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Smucker Farms Brings Regionally Sourced Food to the Neighborhood

"Eric Smucker"

Eric Smucker at Smucker Farms of Lancaster Co. on 14th Street NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter @CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[At]borderstan.com.

It’s not often that cooking myself dinner after a long work day is fun, much less hits the spot. On a recent rainy day, after a friend cancelled on me for dinner, I ventured out to find something to eat. I happened upon Smucker Farms, which I’d heard about but had never been to. The grocery that sells produce from a co-op of farmers from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, would surely have something good to eat.

I stepped in out of the rain and was greeted by the owner, Eric Smucker. The store was void of customers, and for a moment I assumed the business wasn’t doing well. “I think the rain is keeping people away,” Smucker explained to me, stepping out from behind the counter as I looked around. After I told him it was my first time visiting, he offered to show me around. Fresh baked bread, cookies, popcorn, honey and pickles filled the shelves on one side, and various vegetables and meats (all grass fed) the other. In the back he showed me the eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese, and their famous root beer, as well as soaps, lotions and children’s toys, all handmade by an Amish family.

I heard the door open and Smucker greeted the customer, who was looking for steak. I noticed the price – more than I was used to paying at a grocery store – and asked the customer why he was buying it.

“I’m cheap,” he said, smirking. “But I come here if I want good steak.” He went on to describe the tenderness of the meat, how the fat melts into the pan and creates an au jus with the butter, salt and pepper he puts on the meat beforehand. My stomach growled.

Soon after the rain stopped, and a steady stream of shoppers began flowing in and out of the store. Smucker engaged with each one, greeting the regulars by name. I paid attention to what they were buying, and I ended up leaving with flavored popcorn (a popular item), pickles, a petite filet, lettuce and a loaf of bread.

Even though I cooked the filet too long and had nothing else to put on top of the lettuce, it was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever cooked for myself. The flavors were full and it didn’t take much to feel satisfied. Plus it was low maintenance – no pesticides means no need to wash the lettuce, and the steak cooked easily in a couple of minutes. While I have to admit the best part was the steak, the second best part was knowing that I was supporting local farmers produce truly good food.

Borderstan: Why did you decide to start your own business?

Smucker: I didn’t grow up on a farm, but both my parents did. The inspiration for the store came from me working on their farm [between jobs], and it was a lot of fun. I’d been in DC for 10 years, and I thought, “DC could use food like this.” The food from Lancaster is better than anything else available on the east coast. I figured this was a way I could make a living. My last job was to help businesses get started. Doing that on a regular basis, it wasn’t a huge stretch. I’d never worked in a grocery store, but I knew how businesses were supposed to run.

Borderstan: What makes this store different than a grocery like Whole Foods?

Smucker: We’re about the same price point, but I think the quality is better with more of a regional focus. You know exactly where food is coming from. In Whole Foods they tell you where food came from, but I don’t want tomatoes from California. Some people will get annoyed that we don’t have tomatoes right now, but they’re not in season. We focus on regionally sourced food. This winter we’ll probably do more greenhouse grown stuff. It isn’t as good, but over the winter it’ll get us by.

Borderstan: How has your life changed since you became a small business owner?

Smucker: It’s definitely different than the office. It’s nice on Monday afternoon when I can go do something, but on Saturday and Sunday I have to be here. But even at my old office job I was usually working all the time. I want to have seven or eight stores in D.C. to scale up, and we’re building a really good team to do that.

Borderstan: What’s the biggest challenge of being a small business owner in D.C.?

Smucker: Figuring out what people want. I think we’ve been really responsive, listening to what people want to see on the shelves then getting it there, sometimes the next week. We get deliveries twice a week, and getting certain things [with a short shelf life] down to a store like this isn’t feasible. It may be at some point, but right now it’s not. If only one or two people buy something, I can’t sell it. You can’t be everything to everyone. That’s Whole Foods’ job, not my job.

This was formerly an office space. The process to get the zoning changed to a grocery store was much more than anticipated. I was told so many different things on so many occasions [at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, DCRA]. You’d do one thing and it was right for somebody but wrong for somebody else. The DCRA is still a Byzantine process. And you know what? I should have hired an expediter, but my arrogance got the best of me. It was my first store. Next time around I’ll know.

Borderstan: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to start a small business?

