October 4, 2013 | by Mark Lee
The sweet Pulp of 14th Street
Meryl Hooker, Pulp, 14th Street, gay news, Washington Blade

Meryl Hooker is Pulp’s ‘fearless leader.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Meryl Hooker has come home.

The new self-described “fearless leader” at popular 14th Street, N.W., independent card and gift retailer Pulp credits store founder Ron Henderson with teaching her to “become a great sales rep – and how products can define a store and nourish a community.” Hooker, who worked as a greeting card and gift sales representative servicing the mid-Atlantic area for 15 years, wrote some of Henderson’s first product orders at the time of the store’s opening in early 2002.

Hooker, a 23-year District resident, also lived in the neighborhood during the “crack” and prostitution fueled era of dereliction and danger a couple of decades ago, prior to new upstart businesses slowly reclaiming abandoned storefronts facing the then-forlorn pavement. Today the unique paper goods and gift shop at 1803 14th St., near the intersection with S Street and occupying one of the strip’s historic low-rise two-story brick buildings, brightens a now booming block with its purple-painted exterior and neon-outlined yellow logo hovering over whimsical window displays.

The always personable and engagingly irreverent Hooker would continue to work with Henderson until he discontinued managing, due to illness, the store’s day-to-day operation five years later. The beloved community proprietor, among the first to open new businesses on the commercial corridor between Thomas Circle and Florida Avenue, also launched now-closed locations on Capitol Hill and in Provincetown.

Henderson would later succumb to liver cancer and complications related to AIDS in early 2009, leaving as one of his legacies a local business that helped define and re-energize a prominent part of what is now a bustling boulevard. Henderson’s husband and co-owner Paul Hempel operated the store following his partner’s passing, later selling to local business investor Anthony Boykins.

A framed photo of Henderson still hangs behind the service counter – a tribute to his having imbued the enterprise, his first entrepreneurial adventure, with the slogan “Come Feel the Love.” That sentiment continues to fill the colorful and inviting space, as well as inspiring friendly offers of customer assistance.

Hooker came on board last month to helm the store as general manager and buyer, coordinating a staff of nine employees. Most have assisted a loyal patron base and aided new walk-ins discovering the store’s eclectic mix of merchandise for several years. Hooker credits this “incredibly dedicated” team, nearly all D.C. residents, with ensuring the shop’s success and contributing to its “fun and quirky personality.”

The concrete-floored former auto repair shop’s elongated interior is topped in back by an open mezzanine. This upper level overlooks a large array of oversized antique glass lighting fixtures dangling from a 20-foot main area ceiling, illuminating exposed brick walls and a convivial atmosphere.

Relying on extensive sales experience and industry insights, along with business development consulting activities, Hooker is ideally suited for leading the retail operation while discerning evolving marketplace preferences. Following the frenzied holiday sales season, she plans to further expand product diversity and initiate fun-filled in-store promotions and special events.

Hooker understands, like Henderson learned, that searching for and selecting the perfect expression of emotion in a card or gift is a genuinely personal and pleasurable experience, and one not replicated by online purchase. She wants the growing number of new neighbors in glistening glass-clad buildings throughout the MidCity area to think of Pulp as area residents and familiar customers do — the “go-to” spot for finding a special gift, card or one-of-a-kind item for any occasion.

Hooker is clearly delighted to be at the core of Pulp and tending a neighborhood’s longtime love for one of its landmark businesses.

 

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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