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Along U Street, Embracing the 'Obamanomics Hustle'

By Garance Franke-Ruta
On Election Night, the District saw dancing in the streets, and few streets experienced a more vigorous outpouring of emotion than U Street NW, especially where it intersects 14th Street. I fell asleep that night at 3, listening to the sound of celebratory drumming still going strong outside my building near that corner.

The combination of businesses along U Street and on nearby blocks, aimed at African Americans, North African immigrants and white yuppies, seems tailor-made to turn the area into a cultural Obamaville. And as the nation's eyes this week turn to the Mall, thousands of visitors to Washington are also flooding north into this neighborhood, known for its restaurants, bars, clubs and a general Obama-friendly vibe.

So it was last night that -- in addition to the triumphant return of the Obama Lady to her usual spot outside the Busboys & Poets restaurant, where she had sat all summer long selling T-shirts with his likeness -- there was, on 13th Street below U, a new form of self-described "Obamanomics hustle."

"Barack Obama is the stimulus package," said Papi Kymone Freeman, a self-described "playwright and guerrilla artist." He had set up shop with some friends on the corner, unfurling two large Obama- and political-change-themed banners, before which they offered to take nearly-instant photos of passersby for $10 a shot. Using digital cameras and two portable photo printers, they were still cleaning up at 2 a.m. -- after a heady day of business down on the Mall.

Obama as economic stimulus has been a building theme on U Street since Friday, from the bunting at Local 16 to the Everything Obama store in the basement of the building that houses chi-chi housewares store RCKNDY to the increasing number of T-shirt and trinket vendors that are turning the sidewalks into a veritable Obama-themed souk.

Indoor business is good, too. More than 115 people lined up outside Busboys & Poets, at 14th and V, by 1 p.m. today -- all trying to get in for brunch. The line did not shrink for more than two hours, despite the seating of those on the front end. People just kept on coming.

Meanwhile, at the District institution Ben's Chili Bowl -- made famous nationally by Obama's visit there for a half-smoke last weekend -- the lunch line for a dog and fries stretched down U Street, took a turn at 12th Street, and then continued part of the way up the block.

Space for the line had even been carved into the street by authorities using orange traffic cones and yellow police tape, while a protective police cruiser idled nearby.

The last time there was a line that long for anything in the neighborhood was on Election Day, as local residents lined up to cast their votes -- and voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

By Post Editor  |  January 19, 2009; 7:21 PM ET
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