Smucker: Give yourself much more money than you’ll need, but try not to bring in any outside investors. Start slow and small, and work from there. Make sure people like what you’re doing.

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Urban Etiquette: Dudes, Don’t Show Your Junk on the Balcony

"Balcony""Borderstan"

Guys, don't show your junk on the balcony, and that includes ALL of your junk. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[At]borderstan.com.

When I first moved into my apartment, I was pleased with the courtyard view I shared with half of the other residents. My unit sits in the dip of the U-shaped building, so the view is really more of the neighbors than of a pretty courtyard. I imagined lounging on my balcony with a book and glass of lemonade and making light conversation with everyone else doing the same thing.

While it hasn’t been exactly what I imagined, the way I’m situated has proved to be quite pleasant and advantageous. More than once I’ve locked myself out and relied on my neighbors to let me balcony hop over to my apartment, and other neighbors have given me eggs and wine when I was in dire straits.

What hasn’t been pleasant are the neighbors across the way who have very loud fights on their balcony, slamming their sliding glass door again and again in fits of rage and screaming, “IT’S OVER!” (and we all desperately hope they mean it this time, but they never do). But this isn’t even the worst offense.

During peaceful times in their tumultuous relationship, they tend to their various plants in their underwear. And these are not the types of bodies one might enjoy gazing upon first thing in the morning. Their flabby, hairy, washed out and sagging skin is only briefly interrupted by ratty, tighty-dingies (cannot be described as “whities”) that accentuate their limp, bulging packages. Up until last week that’s the most I had seen of either of them.

Then — oh, help me — I was sipping my coffee last Saturday, admiring the stillness of the morning under the rising sun, when a motion across the way caught my eye. And there he was, in all his glory, pulling back the curtains sans anything. My mouth dropped open and coffee dribbled out — the shock sent me into a temporarily comatose state. Then I gagged. Where was this man raised, in a nudist colony?

Dude, Urban Etiquette 101: Keep your junk off the balcony.

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Sidewalk Cyclists, I Honesty Think You’re Safer on the Street

"Borderstan""Bicycles and People"

It is not really easy to ride on the sidewalks. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[At]borderstan.com.

Bicyclers… we need to talk.

I know everyone and their tourist mother (including other Borderstan writers) have complained about people riding their bikes on sidewalk, but I want my voice to be heard as well. As a fellow bicycler, as well as pedestrian and driver, I feel I have a unique point of view on the topic.

I’ll admit, when I first moved to D.C., I rode my bike on sidewalks. Ever the goodie goodie, I did my due diligence and researched bike laws, which state that I can legally ride my bike on the sidewalk outside of the central business district, defined as 2nd Street NE and SE, D Street SE and SW, 14th Street SW and NW, Constitution Avenue NW, 23rd Street NW and Massachusetts Avenue NW.

Since it was legal in most places, I thought the responsible thing to do was ride on the sidewalk, the safer place to be versus the scary streets with the road ragers and hardcore cyclists whose shoes clip into their pedals. I ignored the scowls from pedestrians and rang my bell happily to let them know I was behind them and that they should get out of the way.

I was wrong (and not just about that annoying bell).

Turns out the streets are the much safer place to be when you’re on something with wheels — except a wheelchair, people in wheelchairs can go wherever they want and the rest of us can deal with it. Drivers are used to going around slow or stopped vehicles, and enough people ride bicycles that drivers have learned to share the roads.

When I’m driving it’s an inconvenience, for sure, to get stuck behind a cyclist, but I much prefer that to being a cyclist stuck behind pedestrians. It’s the safer and easier alternative, and you will avoid having random people develop rage anger against you, as I did the other day when a cyclist almost hit me on the sidewalk and I shouted behind him, “Watch where you’re going!”

Of course he was gone before I could do anything more than shake my fist at him, which is why I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you not to be inconsiderate and keep your bike on the street.

That also goes for Segways… don’t even get me started.

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Local Business: Feastly Aims to Create Communities in your Backyard

"Borderstan""Noah Karesh""Danny Harris"

Noah Karesh and Danny Harris from Feastly. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[At]borderstan.com.

Those of us who live in Borderstan know D.C. is on the up-and-up when it comes being cool. We’ve got our own music, food and fashion scenes going on, and more importantly, we’ve got an influx of fresh, creative ideas and people who like to share them with each other.

