A unique incubator for Black business owners and entrepreneurs will open next month in D.C.’s Congress Heights neighborhood and its first participants have moved in.
The Retail Village at Sycamore & Oak (named for its location) is set up to mentor, train and grow Black-owned retail and food concepts that originate in the community with low-cost space and rent abatement, business coaching, marketing support and financing assistance.
It will also create about 100 local jobs.
The building itself is unique. It’s a 23,000-square foot structure constructed of mass timber, and it’s the largest free-standing building of its kind in the District. It was designed by David Adjaye, the architect who designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.
“There is 10,000-square feet of gathering space, equipped with stage and sounds and lights for training and presentations. It is anchored by two halls, including a retail hall that has eight businesses with 200-square feet each. It includes four restaurants,” said Monica Ray, president of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation, one of the incubator’s stakeholders.
The center, which opens next month, is not permanent. It is an Interim Retail Village on a parcel of city-owned land at the St. Elizabeth’s East campus. It’s next to the Entertainment and Sports Arena that will eventually be redeveloped, but not at least for three years.
It will give its organizers the opportunity to host several groups of Black business startup owners. Each is getting at least a six-month stay in the space.
The city broke ground on the project in July 2022.
Lending a hand to the coaching is D.C. celebrity chef José Andrés.
“He is the mentor and coach to our four restaurateurs,” Ray said. “Only one of the four have ever had a restaurant before, so having one of the best chefs in the world as coach, you can imagine how excited they must be.”
Businesses were selected after an application, interview and evaluation process with community members, the Department of Small and Local Business Development and retail experts.
The eight businesses chosen for the initial incubator period are all owned by residents of Wards 7 and 8. They are:
- Black Bella Spa & Wellness
- Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center
- Chris Pyrate and Friends
- LoveMore Brand
- Our Armoire
- Salon on the Ave
- The Museum
- Paradyce Clothing Company, Inc.
The St. Elizabeth’s East campus now includes apartments and townhomes, a men’s shelter, the new Whitman-Walker Health facility and a George Washington University medical center, which opens in 2024. A new public library is also planned.
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