Today’s flourishing Broad Branch Market dates back to 1919, when John Sauer sold groceries to neighbors from his simple frame house on the corner of thinly developed Northampton Street in Chevy Chase, DC. In 1925, Jewish grocers Abraham and Ida Bondareff bought Sauer’s property and moved their Euclid Street market to the “country. “
It was a prescient choice. City zoning soon banned retail stores in residential neighborhoods, limiting the Bondareff’s competition to a few markets on Connecticut Avenue and Brookville Road. Nearby, the Chevy Chase Land Company was developing almost two thousand acres of rural land into attractive “suburban” housing for affluent families. Farmland across the street from the market was cleared to build the Lafayette Elementary School and Park.
Like other immigrant shopkeepers, the Bondareffs—who left Russia in the early 1900s—at first lived above the store. Most orders were delivered to nearby customers. Quality, said Mr. Bondareff, was the same or better than if customers selected their food in person. He rose early every day to buy fresh produce at the Southwest market (now the site of Arena Stage). A broker supplied roasts and chickens and fish on Fridays.
As store space expanded, the Bondareffs built a large house nearby. “There weren’t many Jews living there,” says the Bondareff’s daughter, Esther, whose husband Dan later managed the store, “but we always felt comfortable in the community.”
Loyal staff stayed on for decades. Curly, a driver, began working there when he was 13. Esther recalls that during the Depression, her parents helped some people who lacked money for food. “Sometimes they were paid back, sometimes not.“
In 1976, In 1976, community walking tour guide Footsteps: Historical Walking Tours of Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, Friendship commented, “Broad Branch Market is one of the few neighborhood markets left in Northwest Washington. It is a place where people not only buy groceries, but where neighbors meet and talk in the friendly, personal atmosphere created by the Bondareffs and their employees.”
Children whose parents had charge accounts ran over for packaged ice cream and treats after school and sat by the dozens on the front steps.
In the early 1980s the family sold the market and retired to Florida. Several new owners took over, but the community-oriented spark was missing. In 2002 the store was shuttered. As one new owner Lewis Bloom and others brainstormed a way to reopen the market, a new “corner store” model emerged: the building, renovated to evoke its past, would sell prepared and fresh gourmet foods, artisan breads, bulk ice cream and wine, and offer catering services and a preschool child care center.
Today, the stylish store adds value to community life in unexpected ways: a haven during snowstorms and power outages, a venue for folk concerts and book talks, a place where busy moms and dads pick up a fresh dinner. Local real estate ads highlight “close to Broad Branch Market.”
The market’s wider recognition includes a civic award to co-managers Tracy Stannard and John Fielding and an appreciative plaque on a nearby antique call box.
Esther Bondareff, a lifelong wildlife conservationist as well as a pioneering grocer, visited the market recently when her granddaughter was married in Virginia. “Tracy and John are doing a great job,” she says.
This article was adapted from Phyllis Myers, “The Renaissance of the Corner Store in Washington, DC.” Thanks to Esther Bondareff, Joan Bondareff, Sydney Butler, William West Hopper, Tracy Stannard, Milton Kotler, Chris Kain, Keene Taylor, Historic Chevy Chase, DC and others who shared memories and writings or reviewed early drafts of this article.
References include: Neighborhood Planning Councils 2 and 3, title missing (1973), Footsteps: Historical Walking Tours of Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, Friendship (1976); and Origins and Origins II (1975, 1976); Jane Donovan and Brian McClure, Lafayette Life: Words and Images Since 1928 (Historic Chevy Chase, 1999), Current Newspapers, selected articles (2001 to 2013).
Phyllis Myers, a planner who has written extensively on urban revitalization and historic preservation topics, lives in Chevy Chase, MD. She served as trustee of the Committee of 100 and chair of the DC American Planning Association’s Parks and Publications committees. She and her family are fans of both the old and new Broad Branch Market.