A Love Letter to D.C.’s Trailblazers
December 2, 2021 @ 12:00pm
One thing is true for every big city: a thriving ecosystem of small businesses, local entrepreneurs and vibrant creators, all hiding in plain sight. When I moved to D.C. in 2018 from a small town in Massachusetts, I had only ever known “local.” My hometown had an ordinance against chain stores; the only exception was one Starbucks staffed within the residents. My family is made up of small business owners, and my mother is a one-woman show of creative entrepreneurship. I grew up spending weekends in her shop, restocking inventory and opening or closing, or dropping off lunches when she worked too hard or long. It’s not easy to own and operate any business that contributes to a unique community. You help prevent capitalist gentrification, bolster people who have lived there for generations, and foster a self-supporting environment where neighbors know and trust each other.
Covid-19 changed small businesses across the country. Those who survived took a stance to do so, whether learning how to innovate and create something new, or by doubling down on best-known classics with immense trust in their product. Of all the (many) local businesses and entrepreneurs that exist in the District, here are some of our favorites from this year.
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Virginia Blanca Arrisueño
What originally began as a short-term pop-up selling curated goods grew into a full-time brick-and-mortar shop owned and led by Virginia Blanca Arrisueño. In addition to a large unique inventory, Steadfast Supply serves as a community incubator, providing event space and support to their brands, local entrepreneurs, influencers and small businesses. They host a variety of discussions, events, workshops and performances with the goal of ameliorating cultural value in the surrounding communities. Steadfast Supply: 301 Tingey St. #120 SE, DC; steadfastsupplydc.com // @virginia_arrisueno + @steadfastsupplyDC
Chord Bezerra loves D.C. and D.C. loves him back. He’s a graphic designer, DJ and founder of District Co-Op — an artist collective that empowers local creators and supports D.C.’s quest for statehood. His brand is inventive, fun and effortlessly positive. He riffs across genres in the DJ booth, keeping audiences (and himself) dancing for endless stretches. Creating is Bezerra’s passion in whatever form it may take — from flag-emblazoned hoodies to strobe lights and beats. districtcoop.threadless.com // @chorduroy80 + @district_coop
Stylist, creative director and vintage curator Tiara Chameleon knows clothes. With an eye for classic garments, Chameleon seamlessly weaves traditional pieces into on-the-edge fits, integrating aspects of retro class into everything she touches. Her personal style is “cultured sophistication with an edge,” things like menswear blazers belted around the waist and layered with vibrant prints and bold jewelry. @tiarachameleon
Kelanda Dickerson’s floral arrangements are bright, bold and imaginative. She incorporates natural movement into each piece, creating the illusion in even the smallest arrangements that her cup floweth over with florals. Even brown fronds and pale dried roses come alive with her practiced touch. Dickerson’s personal Instagram doubles as a business page, interspersing photos of jaw-dropping flowers with shots of her young children or husband Pierre Edwards, one of the creative minds behind Studio Sonic. @kiiiki
Dorsey’s brand District of Clothing isn’t just shirts on your back — it’s a lifestyle. DOC encourages “progression, inspiring action and supporting self-love,” featuring bold statements of self-identity as well as fierce support for D.C. statehood. Her “51” brand hat (a reference to D.C. as the 51st continental state) was sported by Mayor Bowser last year. She’s also outfitted BLM D.C. and raised money for World Kitchen’s Covid relief efforts. dionnadorsey.com + districtofclothing.com //
@dionnadorsey + @districtofclothing
Riah Gonzales-King’s entrepreneurial spirit and achievement is unmatched. One of the first trans women to head the Equality Chamber of Commerce D.C., Gonzales-King is also the founder of Stunner Social, a digital marketing agency. She’s fiercely intelligent and devoted to steering LGBTQ+ businesses toward success via the ECCDC. When District Fray spoke to her last, she told us of her hopes to use her wealth of knowledge to begin mentoring young transgender entrepreneurs. stunnersocial.com // @riahgk + @stunnersocial
Moore is both a chef and entrepreneur. Her business Green Panther Chef is a personal chef service that specializes in cannabis cuisine, whether that be fine dining or good old-fashioned homestyle meals. She’s also a cookbook author, having recently published “More Than a Cannabis Cookbook,” which provides recipes as well as education on the holistic wellness properties of THC and CBD. Moore is a survivor of Crohn’s, a chronic inflammatory condition that causes intense abdominal pain. With her informed approach to cannabis cooking and natural medicine, Moore creates truly unique cuisines. Green Panther Chef: 3000 7th St. NE, DC; greenpantherchef.com // @greenpantherchef
The self-proclaimed “Obama of Skateboarding,” Darren Harper is a born and raised Southeast native. Harper is open about his childhood and early years dealing drugs, before stepping out of the informal drug market after he discovered his love of skateboarding. His brand “Love Being Street” denounces the stigma of being raised in the streets, while simultaneously helping kids in Southeast stay on the right path. He’s a community educator, skateboard icon and an infectious energy to be around, all in one. @darren_harper
Tony Keith Jr.
