DC Program Matches Local Businesses With Vacant Retail Space

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With the holiday season upon us, consumers are looking for gifts to buy, and places to shop, and the Golden Triangle BID is helping some businesses find space to peddle their wares in the golden triangle section of Downtown Washington D.C. 

To help fill retail spaces, the Golden Triangle BID partnered with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration and landlords to start the Grow Golden program, which matches local small businesses with landlords willing to let them use the space for free for the short term.

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“Under Mayor Bowser’s leadership, the District is recovering from the impact of the COVID pandemic and small businesses are no exception,” Leona Agouridis, executive director of the Golden Triangle BID, told Commercial Observer. “As everyone returns to the office, we are thrilled to bring in new pop-ups featuring unique and vibrant small businesses to enrich our neighborhood.” 

In the Golden Triangle section of downtown, hundreds of retail spaces sat empty when the program began this summer, with a vacancy rate that reached as high as 21 percent, with 7.3 million square feet of space available. 

“During the height of COVID, we were seeing a 90 percent decline against a wide variety of metrics, such as the number of people in offices and those taking the Metro,” Agouridis said. “Those metrics created a scenario where no one was around to buy from our businesses.” 

The Grow Golden program was created to activate the ground floor and welcome workers back to the CBD, she added.

“We wanted to be more inclusive, acknowledge the wide variety of spaces available and have something interesting for the returning workers,” Agouridis said. “I reached out to landlords asking if anyone had space they would provide and engaged brokers from some of the buildings, and put together a pilot program.” 

As of November, three spaces are being used through the Grow Golden program and more are on the way. 

Rahama Wright opened a space at 1250 Connecticut Avenue, NW, featuring a variety of minority- and women-owned businesses selling goods that include jewelry, candles, accessories, home goods, bath salts, moisturizers, and more.

“The DC Pop-Up is powered by my core business, Shea Yeleen, a D.C.-based social impact beauty company I started after serving in the Peace Corps,” Wright said. “We create living-wage jobs for women in Northern Ghana by creating plant-based body care products.” 

In 2018, Wright started opening pop-ups to support other minority-owned businesses around the DMV, and was thrilled to learn about the Grow Golden program and that she would be able to open space in DuPont Circle.  

“This is an incredible opportunity for small businesses like myself who honestly can’t afford rent to be able to be on Connecticut Avenue,” Wright said. “We are working with Brookfield Properties, and this is a win-win situation, as we are not required to pay high rent and it helps support the area and reduces risk for both the property manager and tenant.”

Greg Meyer, Brookfield Properties’ executive vice president and head of D.C., called the program an innovative initiative that simultaneously supports small, local businesses, activates an important retail corridor and contributes to the vibrancy of downtown D.C.

“As we approach the holiday season, we encourage anyone looking for a special gift to check out Golden Triangle’s unique collection of pop-ups, restaurants and emerging brands that celebrate the local community,” he said.

Applicants are reviewed based on interviews with the BID, and then the businesses are connected with owners who have agreed to provide the space to find a good fit. For the most part, the businesses will get three months of free rent and utilities, and then a percentage of rent for the next nine months or other terms the parties agree on.

At 2000 L Street, NW, a 500-square-foot space owned by Rockrose Development Corp., the HOMME pop-up, owned by gallery owner Amir Browder, showcases local, national, and international artists at various stages in their careers. Over at 1025 Connecticut Avenue NW, Spice Girlin, by entrepreneur Angel Gregorio, sells everything from spices to clothing from black women-owned businesses in the D.C. area.

Coming in December will be a pop-up of the popular DC Sweet Potato Cake bakery, owned by April Richardson and famous for its namesake treat. The store will operate out of 1666 K Street owned by Potomac Investment Properties.

More space remains. For instance, at 1122 Connecticut Avenue, NW, a business could get three months free rent, and after that period, the business could pay a percentage rent of 10 percent or other favorable terms in extending occupancy. Additionally, an approved restaurant could move into 2,500 square feet at 900 19th Street, NW with similar terms. 

“Not every space fits every business,” Agouridis said. “It’s something you have to look at as you try to match a viable business to an owner.”

In 2022, the Grow Golden program plans to continue offering space, as long as businesses are interested and space is available.

“We always have our eyes open for spaces that would make sense,” Agouridis said. “We welcome the opportunity to work with people to activate vacant spaces.” 

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.