MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Up next, job hunting in a city driven by the federal government when you don't have the skills for a federal job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
In this area, there's not really many places. Like, a lot of things are being closed down so where they going to work other than McDonald's or the closest, like, Jamaican spot.
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we've been talking about Washington and D.C. Now, granted I've heard people put it the other way around, but as we mentioned earlier in the show, it's often said Washington refers to the more, what, the more official side of the side.
The politicians, the lobbyists, government buildings, offices, that sort of thing. While D.C., you might say, is more about all things local. The neighborhoods, the people, the culture. Well, it's this latter realm we'll enter now.
MR. DOMINICK CARDELLA
Wow, perfect timing. I just finished lunch.
Though, on first glance, there's really nothing local about it.
I've been here once before and I was knocked off my feet. I've never seen anything like this, let alone in the heart of a city like Washington.
We're in a large, creaky-floored retail space in downtown D.C., just a hop and skip from the National Archives, though it might as well be worlds away. Because every nook and every cranny of Dominick Cardella's Artifactory is crammed with figurines, furniture, masks, rugs, clothing, jewelry and other exotic pieces from Africa and Asia.
Pieces that, for the most part, I've collected myself from trips I've taken.
Many, many trips clearly.
Well, 40 years worth, right.
This, of course, is Dominick Cardella.
I shouldn't even ask you how many pieces you have at this point. You don't know.
No, I'd say -- if I had to guess, I'd say maybe 2,753,000 pieces. No, I don't know. I don't know.
Well, whatever the number, Dominick is in the process of finding new homes for everything because in about two months, he's closing Artifactory down.
I've done it long enough, business has been pretty slow. I think people that are moving into the area don't necessarily have any appreciation for this sort of thing. But before, it was more of a destination point because I was the only one here and I was consequently doing considerably more business.
Indeed, he says when he moved into the three-story 5,000 square foot building, he was paying just $400 rent for the entire thing.
This was a pretty blighted area, let me tell you. My only neighbors were The Central Union Mission across the street, that's where the homeless people were.
Of course, it wasn't long before development hit the area. New office spaces came in, a new metro stop. In fact, Dominick's building is in a row of the oldest commercial buildings in L'Enfant's original city plan and at one point, he says, he led a successful campaign to save them all from being demolished.
That ugly office building, which is behind me, was supposed to have been right up to the front of my building. So I hired a band, I gave a big concert outside, got lots of signatures, good press coverage and it worked.
But Dominick says he was pleased to see another kind of development in the neighborhood, an artistic one that, in a way, he helped kick off.
After I came, then DC Space came and that was a great place, you know, they had performing arts there. It was a great place to hang out.
Then came the Washington Project for the Arts.
It was art gallery space, performing arts, theater, dances, it was just great.
Then Zenith Gallery.
Then after Zenith Gallery other galleries came into the neighborhood.
But nowadays, when rent is $50 to $90 a square foot.
You know, as I mentioned before, I was renting my place for $400 for the entire building. That's like pennies a square foot.
Dominick says once again, he's pretty much the only one here.
That's it. I'm the last holdout. We have all the Potbellies and we have all the Starbucks and -- the neighborhood had character, but it doesn't have it anymore really.
Now, mind you, Dominick Cardella isn't going anywhere. He's keeping the building. I mean, he lives there after all and he plans on renting the first floor to a Middle Eastern restaurant. But the shutdown of Artifactory isn't sitting well with some of his long-time customers, like Deborah Daniels, a native Washingtonian who's been coming here since high school.
MS. DEBORAH DANIELS
I feel it's a complete disservice to us all. Love and enjoy this place immensely. You'll learn immensely about other places in the world and I think Dominick should change his mind immediately.
Karen Beard, a regular client from Arlington, Virginia, agrees. She's been shopping at Artifactory for about 15 years.
And what are some of the things that you have taken home with you?
MS. KAREN BEARD
There are some malachite necklaces and I bought several of those and they're hand-carved. And he had these magnificent doors from the Ivory Coast, solid mahogany, beautifully carved so we bought three of them. But hopefully, he'll have a place where he'll keep things for past customers to come in and browse and look at occasionally.
And actually, Dominick Cardella does say something along those lines might be in the cards.
I'm having this great big 50 percent off sale.
Everything. And what's left, I might move up to my third floor and convert my top floor into a more intimate type gallery.
Because after all, his customers have meant the world to him and how nice would it be to, in some way, keep bringing the world to them.
As a matter of fact, I just received this letter from this woman who was a customer of mine, an African-American woman. She moved away and she just wrote me this letter to tell me what the Artifactory meant to her.
When she came in here, she just felt a sense of calm and peace and she felt she could connect with her ancestral spirits. So there was -- it was a lovely letter.
Dominick says flat out, he doesn't know what the next chapter will bring. But he does know he has a lot of merchandise to unload, perhaps not quite 2,753,000 pieces, but still, you know, a lot. And even more important, he has 40 years worth of memories to pack up. For more on Artifactory, including photos of some of the African and Asian items on sale, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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