This Saturday will be the last day of business for Yang Market, the Eckington corner store that sells gourmet groceries and Italian deli sandwiches named after My Cousin Vinny quotes.
Owner Peter Sitcov tells Eater that the taxing nature of running a business by himself and the arduous cost of making building repairs both led to the closure.
“I want to spend more time with friends and family and pursue other things,” says Sitcov, echoing a written statement he sent to Popville this week.
Sitcov says he and his wife, Lyndsi Sitcov, own the building and will take their time finding the right renter to take over the space.
“I want it to be something that’s socially conscious, something for the neighborhood,” he says. “I’m not going to let [just] anybody rent it.”
The couple lives across the street from the market at 138 U Street NE, but Sitcov says they’re building a condo on the second floor of the two-story building that houses the market and will eventually move in.
About two years ago, the Sitcovs bought the Yang Market building from a couple who had operated the corner store for 35 years. They didn’t want to see Eckington lose the market to a developer who, Sitcov says, had a competing bid to turn the space into a different business.
“I just didn’t want to let this thing turn into a farm-to-table restaurant,” Sitcov says.
Yang Market kept its original name with the goal to serve longtime customers and people new to the neighborhood. So the Sitcovs sold canned goods and cheap beer along with boutique coffee and charcuterie. Peter Sitcov, who says he started working at the legendary Italian Store in Arlington when he was 14, opened the deli side of the business in 2017. A Washingtonian headline declared, “D.C. Needs More NYC-Style Bodegas and Delis Like This One In Eckington.”
Sitcov credits Lyndsi Sitcov for helping him run the shop and his parents for their support, but he says operating the business got to be too much. Even after renovations, the building needed frequent repairs.
“When we opened it was just a regular corner store, fluorescent lights and plexiglass and dusty old cans and stuff. We just slowly turned it into something a little bit nicer,” Sitcov says. “Not to sound like a jerk, but I think we made something out of nothing.”
Sitcov also told Eater that he wishes he would’ve gotten help from Ward 5 City Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who Sitcov says is known to pop up at businesses around the area. “I would’ve really liked a little more support from programs in D.C. that are meant to help small businesses. Not just the ones they like,” Sitcov says, going on to say that he would’ve liked an “endorsement” or access to grants he might not know about.
When told of Sitcov’s complaints, a representative for McDuffie told Eater that “an endorsement of any kind would likely be an ethics violation.”
In what may constitute a gray area, the Twitter account for McDuffie’s office has tweeted out news articles to promote Ward 5 businesses. That account’s posts include pictures and videos of McDuffie visiting with constituents, including a record of a meeting he had with Sitcov.
CM McDuffie took a stop in Eckington to visit @Yangmarketne & @JuniusCoffee located at 138 U St NE in the Eckington community. Thanks to @NorthCapitolDC for coming out today. #SmallBusiness #OurWard5 pic.twitter.com/txRjddpUZ9— CM McDuffie's Office (@CM_McDuffie) July 16, 2018
McDuffie’s rep says that when the council member met with Sitcov, the Yang Market owner was asking for help expanding the eligible areas for a Great Streets grant so his business could apply. “That’s not something that’s usually done for one business,” says the rep, who said McDuffie’s office also put together a pamphlet about small business programs that was hand-delivered to Yang Market.
In any case, Yang Market will close this weekend. Sitcov, a former bartender who said he has worked and cooked at several D.C. restaurants — including Quill at the Jefferson hotel — says he will work the line for chef Adam Greenberg at the forthcoming Coconut Club near Union Market. Greenberg supplied food items for Yang Market’s retail operation.
During an emotional week, Sitcov says he’s grateful for everyone that helped keep Yang Market open as long as it was.
“Every sandwich I made and every single beer I sold, it meant a lot that people wanted to come out here and support the smallest business I have ever seen and heard of,” he says.