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Arcade owner aims to enhance community ties

(Published December 13, 1999)


Staff Writer

Step through the doors of the Chevy Chase Arcade at 5520 Connecticut Ave. NW, just south of Chevy Chase Circle, and you will step back into another era Ė a more relaxed, friendly time when shopkeepers knew all their regular customers, took the time to chat with strangers and looked out for their business neighbors.

"Itís like a family over there," said Eugene Thompson, who bought the arcade about five months ago.

Thatís not the typical comment expected from a commercial landlord in the bustling 1990s. But Thompson isnít the typical 1990s commercial landlord, either.

While neighborhood residents know their historic landmark building well, theyíre about to get to know its new owner much better too. He said he plans to be actively involved in the community.

Having pulled up his 35-year roots in the cityís Adams Morgan neighborhood, where he owned and operated the Adams Inn bed and breakfast, Thompson said he and his son are probably within 60 days of launching a comprehensive computer web site for the area he has called home for just over a year but which he has known well as a churchgoer and visitor for several years.

He calls it and expects it to be a portal site where the entire Chevy Chase D.C. community can link its activities ó including information about schools, churches, businesses, civic groups and anything else happening in the neighborhood.

"We think it will be a tool for the community," Thompson said. "We want to make it useful."

Thompson noted the computer site is currently accessible but its present content is meant only to be a "place-holder."

Thompson said he also is making plans to turn the Chevy Chase Arcade into even more of a focal point for the neighborhood by playing up its history.

"Itís such a great building," he said.

Among changes he hopes to make this spring, after navigating the necessary application procedures with the city, are the addition of a historical plaque that notes the Beaux Arts Classic Revival structure was built in 1925 and is one of the oldest enclosed shopping malls in the country. It also has official landmark status.

Thompson notes that the barber shop and the beauty shop located in the Arcade are the oldest continuously operating establishments of their respective trades in the city.

And he hopes to make the Arcade more visible by extending the central corridorís floor tiles outside the building and creating a more dramatic entryway along Connecticut Avenue. He envisions planters, benches, a courtyard clock and pedestrian-friendly, era-appropriate merchant signage.

"Itís something that helps the city," Thompson said. "When I first started investing in D.C., people said I was crazy . . . but if D.C. ever goes bad, the whole countryís bad."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator