Durkl HQ Will Be Squeezed Out of Chinatown

'Gentrification Is a Loaded Word'

On the 400 block of I Street in Chinatown lies a sequestered warehouse whose inner happenings are unknown to many Washingtonians. It's been home to everything from art studios, to a band rehearsal space, to the current headquarters of local clothing brand Durkl.

For now.

"This building is alive," said Durkl co-founder Lucas Pierce. "There's always a band practicing, always a barbecue, always people coming in and out. I bet there are a hundred keys to this place floating around."

The building at 443 I St. N.W. has been a staple in the D.C. arts community for more than 20 years -- but in January 2012, the warehouse -- along with most of the block -- will be razed.

Replacing it will be an 11-story, 162-unit apartment complex, complete with ground-level retail space and a restaurant. The space was purchased in July, enacting the lease's six-month kick-out clause.

Chinatown resident Patrick Warren is saddened by the loss. "Rather than building up a community that's already there, they're just replacing it," he said.

Other locals expressed their frustration with the plans. "People are conscious of the underlying culture here in Chinatown," said Alex Bean, general manager of Chinatown Coffee Company. "This change won't hurt us from a business standpoint, in terms of dollars and cents, but it will hurt us in terms of identity. We're part of the slightly off-beat, quality-minded small businesses here."

It's debatable whether Durkl still constitutes as a small business. Founded in 2005, marketing high-quality men's clothing, the brand is now carried in more than 100 boutiques internationally, with its flagship store in the Eye Street warehouse.

"We're not losing a store here, we're losing a collaborative space with artists to do stuff under the radar," Pierce said. "Everyone can find new space, but this building has been a good stepping stone for us as a brand. It feels like the end of a DIY underground aesthetic."

Since Durkl moved onto the block in 2009, it has been an integral part of the community. "This has been a home for us," Pierce said. "We've had engagement parties here. We've had block parties. It's sad that won't be happening anymore."

This isn't the first time a beloved place has been swapped for condos, and residents concede it's probably unavoidable.

"Gentrification is a loaded word," Pierce said. "Were we the gentrifiers when Durkl moved in and it was a parking garage with prostitutes out front? This is happening everywhere; this just happens to be the sh***y month we were caught up in it."

Peirce remains optimistic about the move. "It's been good for us to be here, and we're certainly not packing up and leaving. We've outgrown this space and this move will allow us to grow bigger and better."

Durkl is tentatively slated to move to H Street N.E.

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