by Ann Kessler
In the 1950s, before Washingtonians started traveling to the newly built malls in the suburbs, people shopped locally. Near Forest Hills, for instance, on the east side of the 4400 block of Connecticut Avenue, there were stores where you could buy shoes and women’s casual and dressy clothing. One could walk to “the Avenue,” do some clothes shopping, and then go to lunch at the Hot Shoppes restaurant across the street.
Branches of three popular chains – Hahn Shoes, Peck & Peck, and Jelleff’s – made our area of Connecticut Avenue a shopping destination.
Hahn Shoes was a landmark on Connecticut Avenue. When asked where Albemarle Street was, one would frequently reply “at Hahn’s.” Hahn’s was an old established shoe store – it had been founded in 1876 in the 1900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. By 1992, Hahn’s had 23 retail stores in the DC area, including its fifth store, which opened at 4483 Connecticut Avenue in February 1939.
At that time the Washington Home News wrote:
“The confidence of local merchants in the continued growth and popularity of Connecticut Avenue as a shopping center is further evidenced by the William Hahn Shoe Company who have completed their new store at Connecticut Avenue and Albemarle Street. This expansion move by a firm which has served Washington for 62 years is an excellent barometer of the volume of retail spending in this residential section of the Capital.”
The Hahn family maintained the leadership of the company from its founding. In the 1950s, that meant the third generation of Hahns – Harry Hahn Jr., Arthur Hahn, Stephen Heller, William Hahn and Gilbert Hahn – worked together to manage the firm. Arthur Hahn also resided in Forest Hills, at 4526 29th Street, and served as treasurer of the Forest Hills Citizens Association for many years.
Eventually Hahn’s profitability ebbed as competition increased from discount shoe stores and department stores located in suburban malls. In September 1995, Hahn’s went out of business, closing their 7 remaining stores. Since then the 67-foot wide, one-story building at the corner of Connecticut and Albemarle has been occupied by such stores and restaurants as Mill End Shops, Maggie’s Restaurant, Café Di Mamma, Trattoria Liliana, and now Diplomat Cleaners, Italian Pizza Kitchen and Nail Avenue.
Next door to Hahn’s at 4481 Connecticut Avenue was the woman’s clothing store, Peck & Peck. Opened in 1951, this was a branch of the New York Fifth Avenue store founded in 1888.
Diana McLellan, the gossip columnist for the Evening Star newspaper for many years, worked at this branch. It was her first job. She wrote in 1974 about how she had been trained at Peck & Peck in “the appreciation of the Certain Kind of Store that the Certain Kind of Woman haunts and shops at, the Peck & Peck mystique.”
This was an upscale high fashion clothing store for neighborhood women. The national company foundered in the 1970s and went bankrupt in 1974. It was sold in 1976 to another retailer. The Connecticut Avenue branch closed in February 1976.
The last of the three stores prominently located at Connecticut and Albemarle was Jelleff’s at 4473 (now the Franklin Montessori School).
Jelleff’s was founded in 1910 by Frank R. Jelleff, who came to DC from Cincinnati. While he created a successful chain of women’s clothing stores, he was also heavily involved in service to the community. He was one of the founders of the Boys’ Club of Washington in 1919 and served as its president for 20 years. He was also a strong supporter of the Community Chest, the Red Cross, the National Symphony Orchestra, home rule for DC, and chairman of the Parole Board from 1938 to 1946.
Jelleff’s was known for its women’s fine fashions. Mrs. Calvin Coolidge bought her inaugural ball gown at the downtown store (1214 F Street) in 1925. Eleanor Roosevelt, Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, and Mrs. Harry Truman also shopped there. With the reputation for serving First Ladies, Jelleff’s was a highly respected store when it opened its Connecticut Avenue branch in November 1948. Jelleff’s success continued until the death of its founder, Frank R. Jelleff, in 1961.
His widow sold the store to I. Lee Potter in 1968. Times were changing and the new owners were unable to match Jelleff’s earlier success. The decision to liquidate the remaining stores, including the Connecticut Avenue branch, was made by the Potter family in 1979. The final closing of the local Jelleff’s was in May 1979.
Thus Upper Connecticut Avenue’s reign as a shopping destination ended. Three stores had served the neighborhood for many years: Hahn’s for 56 years; Peck & Peck 25 years; and Jelleff’s 31 years. The trend of consumers traveling to shop at suburban malls caused these local neighborhood stores to close. Now we can only envy the Forest Hills residents of the 1950s who could walk to “the Avenue” and find fine retail clothing and shoe stores.
Ann Kessler completed some of the research for this article at the Washingtoniana Division of D.C. Public Library now located at 4340 Connecticut Avenue.
Asher, Robert L. “Frank Jelleff Dead; Capital Civic Leader,” Washington Post, April 29, 1961, p. C5.
Barthelmes, Wes. “Jelleff Holds High Rank in Civic, Business Affairs,” Washington Post, Jan. 15, 1956, p. D17.
“Connecticut Ave. Store at Albemarle Open Saturday,” Hahn’s ad.
“800 Honor Jelleff on Store’s 50 Years,” Evening Star, Feb. 29, 1960.
“Frank R. Jelleff Dies; Long a Civic Leader,” Evening Star, April 28, 1961, p.1.
Goodman, S. Oliver. “80-Year-Old William Hahn & Co. Continues a Family Business,” Washington Post, Dec. 9, 1956, p. C11.
“Hahn Will Open Fifth Store,” Washington Herald, Dec. 25, 1938.
“Hahn’s Fifth Store Now Open—Conn. Ave. at Albemarle St.,” Washington Home News, March 16, 1939.
“Jelleff’s Plans Expansion Under New Ownership,” Washington Post, Sept. 8, 1968.
Knight, Jerry. “Jelleff’s Chain Going Out of Business Soon,” Washington Post, May 8, 1979, p. D7.
McLellan, Diana. “For the Certain Kind of Woman,” Evening Star, August 18, 1974, p. 29.
Morris, Bailey. “Jelleff: It Just Got Left Behind,” Evening Star, October 26, 1972.
“Peck and Peck Opens,” Evening Star, Sept. 21, 1948.
Saltz, Donald. “Jelleff’s, Retailing Landmark, To Close its Doors Forever,” Evening Star, May 5, 1979. P. 18.
Spinner, Jackie. “Unable to Find a Buyer, Hahn Shoes to Liquidate,” Washington Post, August 16, 1995.
Spinner, Jackie and Margaret Webb Pressler. “Hahn Shoes Chain for Sale After 119 Years in District,” Washington Post, June 23, 1995.