Feastly, co-founded by Danny Harris and Noah Karesh, is a great example of what’s happening in this new D.C. Not too long ago, Karesh was traveling in Guatemala and wanted a home-cooked meal to experience the culture, but he couldn’t find one.

That’s when he decided to start a business in DC that would facilitate meals in people’s homes, to be attended by “feasters,” or people who are a part of the Feastly community. He told the idea to fellow entrepreneur Harris, and the two launched Feastly this past January. Karesh is also one of the owners of Blind Dog Cafe, which operates out of Darnell’s Bar during the day at 944 Florida Avenue NW. Harris became known for his site, People’s District, which told stories of D.C. residents in the first-person, and for his focus on the importance of oral storytelling.

“We’ve created an online marketplace so people can engage in all kinds of food experiences that take place in the homes,” said Harris. “Do you want to have a meal where you carbo-load before a big race happening in town? Have a fundraiser for the political candidate of your choice? The food is the center and it goes from there.”

Since Feastly launched, they’ve hosted more than 15 meals with various chefs, including Harris’s mother.

“We grow up eating around tables in homes, and we move away from that,” Harris explained. “We can bring back the home-cooked meal and empower cooks and chefs who may not be able to bring their goods to market.”

To participate in one of the meals, simply sign up on the website then peruse upcoming meals every Monday in the weekly e-newsletter. Meals vary in price, anywhere from $25 to $50.

“Someone might want to do an Italian meal on his back porch,” Harris said. “People show up at a certain time. You schmooze for a few minutes. The chef comes out and talks you through the meal. Meals have gone on for hours.”

“There’s an element of intimacy you find in a home you can’t find in any commercial space,” Karesh said. “I met a 60-year-old artist the other night, and it was fascinating to talk with her and share that bond.”

So the next time you’re looking for a new restaurant, you might want to consider checking out Feastly instead. What better way to get to know your neighbors than to eat their food in their home? And not knowing who will join you at the table, there’s a great chance you’ll meet someone to share your great ideas with.

Borderstan: Why did you decide to start your own business?

Karesh: I’ve been in the tech and start-up industry pretty much my whole career in the mobile and Internet side, as well as food-based ventures. It was a natural progression for me to merge the online and offline world.

Harris: I came to the city to do public policy work and ended up doing entrepreneurial work focused around storytelling and community development. My passion is around connecting people and figuring out the tools to do that. D.C. is an incredible city because so many are new to the city and trying to find their people. It’s also a great food town. We see that the table is the original social network. As everybody is trying to figure out how many friends you have on Facebook or how many followers you have on Twitter, the reality is that you’re having dinner by yourself at home. Our goal is to create a real community in real time around the table.

Borderstan: How have your lives changed since you started Feastly?

Karesh: It’s gotten a lot better. Hundreds of cooks approach us who want to do this. It’s amazing to me that there are all these people out there who cook professionally but want a more creative outlet.

Harris: What’s been most profound to me is we’ve been to almost every meal, and you see how people respond to the meals. They want this. They need it. People send handwrittten letters to the chefs afterward. They’re so thankful for the opportunity. They’re also thanking us. It’s unique to its users and founders.

Borderstan: What the biggest challenge of being a small business owner in D.C?

Harris: There was an assumption that the shareable economies hadn’t made their way into DC. But our growth shows us it’s the right city for us. People in D.C. may not be familiar with shareable economy and collaborative consumption, but they’re familiar with hosting dinner parties.

Borderstan: What advice do you have to anyone wanting to start a business?

Karesh: Do it. Don’t think about it anymore, just do it. You’ll learn more from executing than thinking about it. There are a million possibilities of what could happen. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Harris: It’s the most rewarding feeling to do something and show people what you’ve been thinking about doing.

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Seat Hogs: Uncomfortable Confrontations with Strangers

"Borderstan""Subway""Orange Line"

Seats taken, some by Seat Hogs. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[At]borderstan.com.

It’s the little things in life that make me happy — flowers blooming, my dog greeting me at the front door when I get home from work, running into the Metro station to find I have one minute until my train arrives. It’s also the little things in life that make me rage with anger — left-side escalator standers, tourists who hold open Metro doors so all 15 of them can get in and perhaps the most serious offense, Seat Hogs.

The Seat Hog takes up two seats during rush hour or events that cause Metro trains to be crowded. This is super inconsiderate not just because people like to sit down, but it also encourages people to crowd doorways — which prevents others from getting on the Metro, which can cause people to have to wait for another train.

