|The view from the corner of Connecticut and L. Credit: Freewheeling Spirit.|
|A box of mixed truffles for my lovely wife. Credit: Freewheeling Spirit|
Sometime around 2009, or maybe 2010, I went to buy some truffles and found an empty store. I wondered what had happened to Chocolate Chocolate? I thought maybe the sisters had closed the shop for good and moved on to full-time writing or even retirement.
Then, a few months ago, I walked by a book display and did a double-take when I saw the title Chocolate Chocolate: The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats, and the Little Shop That Could. The Park sisters had written a memoir!
|Book cover. Credit: St Martin's Press.|
Even better, upon perusing the book, I learned that their chocolate shop had not actually closed, but had moved a half block north on Connecticut Avenue.
The memoir itself is a wonderful story about how the Park sisters, not long after the unexpected loss of their father in the early 80's, opened up the "little shop that could" in the glitzy Washington Square building, which they refer to as "Oz." The choice of location is an interesting story, as is the ongoing problems with their nasty landlord, whom they never identify but instead refer to as the "Evil Empire." From my independent research, I've concluded that the two sisters were up against real estate giant Lerner Enterprises, whose titular head, Ted Lerner, is now the principal owner of the Washington Nationals. Lerner's evil empire evicted Chocolate Chocolate in 2008 for absolutely no good reason. More on that in a moment.
|"Oz." Credit: Lerner Enterprises.|
"Darren's cheating on me," Francie blurted.
Ginger murmered, not completely surprised. "Why do you think he's cheating on you?"
"I spent the night at his place last night, and after he left for work this morning, his phone rang but I didn't pick up. The next thing I knew, a woman's voice was leaving a message for him."
"Oh, God. What did she say?"
"She was crying, actually, asking him why he never showed up at her house last night."
Ginger hugged her sister. "Let's face it, Francie, Darren's got too much baggage for a real relationship."
"Not only that, there's something I never told you."
"I don't know if I can say it."
"Darren can't tell the difference between our chocolate and the stuff from Peoples Drug store."
That's quite a slam coming from a chocolatier!
One of the best parts of the book, though, is the sisters' descriptions of the characters who walk into their shop. After awhile, Chocolate Chocolate has enough regulars that it develops a Cheers atmosphere. The Park sisters and their customers often become friends, sharing gossip in the "chat corner" of the tiny store.
The chocolate shop itself became a big success, despite some unsteadiness during the first year it was open, and despite being an independent in an era of big chain stores. By the 2000's, the Parks describe the shop as being in its golden era. Chocolate Chocolate had not only won accolades from the press, but the Evil Empire itself had found in its surveys that Chocolate Chocolate was its most popular retailer. So why did they evict Chocolate Chocolate?
According to the Park sisters, Lerner decided to tear down some walls, make a bigger space, and "collect more rent from a higher-ticket operation." In doing so, Lerner almost destroyed something unique in downtown D.C. and, for that matter, in America - an independently-run family business.
"Retail had changed vastly since the last time we looked," the Park sisters write. "Developers had tunnel vision for the cloning of America: Subway, Cosi, RadioShack, etc. Homegrown independents like us presented a risk."
This book, fortunately, has a happy ending. The sisters eventually do find another space, not far from Oz, where they continue to sell chocolates today.
|The current home of Chocolate Chocolate is inside an alcove at 1130 Conn Avenue N.W. If you click for big, you might be able to spot their sign. Credit: Freewheeling Spirit|