When Angel Gregorio closed on the property at 2201 Channing St. in Northeast D.C., it was the home of a tow truck company and little was happening in the industrial neighborhood. It was “ugly and gross,” she said.
But after buying the commercial area in December 2021, the entrepreneur envisioned the space would turn into a shopping area for herself and other Black women.
With the help of the city’s Commercial Property Acquisition Fund, Gregorio opened The Spice Suite at Black and Forth on Friday afternoon. Mayor Muriel Bowser and dozens of community supporters were on hand for the ribbon-cutting and opening of the spice shop’s new home.
Within a few weeks, shipping containers currently sitting outside will be transformed into a nail salon, hair salon, a brow bar and a braiding bar. The shopping area will also have space for free pop-up shops, too.
Her shop, she said, has previously hosted over 2,500 “pop-ups free of charge for Black people over seven and a half years.”
With the help of supporters and Bowser’s office, she said, “I was able to turn this thing into something ultra-Black in color, aesthetic, and in theory, and in the people that I hope fill this space with me every day.”
The project started after a conversation with Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie about “commercial property and purchasing and inequities and injustices that happen when it comes to commercial property ownership,” she said.
McDuffie and Bowser then worked to craft a program for people who previously had difficulty gaining access to funding, said John Falcicchio, the city’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development.
Grants are issued for $750,000 or 25% of a building’s sale price, with the requirements being that business owners must keep their business in D.C. and continue owning the property.
“What Angel has done here is taking a site that she improved, it used to be a car garage, and now it’s a thriving retail business that we know the community is going to support,” Falcicchio said.
On The Spice Suite’s first day of business in Langdon Park, go-go music played outside as customers, Mayor Bowser included, filled small baskets of spices and other supplies.
Maia Shanklin said she’s known Gregorio since high school, and praised her efforts to open the new retail space.
“As a Black woman from D.C., as a native Washingtonian, this means everything, for one of us to own space, own land, and to have a business model that supports other Black women.”
Dorjan Short described the shop as “a woman’s dream that’s tied to reality.”
“To see her transition to this and then to give more opportunities to other women-owned businesses is just incredible to see,” Short said.
Gregorio hopes the shopping area, which she calls Black and Forth, becomes a model across the city.
“I want to be able to consult for free and talk other people through how to do this in your city, on your quadrants, so that this becomes the standard of how we care for each other, how we show up for community.”