Grace Deli on the corner of Seventh and H streets Northeast was for the past eight years the neighborhood’s go-to store for a cold drink, a snack or just a chat with the owner, Hae Soon Lim, known to her friends and customers as June or Grace.
But on Friday, a day after Lim was found dead as the result of what police said was an attempted robbery, the deli looked like a different place. She was about to turn 65 and had been planning on retiring next year.
Shortly before noon Friday, neighbors were taping signs and cards to the storefront and slipping stuffed animals and flowers into the slots of the metal grating that indicated the business was closed. There were posters with Lim’s photo, accompanied by handwritten messages that said, “We love you” and “We will miss you.”
The 50 or more former customers and neighbors who gathered outside Grace Deli spoke to one another in somber tones, recalling how much Lim was loved in the community and how she was more to them than a business owner.
Five or six women folded Lim’s son, Peter Lim, into their arms when he arrived on the scene, holding him close as he broke down in sobs.
“Let it out,” they said. “We loved your mom.”
Peter Lim, who said he will not be reopening the store, put free drinks out on the sidewalk — Arizona Iced Tea, Gatorade and bottled water.
“Take as many as you can carry. It’s what my mom would have wanted,” he told the crowd. His generosity was fitting, people said, because his mother was known for similar acts of kindness.
“She fed us,” said Leshae Staten, leading a prayer while the crowd lit candles and murmured in agreement. “If we didn’t have it, she gave it to us.”
“Her business was not doing well, and my dad’s health ... she was losing money every month,” Peter Lim said. “And for her to sacrifice to help people who were in need. ... There was someone who came in and gave me a hug and said, ‘I used to be homeless, I used to come in and she would feed me.’”
“I had no idea. I had no idea,” he said.
The predominantly African-American neighborhood where Grace Deli sits has seen a marked decline in violent crime over the past decade. That made it even more difficult for some in the area to understand the loss.
“I had breakfast here every morning,” said Nira Monk, who has worked in the neighborhood for three years. “She was very much a part of the community.”
Later, Kate Hardy helped her 5-year-old daughter, Coriell Bernhardt, hang a drawing she had made — an orange heart around the name “June” and some stickers.
An officer with the Metropolitan Police Department handed out fliers with Lim’s photo under the words “Homicide Victim. Up to $25,000 Reward.” Mourners in the crowd took copies, some in multiples.
Peter Lim is hopeful the investigation will bear fruit.
“I hope with all these people, someone saw something. ... It was a senseless act. He could have just hit her over the head and left. He could have beat her up and left,” he said. “There was no reason to do what he did.”