Educational Emcee and Hip-Hop Education Leader Tony Keith Jr. doesn’t mince words; he weaves them. As a Black gay poet he spits poetic justice on the politics of AAVE and the possibilities for antiracist education in America. Keith is a D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities fellow, award-winning poet and a guest lecturer at venues ranging from the US State Department and Harvard University to the United African Alliance Community Center in Tanzania. Listening to him speak is a bodily experience, emotive and personal. While his resume is impressive, it takes just one listen to understand he doesn’t need validation from white society to know his worth. Keith’s most recent poem “White Fetishism” was published in early November. tonykeithjr.com // @tonykeithjr
Nobody knows D.C. theatre quite like Alan Paul. The current associate director of Shakespeare Theatre Company at the historic Sidney Harman Hall, Paul is also an award-winning musical director and documentary filmmaker. His directorial method is innovative and forward-thinking, informed by theatre in the 21st century without losing sight of its origins. He also teaches (and has taught) a bevy of developmental workshops and readings. Shakespeare Theatre at Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; shakespearetheatre.org // @alanpauldirector + @shakespeareinDC
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Art of Noize
This Petworth art gallery looks to bridge the gap between D.C.’s venerated museums and vibrant underground arts scene. A multi-purpose studio tucked away in one of Petworth’s alleys, Art of Noize is standalone in its approach to nurturing art in the community. Founder and NoVA native Adrian Ferguson works to shed light on D.C.’s art scene by focusing on local artists — no matter the discipline or background. Their digital calendar lists a host of upcoming events, with the option to book the space as well. 821 Upshur St. Rear#2 NW, DC; artofnoizedmv.com // @artofnoizedmv
Calabash Tea & Tonic
Calabash Tea wants you to decolonize your tongue. Founder Sunyatta Amen is a fifth-generation master herbalist and ethnobotanist dedicated to fostering inclusive wellness spaces in gentrified communities, as much of D.C. has become over the past several decades. They have it all, from unique tea blends like the “Teayoncé” to superfood seasonings, coffees, aromatherapy items and hoodies. Calabash also launched their own podcast series “Decolonize Your Dish” under their Calabash University initiative. If you’re someone who is mindful of the things you consume, Sunyatta Amen has a plethora of goodies and knowledge for you. 2701 12th St. NE, DC; calabashtea.com // @calasbashtea
D.C. Punk Archive
An archive unlike any of D.C.’s many others, D.C. punk archive marries two things that rarely inhabit the same space: punk music and archival research. Punk rock music has thrived in D.C. since the counterculture movement of the ‘60s. D.C.’s basements rocked out in protest while our streets ushered prim and proper statesmen to Capitol Hill. Though it slowed in the late ’90s, punk returned to D.C. in full force in 2015 and has been steadily gaining traction since. This initiative by D.C. Public Libraries crowdsources punk artifacts from individuals, venues and historians throughout the city, putting all of D.C.’s most hardcore history together in one place. Various locations. dclibrary.org/punk // @DCpubliclibrary
The team at Halcyon is funding social entrepreneurship in the District and acts as an “incubator” for newborn business ventures. Their two fellowship programs offer the most generous aid around: rent-free workspace, stipends, skill-building, legal support and investor networking. Halcyon also invests in what they call the “social enterprise ecosystem:” impact-driven businesses and social entrepreneurs who are women and/or people of color. 3400 Prospect St. NW, DC; halcyonhouse.org // @halcyoninspires
You might think L.A. and D.C. don’t have much in common, but Little Face Events is one thing they do. Katie Partlow recently expanded her events business to the District and found her niche building out of the existing marketing industry. Partlow’s events aren’t run-of-the-mill, white snack table and too-loud music types. She crafts imaginative experiences out of each one, including musicians, artists, burlesque and sensory journeys. Her Cannabis Cabaret event was hailed for removing the “stoner bro” facade from marijuana culture and earned her a spot in Rolling Stone. @littleface_events
