Many of you, especially those who live south of Lincoln Park, know Mott’s Market as a great place to get a six-pack of beer, or some milk, or something to satisfy that late-night munchie urge. What you probably don’t know is that it was once the scene of some RNC shenanigans.
The year was 1956. As Summer progressed, the Republicans began worrying about how their policies would be perceived by the public at large. Casting about for ideas, they decided a film showing how a small business owner had been helped by the Small Business Administration would be just the ticket. This film could be shown by congresspeople across the country, and give those watching it a real sense of the important work being done in their name.
Unfortunately, time was tight, and there was none to actually find a small business owner who had, in fact, been assisted by the SBA. Instead, the RNC decided to rent out a small grocery store about a mile east of the Capitol and use this as a backdrop for their little film. For $40, Henry J. Rubin, the owner of the S and A Market was persuaded to close up shop and make himself scarce for two hours.
The RNC hired Hal Stepler, a young television announcer, to play the part of the owner, and cast an RNC secretary to play the part of “Mrs. Fraser,” checkout clerk and assistant to the owner. Finally, a Georgetown student was found to play the part of a patron. The film mainly revolves around an interview with the “owner,” who describes how quickly and easily he was able to get the small business loan and how much this cash infusion has helped his business.
The film was sent out to any interested congressperson, and was shown in groups and on TV all across the country. There was no hint that it had all actually been staged.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the Washington Post was on the case, and on September 30, Richard C. Reid, a staff reporter, blew open the case with a report that was splashed across the fourth page of the Metro section of the paper. Quoting not only large amounts of the script, as well as Republicans claiming this was the only case that they had used actors, as well as shocked Democratic officials insisting they had never done anything like this, the article managed to cover all the bases.
It was also the only instance of any reporting on this critical issue, though it is interesting to note that in spite of Dwight Eisenhower’s landslide victory that Fall, the Democrats actually managed to pick up two further seats in the House.
Today, the S and A Market is Mott’s Market, and if you want to visit this historic location, you just need to go over to 233 12th Street SE.