Metro Weekly

Small Business Boosters: D.C.’s Main Streets

D.C.'s Main Streets program has proven an effective ally for helping entrepreneurs set up shop

Shaw Main Street Photography by Todd Franson
Businesses on Shaw Main Street – Photography by Todd Franson

For Alex Padro, the upside-down “L”-shaped portion running north from 1800 block of 7th Street NW, then east down the 600 block of T Street NW to the Howard Theatre, is the crown jewel of the Shaw neighborhood and a prime example of what revitalizing an area can do.

“If I had to pick a block where everything’s gone right, that would be the block,” he says.

Padro, the executive director of Shaw Main Streets, says all but two spaces on that strip of real estate have been renovated, and recent years have seen the advent of eateries like Uprising Muffin, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency and Mockingbird Hill, as well as the revamping of older businesses like Wanda’s on Seventh Salon & Spa, which, after a temporary hiatus, was able to return to the neighborhood in a newly-renovated building on the spot of its original inception. Padro says those two blocks have had the most “dramatic transformation” of any commercial corridor in Shaw Main Streets’ service area.

Founded in 2002, D.C.’s Main Streets program is based on the model developed by the National Main Street Center to assist downtown revitalization efforts in major U.S. cities. The Main Streets program is accredited under the umbrella of the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) that is intended to foster retail investment by providing the support, training and resources needed to help small businesses thrive. Main Streets organizations, which exist in five different cities across the country, largely focus on the revitalization and historic preservation of major commercial corridors, and the promotion of the businesses that settle there.

In the District, there are currently eight recognized Main Streets programs along several major commercial corridors: in addition to Shaw, there’s also Barracks Row, along 8th Street SE; Congress Heights, in Ward 8; Deanwood Heights, in Ward 7; Dupont Circle; H Street NE; the North Capitol Street corridor; and Rhode Island Avenue NE. All Main Streets programs are run by a paid executive director — who helps administer grant money from the city to carry out the organization’s activities — and an all-volunteer support staff.

According to Ted Archer, chief of staff at DSLBD, there have been other Main Streets programs that have since disbanded, either because the people involved wanted to re-evaluate their efforts, or felt that Main Streets “was not the correct revitalization tool for them at that precise time.” According to Padro, some since-disbanded Main Streets programs included one near 14th and U Streets NW, one on Upper 14th Street, and another further up Georgia Avenue NW in what was known as the “Gateway” Main Streets.

Since helping found Shaw Main Streets in 2003, and becoming the nonprofit’s executive director in 2004, Padro, who also serves as an ANC commissioner, has served as a cheerleader and advocate of luring small businesses to set up shop in Shaw, which has several qualities that made it appealing.

“The neighborhood was historically a commercial district, especially along 7th and 9th Streets, the O Street Market, the Howard Theatre, those were all assets that were underperforming, or, in some cases, had been boarded up for decades,” Padro says. “We had a lot of empty lots where significant development could take place. Those were all opportunities to fill the gaps and bring businesses in where none had been in a really long time.”

Padro and Shaw Main Streets set to work, focusing on cleaning up the neighborhood — Main Streets also manages the city’s Clean & Safe program for the Shaw neighborhood, which focuses on trash collection, planting trees, and cleaning up graffiti — as well as providing small businesses with technical assistance or advice for obtaining various building and operating permits, and marketing the neighborhood as a destination, both for residents and visitors to the city. As Shaw increasingly became the latest neighborhood affected by D.C.’s development boom, particularly following the construction of the nearby Convention Center, Shaw Main Streets worked to attract more than 150 new businesses while finding ways to retain existing ones, even as real estate prices and rents in the up-and-coming neighborhood quickly escalated.

Advertisement
Visit The Metro Weekly Store

“Folks used to have to go to 14th Street or Chinatown to go to the theater, or go to an art gallery, or to go out to dinner. We didn’t have any independent coffee shops, or even a Starbucks,” Padro says of the neighborhood’s change. “It was really all about neighbors working together to try to attract the types of businesses that they wanted to spend their money in, and that they wanted to have jobs in.”

Padro says he would “absolutely” encourage other neighborhoods with major commercial thruways to adopt a Main Streets or other similar program focusing on small business growth and neighborhood revitalization, both externally and financially.

“I would encourage Mayor Bowser to expand the program to other commercial corridors that haven’t made the amount of progress that’s possible with a Main Streets group,” he says.