Quick question: Where else can you get an AOC action figure, abolitionist sweatpants and support D.C. mutual aid all in one place? Meet The Outrage. On U Street, The Outrage is both an activist hub and a one-stop shop for cute fashion and gifts. Through their inventory, they connect you with the causes you care about and donate with every single purchase. In addition, they’re constantly out and about in the community campaigning for change, participating in protests and leveraging their influence. The back of the shop features a members-only gathering space, with the lowest membership tier fee set at $0 to make sure nobody is held back from joining. 1811 14th St. NW, DC;
the-outrage.com // @theoutrageonline
The Potter’s House
Rooted in Adams Morgan since 1960, the Potter’s House is an abolitionist bookstore, coffee shop/cafe and activist meeting space. The shop promotes core values of solidarity, spirituality, social justice and care for the earth. There’s dozens of bookstores in D.C. where you can purchase a paperback telling you why we should be helping our communities, but not many do the work themselves. The Potter’s House gives away an average of 2,000 hot meals to neighbors in need every year, operating a Pay It Forward program in addition to their standard philanthropy. Focused on sustainability, The Potter’s House runs on 100 percent wind power and composts their scraps — all while providing equitable compensation and conditions for employees. 1658 Columbia Rd. NW, DC; pottershousedc.org // @pottershousedc
Shop Made in DC
The name of the game is local artists and Shop Made in DC plays it well. The D.C.-based boutique focuses on investing in community, carrying thousands of handmade goods from 200-plus local creatives. Their SMIDC Corporate program allows buyers to curate gift boxes from the shop inventory, mixing and matching to broaden the spectrum of creators a single purchase can support. If spotlighting artisan work wasn’t enough, SMIDC hosts a broad range of workshops all year round — everything from paint and sips to popups and “yappy hours.” A community creative space in the Georgetown location allows “makers” to produce art in a flexible yet stable studio environment. Various locations. shopmadeindc.com // @shopmadeinDC
Solid State Books
This black-owned indie neighborhood bookstore graces the sidewalks of H Street with in-house coffee and a vast collection of titles. Solid State acts as a “nexus” for D.C.’s community of readers, writers, students, activists, artists and politicians by engaging each in programming and a specialized literary experience. Solid State has been on the scene since 2017 and has fast become a meeting ground for like-minded book lovers. Virtual book clubs are hosted weekly, as well as author readings and children’s storytime. 600F H St. NE, DC; solidstatebooksdc.com // @solidstatedc
Tour of Her Own (TOHO)
Believe them when they tell you there is a lot more to D.C.’s history than those other tours on the National Mall would lead you to believe. Women-owned and operated, A Tour Of Her Own (TOHO) is the first tour company to run tours focusing 100 percent on women in history. Their intersectional informed approach flushes out an existing, overwhelmingly masculine story of life in the capital, weaving stories across the lines of race, class and gender. They offer private tours, memberships and events — or you can choose from their list of signature tours, which include walking experiences focused on everything from early suffragists to LGBTQ+ Washingtonians. atourofherown.com // @atourofherown
Punk’s Not Dead
D.C.’s rich history of punk rock is seldom talked about and even more seldom experienced, as it still thrives in neon-lit corners of the city. That’s what makes DC Punk Archive, a DC Public Library initiative to preserve the history and culture of the local punk scene, so vital. The physical collection requires an appointment to see, but the ever-growing digital archives are easily accessible. Recordings, fliers, posters, zines — the archives are like a snapshot of D.C.’s least-known past.
When I first moved to D.C., I knew absolutely nobody. I came for college after transferring from my first university, a state school in Virginia where I didn’t quite find the coming-of-age transformation I yearned for. My only solace among miles and miles of the unfamiliar landscape was underground music: DIY and punk shows held in the basements of crumbling townhouses, with bands whose names sounded like satire and whose voices shook the walls. D.C.’s marbled streets bore little resemblance to the Virginia countryside, and punk music was one comforting holdover.
The first time it happened, seeing rockers and counter-culturists sorting through pages and ages at DC Punk Archive was a strangely emotional experience. I felt like I was seeing the most unexpected thing in the world, and the most predictable. I don’t struggle to adjust to life in the city anymore — no more jumping at the sound of car horns or metro cars or staring too long at monuments. But I do need a little nostalgia every now and then, and I can always find it in the D.C. Punk Archives.
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