Then and Now by the House History Man – 234 Upshur St, NW

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Then and Now by the House History Man is a new series by Paul K. Williams. Paul has been researching house histories in DC since 1995, having completed more than 1,500 to date.

The District Grocery Store photographed here about 1933 was located at 234 Upshur Street, NW, on the southeast corner of 3rd Street. It was built beginning in the spring of 1932 by Washington native Morris Miller, who lived upstairs along with his wife Minnie and two children. At the height of the Great Depression, he advertised four cans of corn in the window for just 25 cents!

The row of houses from 218 to 234 Upshur had been designed by S. H. Howthur and built in 1920. According to the census, Miller lived there in 1930 and added the store on the ground floor in 1932, designed by architect Julius Wenig. It cost $2,000 to construct.

As a Jewish grocery store owner he like many others were faced with discrimination from grocery wholesalers, so a group of 21 Jewish owners formed the District Grocery Stores Association in 1929. They built their own warehouse to supply the small chain, purchased goods cooperatively and in bulk, and thus managed to survive both the Depression and the encroachment by large chain stores.

Like many families during the Depression, the Miller’s rented a room in their house to earn income. Alex and Sylvia Brooks lived with them in 1930, he being a driver for a bakery. Both of his parents had been born in Russia.

The house and a vacant storefront still exist today, seen below. Gone are the retractable cloth awnings and the enameled signage, but the front entranceway can still be seen on the right, facing 3rd Street.

234 Upshur St, NW in 2012

18 Comment

  • I wonder how long it’s been boarded up like that, and I wonder what kinds of artifacts one might find if they tore off all that plywood.

  • Cool.

    I wonder if that was the same Morris Miller as the liquor store at the DC/MD line on Georgia Ave.

  • Too bad we don’t have more stores like this these days. What I would give for my corner mart to not only sell beer, generic soda, random generic chips and other god awful product.

  • “Like many families during the Depression, the Miller’s rented a room in their house to earn income. ”

    Or like many homeowners in DC today. 🙂

  • Great story! I wish it was still open.

  • I don’t get it. times were tough then as well, people were scrimping and saving but their places still looked like someone cared or was making an effort.

    man, when did it become impossible for everyday man to make a living and live in a decent neighborhood.?

    • I take it you’re joking, right?

      • I doubt he or she is joking. You know, some of us aren’t completely out of touch with those among us who might be less fortunate.

      • Perfectly legitimate – and pertinent question. Decent neighborhood stores run by locals with a stake in the neighborhood used to be the norm. Lots of factors involved in the decline – but most importantly – fewer local families willing to work the crazy hours and make the commitment.

        Barry’s “dirty Asian stores” have succeeded because extended families are willing to work 10-12 hour days and live frugally while working toward the future.

  • Wooo this takes me back, I grew up around the corner on Webster St and that place was wonderful . I remember one Easter back around 1962 my parents took me there and we purchased a live chick and brought it home and it only lived about 5 days . I also remember my father took us there,me and my sister and we bought my first kite. We took the kite over to Solders Home to fly but soon a security guard there told us that we couldn’ t fly it there so we had to bring it down. That was a wonderful place you could by toys candy everything a child my age (6yrs old) could want. Believe it or not I was just thinking about that store about a week ago. Pleasant memories forever THANKS POP for this trip down memory lane

    • Your comments and memory make my work all the worthwhile! Many, many thanks for posting the info that only one that had experiences there could; adds a lot of depth.

      • That’s really cool. I love history. Is there an archive of the 1500+ houses you’ve researched? It’d be great to read about a house on my block or even the house I renovated in petworth.

        • Thanks: I do maintain a Google map of the locations of the completed history to date (a few maps, actually because we’ve exceeded the number of pins on any given map). You can find the NW section and SE, SW, and NE map on our website front page at:
          I’d be happy to send you a copy of a history near you that you might b interested in.

  • I walk my dogs by this place almost every day! Always wondered what used to be there. Looks like it would make a great little coffee shop or something.

    • I used to do the same quite frequently and I assumed that the rather ratty and ugly boarded up facade was a much more recent modification. I’m kind of saddened by how recently it was so much more charming. The Korean market across the street looks like an armed compound…I guess that’s closer to the mark these days.

  • If you want to walk around the inside of a District Grocery Store, a war-time propaganda film against the black market was filmed at the District Grocery Store at Dupont. You can watch the film on Internet Archive and the store show up at about 4 minutes in:

    For more photos of District Grocery Stores, search the Prints & Photographs catalog. Sadly, I didn’t see any more of the Morris Miller store, but the warehouse operations and other stores (including interiors) are interesting:

  • Blithe

    Thank you SO much for posting this! I lived in a house at 3rd and Varnum when I was a kid — and continued to maintain ties to the neighborhood long after that. In many ways, it was a perfect neighborhood in which to grow up. We had 3 corner stores — the one I went to was “Ben’s” which I think is/was directly across the street from the one profiled above. There was also “Tico’s” about a half a block away. That block of Upshur had a dry cleaner’s, a small variety store, a small grocery store, and when I was VERY young, a drug store — that actually had a soda fountain.

    This picture and the accompanying history brought back a lot of great memories for me! Do people still by pickles from huge glass jars (“No, not that one… THAT one!”) while the patient store owner fishes for them with a giant fork? I remember Ben’s as a family business, with a tiny deli counter in back, an open “freezer” full of ice for bottled sodas, and a separate one for popsicles and such. It was kind of store and the kind of neighborhood where small kids would be sent with a scribbled note and a dollar bill from a harried parent — and come back with the bread or butter or whatever was needed for a meal — when there was no time to do the “real” shopping at Safeway. Ben’s was the first place I was allowed to go to on my own — when I was considered old enough to cross the alley — but not the street — so I have few specific memories of what we called “the store across the street”, because I only went there when ALL of the other stores on “our side” of the street were closed, or didn’t have what I’d been sent to purchase.
    LOL! Seeing this picture has clearly sparked a LOT of fond childhood memories for me! Thanks PoP and Paul!!!!!

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