Of course, Shaw is not the only neighborhood experiencing boom times. Kyle Wood, executive director of Rhode Island Avenue Main Streets, says the program has been successful in helping businesses settle in the Eckington, Brookland and Woodridge neighborhoods. Rhode Island Avenue Main Streets has helped several businesses pay for facade improvements, and has helped others with marketing strategies to promote themselves. While Woodridge, in particular, is still in need of a dry cleaners, a pet food store, and a sit-down restaurant, the eastern end of Rhode Island Avenue has already attracted a coffee shop, a local grocery store, and even an art studio and gallery. There are plans for a new bistro, specializing in Mediterranean food, set to open in the spring of 2015, in the 2200 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE, in the space formerly occupied by Lace Nightclub.

“Businesses are coming to the area because they see interesting things happening here,” Wood says.

Many small business owners assisted by the various Main Streets organizations have nothing but praise for the program.

Philip Sambol, the general manager of Good Food Market, says that the Rhode Island Avenue Main Streets program has been extremely helpful in spreading word about the market, which fills a gap that was created when a former Safeway closed, leaving the Woodridge neighborhood without a viable grocery store. Sambol credits Rhode Island Avenue Main Streets with helping Good Food Market get a sign, make improvements to its exterior facade, and pay for additional security measures.

Meanwhile, across town, Sean Reydi — co-owner of Simon Vintage, a furniture and homegoods store on 9th Street NW — says that Shaw Main Streets most recently helped him and his partner obtain money to secure a sign for their business that cost nearly $7,000. It has previously helped Simon Vintage with its marketing strategy, including obtaining an advertisement on the side of a city bus. Shaw Main Streets has also introduced Reydi and his partner to other businesses so they can offer special discounts or promotions. Reydi also says that Simon Vintage has been able to expand its customer base through events like the Art All Night festival, in which Shaw Main Streets, partnering with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, highlights various works of art, which allowed art lovers to stop by the shop and get special discounts.

“From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., we had a non-stop flow of people,” Reydi says of this year’s festival. He says that when Simon Vintage’s lease is up in a year, he and his partner will have to think very hard about relocating.

“We’ve debated whether we should buy closer to our home neighborhood,” he said. “But one of the detractions is not having a Shaw Main Streets to help us. It makes us think twice about ever moving.”

[ninja-inline id=73197]

Metro Weekly Discount Tickets & Offers!

Weekly Online Improv Classes for Non-Actors and Beginners

Online Stream,
Monday, December 06
  • Theater
  • Under $10
  • Lectures & Classes
  • Online & At Home

We hold a weekly online improv workout designed for beginning actors as well as non-actors. One and a half hours of improv games to help you boost your confidence, social skills, and shyness. Oh, and ... Read more

Sarah Brightman: "A Christmas Symphony"

Music Center at Strathmore, North Bethesda
Monday, December 06 - Tuesday, December 07
  • Holiday
  • In Person
  • Music

Known for her three-octave range and for pioneering the classical-crossover music movement, nearly everything about Sarah Brightman’s illustrious career has been epic. The soprano’s turn as Christ... Read more

Chirping Bird: A Free Comedy Show -- Online

Zoom Stream,
Monday, December 06 - Monday, December 20
  • Free
  • Comedy
  • Top Rated
  • Online & At Home

See top comedians virtually from the comfort of your home and sweatpants! Comics from MTV, Amazon, Comedy Central, SiriusXM and more!... Read more

Name That Tune - Live Music Weekly Livestream Game!

Online Stream,
Tuesday, December 07 - Tuesday, January 25
  • Music
  • Activities & Competitions
  • Online & At Home

A weekly livestream Name That Tune game, with a different theme each time ('80s, beach music, movies, boy bands, Motown, etc.), plus trivia, lyric challenges, song knowledge and much more! And unlike ... Read more

"Tootsie"

The National Theatre, Washington
Tuesday, December 07 - Sunday, December 12
  • Theater
  • In Person
  • Holiday

Call it “musical comedy heaven” ("Rolling Stone"). Call it “the most uproarious new musical in years!” ("The Hollywood Reporter"). Call it "Tootsie"! This laugh-out-loud love letter to the the... Read more

Online Tai Chi Classes with Dave Burgett

Zoom Stream,
Tuesday, December 07 - Thursday, January 06
  • Activities & Competitions
  • Under $10
  • Lectures & Classes
  • Top Rated
  • Online & At Home

Often described at "meditation in motion," Tai Chi's gentle movements will calm your mind and enhance your body. Dave Burgett -- a Seventh-Degree Black Belt -- will lead you through a basic form to im... Read more

Washington National Opera: Marian Anderson Vocal Award: Frederick Ballentine in Recital

The Kennedy Center - Terrace Theater, Washington
Tuesday, December 07
  • In Person
  • Music
  • Added This Week

Named for the groundbreaking African American contralto, the Marian Anderson Vocal Award recognizes a young American singer in opera, oratorio, or recital repertory. Given annually by WNO and the Kenn... Read more