Examples of Seat Hoggery

Spreading your legs so no one can squeeze in next to you. You’re not in your office, you’re on public transportation. It’s not supposed to be comfortable. If you need that much room then you should just stand.

Falling asleep across two seats. I’ve fallen asleep on the Metro many times. You really only need one seat, by the window, where you can lean your head and others can utilize the seat next to you with ease.

Using one seat for your bag. You know how in airplanes you have to put your bag on the floor? Consider it the same for the Metro.

Sitting in the outer seat. Common courtesy calls for you to scoot to the inner seat if it’s available. There’s not enough room for someone to climb over you, and most people who sit in the outer seat avert eye contact with those who want to sit down. But I’m getting off at the next stop and I don’t want to make someone else get out so I can get out, you may think, assuming you’re being polite. You’re not being polite. Stand up if your stop is next and you don’t want to sit in the inner seat.

You should know that in any of these cases I will hover over you and stare you down until you acknowledge me.

If you don’t acknowledge me I will say, “May I sit down?” (Seat Hogs always look surprised, as if they have no idea they are occupying two seats. In reality, they’ve been quietly avoiding eye contact so they don’t have to move.)

Only once has this method threatened to be hazardous to my safety (that woman was having a bad day, but how was I supposed to know?), so the odds of successfully claiming the second seat from a Seat Hog have proved to be in my favor. I encourage you to claim your sitting rights as well.

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Tantiquing: U Street Gets Tanning Salon/Antique Shop Combo

"Borderstan""Paul_Corrie"

Paul Corrie  is ready to tan you  —  and sell you antiques. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce. Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[At]borderstan.com.

Fusion restaurants have long been popular (although I’ve never really gotten the idea – pesto on my sushi? Umm…), but a fusion airbrush tanning salon/antique shop? Now there’s a wild idea. Apparently, there’s even a new word for it: tantiquing.

You may be wondering why someone would open such a shop, but when you walk into Fit to be Tan, conveniently located next to Vida Fitness on U Street, you’ll begin to understand the concept.

“The whole idea is that you enter and it’s a high end boutique experience,” says Paul Corrie, owner of the store, as well as Paul Corrie Interiors, his upscale interior design business.

If you’re anything like me (you burn easily and are terrified of getting skin cancer), a spray tan makes sense. But again, if you’re like me, you have been avoiding getting one because of that episode of “Friends” when Ross’s teeth glow because he gets so dark, and just on his front. But step into Fit to be Tan and your mind will be put at ease.

Corrie calls his antiques “curiosities,” meant to pique your interest while you wait for your appointment. “I’ve tried to make them represent an extension of my brand but more accessible to the general public.” Once in the tanning room, a professional tanner artfully coats every inch of your body with a sugar-based tanning solution. Because a person tans you – not a machine – it’s an even color custom mixed and applied to match your skin.

I got the wedding tan, which is a soft, pretty glow, perfect for a first-timer like me. I probably would have left with a darling toille-covered chair if I hadn’t been afraid my new color would rub off on it. But it just gives me an excuse to pop back by…proof that the antique/tanning salon idea might actually work.

Borderstan: Why did you decide to open a small business?

Paul Corrie: I graduated from law school and practiced for six months. Then I got encouragement from another designer to open my design firm. With the support of my parents, I did it.

Borderstan: Why are you now getting into airbrush tanning?

Corrie: I’ve airbrush tanned for 17 years. Heather, a friend in Arlington who founded Fit to be Tan, suggested opening another location. People who are designers care about the way their homes look, the way they’re represented. The same thing extends to people’s bodies. If somebody cares about the way they look and they’re working out at Vida, they’re probably going to care just as much how their tan looks.

Borderstan: What’s the most challenging thing about running a small business in DC?

Corrie: I think DCRA completely disrupts the opportunity for small businesses to get off on the right foot. It’s been nothing but an uphill battle, but I hang on to the fact that we’ve gotten good press, emails and phone calls like crazy. Also, exposure is a challenge. I’ve never done paid advertising – it’s always been word of mouth.

Borderstan: Do you have any advice to someone thinking of starting their own business?

