dust and I was eyed suspiciously during my short visit. They did have what I was looking for…a ‘welcome home’ sign to hang. Another time during a snowfall I went out and was snapping a few pictures around the neighborhood…the old storefront looked good with the snow coming down so I decided to snap a couple of pictures…I stood in the middle of 14th because there was absolutely no traffic at this point…in the time it took for me to snap two quick shots the front door opened and the two guys were yelling at me…they stepped out so I just walked away…now, they could have just been watching the snow fall at ten o’clock in the evening…but living in Logan Circle people are taking photos on my street all of the time…due to their hostile overkill reaction I too have since joked about it being a cover for something else…but it’s probably just a couple of eccentric old brothers…

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