"White Rabbit Red Rabbit" -- Online

Zoom Stream,
Tuesday, December 07 - Sunday, December 12
  • Theater
  • Online & At Home

The play no one is allowed to talk about. No rehearsals. No director. No set. At each performance, a different actor unseals the script and performs it cold. "White Rabbit Red Rabbit" offers almost no... Read more

Taylor Swift Ultimate Game Night & Karaoke - Online

Zoom Stream,
Tuesday, December 07
  • Music
  • Activities & Competitions
  • Under $10
  • Online & At Home

Ultimate Game night- Taylor Swift edition- Music Bingo, Name that Song, guess the lyrics, Karaoke and Guess the lyrics Most of the songs will be from her older albums, but will mix some new ones in as... Read more

"A Strange Loop"

Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington
Tuesday, December 07 - Tuesday, December 21
  • Theater
  • In Person
  • Hot

Usher is a Black queer writer working a job he hates while writing his original musical … about a Black queer writer working a job he hates while writing his original musical. Michael R. Jackson’s... Read more

Off-the-Cuff Comedy from The Improvised Shakespeare Company

The Kennedy Center - Theater Lab, Washington
Tuesday, December 07 - Thursday, December 16
  • Theater
  • In Person
  • Holiday

Based on one audience suggestion (a title for a play that has yet to be written), The Improvised Shakespeare Co. creates a fully improvised masterpiece right before your very eyes! Each of the players... Read more

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"

Olney Theatre Center - Mainstage, Olney
Wednesday, December 08 - Saturday, December 18
  • Theater
  • In Person
  • Hot
  • Top Rated

The animated classic that kicked off the "Disney Renaissance" in 1991 is even more magical when you experience it live. This Olney Theatre Center production is a sumptuous way to share the fun of live... Read more

Tai Chi Class for Beginners -- Online

Zoom Stream,
Wednesday, December 08 - Wednesday, December 22
  • Free
  • Added This Week
  • Lectures & Classes
  • Online & At Home

Tai Chi will develop your mind's alertness, awareness, and concentration. Most importantly, as you practice, pay attention to the feeling within the movements, so you may appreciate the profound essen... Read more

Josh Johnson ("The Daily Show, Josh Johnson Show Podcast")

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, Arlington
Wednesday, December 08
  • In Person
  • Comedy

Josh Johnson is a storyteller, comedian, NAACP award-winning and Emmy-nominated writer from Alexandria, Louisiana (via Chicago). He is currently a writer on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and is a fo... Read more

"Gilmore Girls" Online Trivia Game

Zoom Stream,
Wednesday, December 08
  • Movies & TV
  • Activities & Competitions
  • Under $10
  • Online & At Home

Know all 153 episodes of "Gilmore Girls" better than Lorelai knows the menu at Luke's Diner? Then put your Stars Hollow knowledge to the test with this fun virtual trivia game. Along with trivia, you'... Read more

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

Olney Theatre Center - Historic Stage, Olney
Wednesday, December 08 - Sunday, December 12
  • Theater
  • In Person
  • Hot

Starring Mason Alexander Park (Netflix's "Cowboy Bebop") as Hedwig! The revolutionary punk-rock sensation comes to Olney Theatre Center. In the crossfire of cold wars and culture wars, Hedwig is a sur... Read more

Virtual Ukulele Jam With the Honeyville Rascals

Online Stream,
Thursday, December 09 - Thursday, December 30
  • Free
  • Music
  • Top Rated
  • Online & At Home

Join us on Zoom for a fun jam and a chance to give. Open to all instruments, not just ukuleles, this free event will bring you so much joy that you'll want to share the love by donating to a nonprofit... Read more

Virtual Vincent van Gogh Art Tour

Zoom Stream,
Thursday, December 09 - Thursday, December 30
  • Museums & Attractions
  • Under $10
  • Online & At Home

Take a live virtual tour of Vincent van Gogh’s life and artistic career. In this tour, we will explore historic facts, famous paintings, drawings, letters, and how he became an Impressionist. Your g... Read more

"Holiday Horror: Murder at the Ugly Sweater Office Holiday Party!" -- A Virtual Game

Online,
Thursday, December 09
  • Theater
  • Holiday
  • Activities & Competitions
  • Online & At Home

Dawn your ugliest holiday sweater and round up some friends to play this brand-new murder mystery party game by Broadway Murder Mysteries! The Tasty-Ful Design Company’s holiday office party is swin... Read more

Secret Things

1st Stage Theater, Tysons
Thursday, December 09 - Sunday, December 12
  • Theater
  • In Person

When Delia, an ambitious journalist, receives anonymous articles about Mexican-Americans claiming to have hidden Jewish roots, she is intrigued ... even if it means returning to her native town in New... Read more

 

Leave a Comment:

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!