Corrie: Do your research. I researched the neighborhood and what tanning places exist and how successful they’ve been. Know what you’re doing. I don’t think I would have been as confident about the retail aspect of this had I not had prior retail experience. I think the idea of opening a small business is risky and a big chance, but try to think outside the box and not be so conservative. A lot of the feedback on Fit to be Tan has been how unconventional this is for this city, but people have reacted positively to the quirkiness. If you do your research and feel passionate about it, I feel strongly it will work.

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Timothy Paul: Nine Years of Carpets and Textiles on 14th Street

"Borderstan" "Timothy Paul" "14th Street NW"

Timothy Paul, owner of Timothy Paul Carpets & Textiles.  (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce.  Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[At]borderstan.com

If you take a stroll down 14th Street NW without a particular destination in mind, you’ll probably miss a lot. The juxtaposition between new, old and renovated buildings makes for exhilarating window shopping, but if you find yourself on a not-so-pretty block you may pass over a gem.

“This block will always look this way,” says Timothy Paul, owner of Timothy Paul Carpets & Textiles of his store’s block located on 14th Street  between Rhode Island Avenue. and P Street. “That guy owns the building his shop is in; he lives above it.” He goes on to tell me about the other small business owners around him. After nine years in his location, he knows the neighborhood and the people who make it what it is.

The outside of Paul’s modern-looking store is surprisingly camouflaged amid the older stores, whose shabby exteriors tells the neighborhood’s history and their resistance to gentrification. Somehow, even so close to the Whole Foods whose urban prophecy: “If you build it, they will come,” seems fulfilled, these seemingly out of place shops survive. But then again, so does the upscale carpet store nestled among them.

Inside Timothy Paul’s store you’ll find carpets in brilliant colors and patterns, no one like any of the others. Not only are the carpets woven to last for decades, each one has a story behind it. If you ask Paul, who you’ll find in the store almost every day, he’ll tell you all the background he knows on every piece. And if you’re wondering where to get a great cup of coffee afterwards, he can tell you that as well, and who to talk to when you get there. Shopping here is an experience, and Paul will guide you through it with the kind of details only a longtime resident who is passionate about his trade and his neighborhood can offer.

Borderstan: Why did you decide to open a small business?

Timothy Paul: I went to school to be a painter, so at 27 I was painting during the day and waiting tables at night, and I realized I had to do something that resembled a career. I went to work for this woman in a rug shop, and she saw my enthusiasm and said, Here’s the ball, run with it. I had a lot of ideas on how to do it on my own and I was willing to take the risk, so I opened my own shop nine and a half years ago.

Borderstan: What do you like about carpets and textiles?

Paul: I like their uniqueness. They may have been originally created as garments, bed covers or wall hangings that were woven by an individual in their home or tent. I look at the material and use it differently. These pieces are labor and time intensive, and in that sense they’re like works of art. It parallels what I went to school for.

Borderstan: How has your life changed since you opened your own business?

Paul: In my home I’m surrounded by beautiful things that I probably wouldn’t own otherwise. This experience has taken me to places I probably wouldn’t otherwise have been to. As a business owner, you have to get up every day and tie your own shoelaces. Your and your store’s survival depend on you. So it’s probably made me tougher and harder working.

Borderstan: What’s the most challenging thing about running a small business in DC?

Paul: No. 1 is the price of doing business, and at the top of that list is the rent. DC has come through this recession better than any other city in the country, so rents are high and spaces are hard to come by. The second major hurdle is the Internet. It’s a wonderful thing that’s helped businesses, small and large, but in a small business like ours it can hurt, because we don’t have the capital to compete with rug producers who can sell their products directly on their website or through sites like One Kings Lane or Gilt. Customers will come in and look at my carpets then wait to shop on these websites, so I’ve made nothing and invested a lot. What the consumer doesn’t realize is that it’s not always cheaper online.

Borderstan: Any advice to someone thinking about starting a business?

Paul: Be patient and learn the business. If you want to open up a wine shop, go work for a wine shop for two or three years then work for another wine shop for two or three years, then work for an exporter. The failure of a lot of people is they love a particular thing or activity, so they open a store, and running a shop it’s not just about selling. It’s about inventory, negotiating a lease, hiring employees. For all that, you’d do better to gain some experience first.

Save your money. The price of doing business is so expensive, and now with the recession it’s so hard to get a loan. Be kind to your relatives and parents, because you’ll need some sort of income to get through.

And finally, you have to have all the confidence in the world. I never thought I would fail. I thought, I’m going to be doing this the rest of my life.

