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Rent hike threatens downtown institution

(Published February 22, 1999)


Staff Writer

The lunch crowd at Shollís Colonial Cafeteria is a varied mix of business professionals, senior citizens, day laborers, a family or two and some students sprinkled in. They pick up their trays as they head down the long counter, choosing the roast beef that hangs off both edges of the plate, or the chicken quarter smothered in sauce, or the ham steaks as big as their faces. At the end of the line the cashier totals their meals up and takes their money. The figure on the cash register display always hovers around $5.

In the heart of the K Street business district, one of the highest-rent parts of town, Shollís serves up one of the best deals in the city. For the past seven decades, through high times and low, Schollís has served meals to people who want to eat well and pay little. But at the end of February, the downtown rental market may finally force Shollís out of business.

George Fleishell, the proprietor of Shollís, said a 25 percent rent increase will force him to close Shollís last surviving location on the ground floor of 1990 K St NW. His current lease expires March 1, and he said his landlord has so far been unwilling to negotiate the amount of the rent increase.

"They want to increase it more than we made all last year," the affable Fleishell said. "We shouldnít increase our prices very much to run the business we run."

Fleishell has literally been a part of Shollís his whole life. His uncle, Evan Sholl, opened his first cafeteria at 514 19th St. NW before Fleishell turned a year old. He points out pictures in a scrapbook of himself as a child at various outings and holiday parties sponsored by Shollís. Menus of that era advertised a five-course meal for 50 cents.

Fleishell said if he canít find a way to renew the lease, he might have a couple of monthís grace period before heís forced to close the restaurant. He said he wonít try to relocate the business.

"At my age, Iím not going to go $750,000 into debt," said Fleishell, 71. He said thatís how much it would cost to open a new cafeteria.

A group of loyal customers has organized the "Save Our Shollís" committee and is busy trying to put political clout behind the cause. Chairman Jim McGrath said the committee has talked to D.C. City Council members, the mayorís office and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Nortonís office about the restaurantís plight. McGrath said they are considering making Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., another Schollís regular, the groupís honorary chairman.

McGrath said if Shollís is forced to close, Washington would lose not just an eatery but an institution as well. He noted the restaurantís many charitable efforts over its long history as part of what would be lost.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator