Nestled on the northwestern border of Washington, D.C., Chevy Chase refers to a neighborhood, rather than the American comedy actor. This location allows its residents to experience suburban-like life, without being too far from downtown Washington, D.C.. Unfortunately, its cozy atmosphere comes with a hefty price. Of the nearly 20,000 people living there, close to 90 percent of the population has their bachelor’s degree or higher. Owning a house in Chevy Chase necessitates this, given that the cost of living there is exorbitant compared to my financial expectations growing up 200 miles north in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
In his Defining Place, Tim Cresswell explains that the concept of place, in this case the affluent locale of Chevy Chase, can “define one group of people over and against others” (Cresswell 55). I found myself curious if I could belong to the Chevy Chase group of people, or if I would find myself as an “other.” I decided to do some “window shopping” for houses in the area, and this modest home efficiently told me that I would not find myself joining the people living in Chevy Chase anytime soon.
If, however, your average year salary is reported at over $100,000, you could find yourself living comfortably there. To match the other statistics, you would also likely be Caucasian, in your late 20s or early 30s, and looking to raise a small family in a good, respectable school district.
Housing in Chevy Chase
Along Connecticut Avenue, the same street where you can find Politics and Prose, there are several condominium buildings. The more impressive properties, however, are the large single-family homes that decorate the surrounding streets. These houses tend to boast at least 3 bedrooms, designated space to act as a large recreation room perfect for the family with younger children, and a two-car garage ideal for a single family lifestyle. The community also provides a more suburban feel to its inhabitants with large parks and playgrounds, as well as the flowering gardens and ornamented grounds surrounding each home.
A home located on 34th ST NW, less than half a mile from Politics and Prose Bookstore
The older homes of Chevy Chase also hold a unique appeal to families looking to escape from their previous city surroundings. The luxurious upgrades found within these older homes act as added benefits that come with living in the community. Browsing this housing market, aside from being an enjoyable way to spend your time, also works to provide us with a clearer image of who we will find living in Chevy Chase. Once we have a better understanding of this population, we can understand how their lifestyles affect the commerce within their community.
The Commercial Avenue
The primary commercial road is Connecticut Avenue, with several apartments and locally owned businesses. Given the financial and communal atmosphere of Chevy Chase, it comes as no surprise that the surrounding neighborhood supports these individual businesses and the homey feel that is expected with such independent stores. Restaurants in particular seem to speak to the family unit, because the small strip of Connecticut Avenue where Politics and Prose Bookstore resides is covered in a variety of dining options. Many of these dining locations fall within a $-$$ cost range, such as Terasol Bistro or Besta Pizza. An exception to this is Buck’s Fishing & Camping, falling in a higher $$$ price rating. If you explore Terasol Bistro further, you can see the correlation between offering fine French cuisine at a reasonable price and the surrounding population’s desire for an upper-middle class lifestyle.
In the map below are several businesses of interest surrounding Politics and Prose Bookstore (designated by the purple star). The green pinpoints are locally owned restaurants, particularly those that appear on the recommendations list on the Politics and Prose website. The blue pinpoints indicate commercially owned businesses, such as CVS Pharmacy.
With the exception of a CVS Pharmacy and Sherwin-Williams Paint Store, there exists very minimal chain business competition. Within this independent business setting, Politics and Prose Bookstore grew in 1984 from the vision of its founders Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade.
The cost of living in in the 20008 zip code could suggest that such an affluent-sounding bookstore would fit in with the wealthy clientele surrounding it. In reality, the name of the bookstore was initially off-putting to many of the families moving into the area with younger kids and a preference for entertainment rather than politics. The name sounds as if it were intended to be a location for politicians and elite upper class patrons to gather. In order for the bookstore to become a place, as defined by Cresswell, to the community at large, the place had to have “some relationship to humans and the human capacity to produce and consume meaning” (Cresswell 7). To defy this stigma and reach out to a greater population of book buyers, Politics and Prose Bookstore worked to promote sections such as their children’s books, domestic recipe books, all while still maintaining the continuous influx of author speakers to attract intellectual customers.
So while Chevy Chase, home to Politics and Prose Bookstore, is at the root of all things a “where” on a map, it is also much more. Chevy Chase is a place, and in order for any location to become a place, it relies on the “who” residing there. The members of the Chevy Chase community define and shape their neighborhood, and in the midst of it Politics and Prose Bookstore awaits all customers – whether it be a mother and child pairing on an afternoon shopping excursion, or President Obama and his family out on a shopping excursion of their own.
“20008 Zip Code Detailed Profile.” 20008 Zip Code (Washington, District of Columbia) Profile. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2016.
Abrams, Amanda. “Chevy Chase DC: Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase.” UrbanTurf. N.p., 18 Aug. 2011. Web. 02 Feb. 2016.
“Chevy Chase, MD – Official Website.” Chevy Chase,MD. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2016.
“Chevy Chase Washington Real Estate – 22 Homes For Sale | Zillow.” Zillow. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2016.
“Coffeehouse Update.” Politics & Prose Bookstore. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2016.
Google Maps: Chevy Chase, Washington D.C., Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5032 34th St. NW
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.