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Fuse Pilates Combines Yoga, Non-traditional Exercises, Music

"borderstan" "Fuse Pilates", Dupont, Circle

The owners of Fuse Pilates at their studio, 2008 Hillyer Place NW, just north of Dupont Circle. At top left is Sormeh Youssefieh, at top right is Roxanna Hakimi, and in the bottom row is Mariska Breland. (Photos from Fuse Pilates)

From Mary El Pearce.  Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp[AT]borderstan.com

I haven’t done pilates since college, so when I signed up for a class at Fuse I was pretty nervous. I knew I needed to give it a try because my core is pathetically out of shape and bikini season is swiftly approaching.

I didn’t know what to expect because Fuse is a different kind of pilates studio. This is apparent the moment you log onto their website — fit, lean urbanites doing all kinds of crazy poses on a jungle gym, in front of Ben’s Chili Bowl and other DC locales. Mariska Breland is the head instructor and developer of “fuse” pilates, a method that includes yoga and non-traditional exercises set to music.

But the most interesting element of fuse-style is that no class is choreographed. Rather, instructors take requests from students before each class and arrange the exercises around them. Listening to the testimonials of Mariska and her partners, Roxanna Hakimi and Sormeh Youssefieh, Fuse Pilates may be the greatest form of exercise for the modern professional.

While I can’t say I did a good job (my abs trembled for an entire hour and I was the loudest breather in the class by far), I can say that I didn’t give up, and I have to give props to Mariska for her music choice (never heard any of it before, but the beats were quite motivating) and her patience with each student. Although my abs – and gluts, thighs and even ribs – hurt for days afterwards, you’ll see me back there again.

I sat down with the three owners to learn more about their studio and the business side of the operation.

Borderstan: Why did you decide to open your own studio?

Mariska: A couple of years ago I got laid off from my creative directing job, so I did teaching more. Rox had taken one of my classes and Sormeh was related to one of my students, so we began talking. There’s a lot more gratification in doing this, helping people be healthier, than being in corporate America.

Roxanna: I had stopped working after I had kids, and I knew I needed to get back into business, but I didn’t want to start at the bottom. Starting my own business was the best. We were all in the same place, needing to have our own thing going.

Borderstan: How did you get into Pilates?

Mariska: I got into yoga first, and I got into Pilates to get better at yoga. I didn’t have the core strength to do some of the stuff I wanted to do. I didn’t like Pilates at first because it was very regimented and was always the same, but I was good at it.

Fuse is a lot less boring. You’ll never take a class that was the same as another one. When you teach on request you have to access that encyclopedia in your brain of how to work muscle groups. The exercises aren’t made up, but the choreography is spontaneous. It’s much more fun to teach it that way. You get more results faster, you don’t plateau. It’s where people want to be now — building long, lean, flexible muscle and not so much bulk.

Borderstan: How have your lives changed since you became small business owners?

Roxanna: It’s been challenging, and home has suffered slightly. I need to give my time here right now. My kids asked for a baby for Christmas, and they got this!

Sormeh: I have two other businesses, so I have six kids! We didn’t close our eyes and jump into something we didn’t know about.  A lot of people get into business with no idea of how it’s going to work. We knew that Mariska had followers.

Borderstan: What’s the biggest challenge of being a small business owner in DC?

Mariska: I’ve cried because of the DCRA (Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs). Do your research in advance and know what forms you need.

Roxanna: It got to the point where we’d walk in and they’d call our names out. “You’re back!” It’s tough being a woman going in there. They think we don’t know what we’re talking about, but we managed to make it seem like we knew what we were talking about quite well. You have to go in with confidence. If you have any questions, they will crush you. If you have a time constriction, forget it. There are expeditors that will do this for you. They charge you a pretty penny, but it’s worth it.

Mariska: There are things about DC that are annoying for everyone, and then there are annoying things that might not be so bad. The south Dupont Metro exit is closed for eight months, and we’re on the north side. That’s not so bad in terms of having people find us accidentally.

Borderstan: What advice do you have to anyone wanting to start a small business?

Roxanna: Do your research. Talk to other people who have started new businesses. Get your ducks in a row and go for it.

Sormeh: You cannot not have money and get into a business.

Mariska: Plan on it taking a year to find your perfect location. A lot of people now are trying to get realtors out of the process to avoid realtor fees, so a lot of great properties are being advertised on Craigslist. The realtors were nice, but they never found us anything we wanted.

