D.C. is about to get a vibrant new retailer for Black-owned brands.
Gift Shop opens Wednesday in the Union Market area of Northeast D.C.
“We’ve had this idea for quite a while,” co-founder Tamon George told WTOP. “One thing that we always try to do is think of ways to empower other small businesses like ours and find avenues for other people to be successful.”
Located on Fourth Street Northeast, just a short walk from the NoMa/Gallaudet Metro station, the new brick-and-mortar store will be open Wednesdays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“We’re just trying to elevate this thing to where somebody can feel like they’re in a store that could be on Madison Avenue or any real hip and trendy place,” George said.
Gift Shop will sell lifestyle and home goods from Black Pepper Paperie Co., District of Clothing, ArtByJLaw, Ron David Studio, Destiny’s Cache’, BlkOut, bEASH Please, The Mobelbutik, Charismatic Creations, Journacy, RiverIsWild and Small Wooden Box.
“We’re super excited to bring these brands,” co-founder Gary Williams Jr. said. “A lot of them haven’t had a chance to be in a brick-and-mortar situation, so it gives customers a new way to interact with the brands outside of e-commerce. We’re not even having an e-commerce option. We want people to come in, touch and see these items.”
Items range in price from $15 to $400.
“There’s something for everyone,” Williams said. “There’s candles, throw pillows, throw blankets, scarves, artwork; District of Clothing has her shirts, hoodies, hats; sunglasses and wallets from Ron David. … Low-end, we have like keychains and wallets for $15. High-end is $400 for tapestries and really nice leather pillows.”
Gift Shop is part of the 45-acre urban development plan surrounding the acclaimed food hub of Union Market. After opening in September 2012, Union Market was averaging a stellar 15,000 visitors per weekend before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, it’s nowhere what it used to be pre-COVID, which is expected,” Williams said. “People are out safely, people are masked, the market is still open. … It’s starting to pick back up. As the vaccines roll out and the horizon starts to appear a bit, I think Union Market will be back to that 15,000 soon, I’d say towards the end of the year.”
The 1,700-square-foot space will double as the headquarters for Creative Theory Agency, the duo’s acclaimed marketing firm that began in 2015 in the old Maurice Electric Building. In 2020, it was named one of Ad Age’s “Small Agencies of the Year,” servicing Under Armour, Facebook, Netflix, Bevel, Viacom, YouTube and Google.
“We have the opportunity to give perspective and a lens of representation to big companies who haven’t necessarily thought about it before [regarding] communities of color and how brands should approach, associate, understand, represent and support not just businesses but the human worth of individuals,” George said.
That’s been the mission for the duo since 2015. Williams grew up in Fairfax, Virginia; George moved from Canada to attend the University of the District of Columbia.
“It’s been a really special journey to think about where we started our business, from just a couple of guys Starbucks-ing … to be able to expand our business and work with some of the influential partners that we work with now,” George said.
Believe it or not, they actually bonded over a shared middle name: Darnell.
“We both have the same middle name,” Williams said. “We joke and say that’s what solidified this business relationship, which is strange. … We’re both Darnells!”
Just like Batman and Superman bonded over mothers named Martha, these entrepreneurial superheroes are helping the community one Black-owned brand at a time.