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

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