You don’t go into a business thinking it’s going to fail. You have to go into it thinking it’s going to be a success. It’s more gratifying when you’re doing work to benefit what your dreams are. But starting a business is not for the faint of heart.

"Borderstan" "Fuse Pilates", Dupont, Circle

A workout at Fuse Pilates. (Photos from Fuse Pilates)

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Kim Weeks: Boundless

"Borderstan""Kim

Kim Weeks at Boundless Yoga, 13th and U Streets NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Mary El Pearce.  Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp@borderstan.com

On a recent chilly Saturday morning, I found myself in an unusually awkward position. Somehow I’d managed to drag myself out of my lovely, warm bed and get over to one of Kim Weeks’ classes at Boundless Yoga, and I happened to be the most inflexible and inexperienced student in the studio that day. Bent over with one leg straight up and thighs trembling, all I could think was, “I’m not cut out for this. Everyone is looking at me. I should just get out of here.”

“Does this feel scary?” Weeks suddenly said, and for a moment I thought she was talking directly to me. “Honor that. Go into child’s pose if you need to.”

At least a third of the students dropped to their mats, me included. It was the first time since I began practicing yoga that I truly felt unashamed to be “that person” — you know what I’m talking about, the one who, along with the 75-year-old and guy with a back injury, just can’t do it, which is infuriating since I can do just about anything else I set my mind to.

As a former Wall Street executive, Weeks understands the stubborn mentality of the DC professional and is passionate about teaching people to listen to their bodies. After 10 years of running Boundless Yoga (and having two children in the process), she’s more than a professional yoga instructor – she’s a professional DC small business owner.

Borderstan: Why did you decide to open up a yoga studio?

Weeks: I was a recovering corporate executive — on Wall Street for most of my 20s and traveling a lot. I found that yoga was a portable practice I could do anywhere. I moved to DC to expand my horizons, and I was burned out from having this ungrounded lifestyle. DC is full of people who are stressed out, so I decided to open a studio and try it for a year. Ten years later, here we are.

Borderstan: What’s your philosophy on yoga?

Weeks: My philosophy on yoga comes from Shavasana (corpse pose). When I began yoga, I was a girl in my 20s doing marathon training, and I couldn’t believe we were given permission to lie there. It was a profound moment in time where I felt like everything could be okay. Relaxation should be an inalienable right. Yoga is not about perfecting the pose — there’s no such thing as a perfect pose. It’s about experiencing your own definition of yoga. Flexibility is a subjective term. I would love for people to let go of any preconceived notion of what yoga is.

Borderstan: How has your life changed since you became a small business owner?

Weeks: The fundamental change is the acknowledgement that by running my own business I have to make critical decisions on a daily basis that are my decisions only. I had to learn how to do everything while managing people well and maintaining my own yoga practice. I can’t hide. You have to be real in ways that you don’t have to when you’re sitting at a desk.

Borderstan: What’s the biggest challenge of being a small business owner in DC?

Weeks: The hardest thing about doing business in DC is getting through the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). It’s myopic, byzantine and filled with people who are saddled with a system that is not digital enough. It’s unintentionally set up to obstruct a business owner from making simple decisions. It took us three business days to get a permit to put an awning on our building. For a small business, that is a huge opportunity cost in terms of what else we could be doing.

Borderstan: What advice do you have to anyone wanting to start a business?

Weeks: Be clear about how much working capital you need. Know your competition, how you are bringing value to people’s lives and your mission. And let go of any idea that you have days off. Running a business is like having a child in that you are totally responsible for its survival and health in the beginning, and ideally you send it away to college and let others take care of it in the far future.

Boundless Yoga is at 2001 13th Street NW, just north of U Street. Follow them on Twitter at @boundlessyogadc.

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Kim Weeks and students at Boundless Yoga. (Luis Gomez Photos)

 

 

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Ginger Root Combines Local Designs, Vintage Silhouettes

"Borderstan""Ginger Root""U Street NW"

Ginger Root on U Street NW is owned by Kristen Swenson, top row right and bottom row left; and  Erin Derge, top right left and bottom row right. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Borderstan welcomes a new contributor, Mary El Pearce, who will be writing about small businesses in Borderstan. She also blogs about being a single girl in DC on her site, Cupcakes and Shoes. By day she works in public affairs, and the rest of her time is spent scouring Miss Pixie’s for vintage finds, indulging her sweet tooth at CakeLove and riding her bicycle around the neighborhood with her dog, Noli, in tow.

