Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.
“I was born on a dairy farm on the eastern shore of Maryland. I grew up working on the farm, bringing in the cows, picking corn and strawberries, riding tractors, and spending time with pigs and horses. Everything we grew and butchered kept us through the winter. I think that it was a wonderful way to grow up.
“As a kid, I would go into Washington to see the circus or go to museums. Being exposed to the city life made me really want to move to New York. While I liked growing up on a farm, I saw this big world and wanted to go someplace far away from the farming life. When I finally did go to New York, it freaked me out and I got really scared. Washington seemed like the next plausible place to go. I spent a lot of my teenage and college years at Rehoboth beach and met a lot of Washingtonians, so I knew people here. I moved to D.C. at 25 and have been here for 25 years.
“When I first moved here, I worked in the restaurant industry. I spent about ten years at Old Ebbit Grill, waiting tables in the private dining room. I was really pushy and bossy and the managers wanted me out. They used to tell me that I acted like it was my own private restaurant. People told me that I needed to either be a manager or just do my own thing. At the restaurant, I used to move furniture around and organize the rooms for events. One day, I said the next time I am going to move furniture, I want it to be for me. It was a little thought that got stuck in my head, but I didn’t think much about it.
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“In Adams Morgan, there was a a shop called Madam Adam, which is where the FedEx store is now on 18th Street. I used to go into the space all of the time and think about how I would redecorate and run the shop. Of course, I thought that I could do it so much better. I mean, the walls were 18 feet high and the shop owner had only painted as high as he could reach. The place was beautifully decorated, as long as you didn’t look up.
“One day, I bought something and told the owner that I would pick it up next week. He said that I needed to pick it up that day because he was closing the shop. He was tired of the customers, the business, and the city and had had it. I immediately asked for his landlord’s phone number. He thought that I was crazy and tried to dissuade me. Still, I called the landlord to rent the space. He asked what business experience I had. I had none and didn’t have any money in the bank either. I don’t now why, but he trusted me. Within weeks, I was digging out furniture from my parents’ house and opened Miss Pixies in 1997. The whole thing happened so quickly. For six months, I worked in the restaurant, ran the store, and went to auctions. I am not sure how I did it. Even thinking of it now, makes me exhausted.
“The neighborhood was so happy to have me, and it was a really wonderful experience to start a business in Adams Morgan. I would fill the store up with things that I bought on Thursday and the place was empty by Sunday. I stayed in that space until 2006 and then moved to a bigger space on the other side of 18th Street, under the old nightclub Chloe, in 2006. There, I ended up in a lawsuit with the landlord and had nothing but trouble with the space. It was a bad experience and I thought that I was done with the furniture business.
“In 2008, I was thinking about moving out to the beach and waiting tables again, but someone approached me about opening a furniture store and bar on 14th Street in the old Powell’s Auto Supply. I was really excited about the opportunity. Turns out that things didn’t work out with the bar, but I opened in April 2008 anyway.
“I didn’t want to leave Adams Morgan, but retail is not supported there anymore. After real estate spiked in 2004, everything had to be a bar or restaurant to pay the rents there. I am sad that retail isn’t able to make it there anymore, but have been blown away by the retail in this neighborhood. I am busier here than I ever was in Adams Morgan.
“What’s great about D.C. is that people support local business. At my store, I buy what I like, and like to think that I am educating my customers to have a better aesthetic. After all of this time, I know a lot of my customers, so I am happy that I know where and to whom the pieces are going. Sometimes, I even get to see the stuff again when they have me over.”
Miss Pixies is located at 1626 14th Street NW.
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