From Mary El Pearce.  Follow her on Twitter@CupcakesDC and email her at maryelp@borderstan.com.

In this economy, you might think it’s crazy to start a business. The numbers show that only 50 percent of small businesses in the United States will make it after five years. On the other hand, 50 percent of small businesses survive, and that brings in an even larger percentage of new jobs and revenue to communities.

This may not be an enticing option for a lot of us Washingtonians, who are accustomed to the security of our government jobs, not to mention the illusion that each of us are saving (or at least impacting) the world with our super-impressive titles. But even here in DC, where power ties and sensible haircuts are non-negotiable staples to reach the next rung of the career ladder, some people are breaking the rules of fiscal conservatism, taking momentous risks, and starting businesses in a bad economy and a traditionally uptight city.

Profiles on Small Businesses

Twice a month I’ll be profiling these small business crusaders in hopes that you’ll not only visit them, but that you’ll be inspired by their drive, vision and courage. DC isn’t just about politics anymore — it’s about becoming something bigger than you were before you came here, and small business owners know this better than most.

Ginger Root Design

This week’s profile is on two ladies from the Midwest who have an affinity for local designs and vintage silhouettes and are teaching Washingtonians how to pull it off. They’ve passed the one-year mark as of September, and business is booming in their tiny U Street basement space. Owners and designers Kristen Swenson and Erin Derge “love to repurpose and show people how eco-friendly can be classy.” Whether it be a “Lady Tie” or custom made jewelry, Ginger Root’s style will make you reconsider doing all your shopping at Ann Taylor.

Borderstan: How did the two of you meet and get into business together?

Swenson: We met in Minnesota at sewing school and became friends. I moved to DC with my now husband in September 2009 and worked as a waitress. A month later I took on a second job as the in-house seamstress at Treasury Vintage, and by November I started my own tailoring business (under the name of ReVamp) out of my apartment in the Shaw neighborhood. Three months later I needed an additional tailor and called up Erin in Minnesota. By the end of the conversation, Erin agreed to move out to DC within the month. We very quickly became busy with new customers and discovered our niche of repurposing old, forgotten items from people’s closets into their new “favorite” items.

Derge: After two months, it became clear we had outgrown our apartment-based tailoring shop. Once we both let it slip that we each had dreams of opening our own store, we accidentally set the bar a little higher. Very shortly thereafter, we found the perfect space and realized there was the slightest possibility of having our own store – the catch? We had to transform the space in six weeks… while still tailoring 60 hours a week each! So, though it was obviously a little crazy, we went for it, and thus Ginger Root Design was born.

Borderstan: How did you get into fashion design?

Derge: We both come from sewing backgrounds and both really enjoy fashion, so I guess it was more of a natural progression over the years. I think the disappointment of shopping in normal stores, whether it be poor fit or bad quality items, has inspired the extra attention to detail in our designs. We knew that we could do better and maintain a cool aesthetic.

Borderstan: Why did you bring your business to DC?

Swenson: The question we were faced with was why not? Life brought us both to DC, and there is a great community here that loves to shop locally and supports unique, eco-friendly goods.  We can’t really explain it, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Borderstan: What special meaning does “Ginger Root” hold for you?

Swenson: When we decided to open the store, we wanted to make sure it could be a home for our tailoring and clothing design and also a place to showcase up-and-coming local artists. The store became Ginger Root Design – two redheads getting back to the roots of handmade.

Borderstan: What challenges have you faced being a small business on in Borderstan?

Derge: I think our biggest challenge was that there weren’t enough hours in the day for us. When we first opened, we both did everything – we were the tailors, the designers, the seamstresses, the receptionists, the marketers, the shop girls and the owners of the business. We didn’t realize it was impossible to do all of that indefinitely and not break down. So, in order to preserve our sanity, we had to hire people. Now we have a good start at building our team. We have been faced with many learning experiences, some of which can be scary, but you just keep moving forward.

Borderstan: How do you see Ginger Root growing in the current market?

Swenson: As we continue to build out our sewing team, we would love to be more accessible in the tailoring community and revamp more people’s closets.  We’ve had a waiting list for our tailoring ever since we opened in September 2010, and we would love to help more people shop their closets and rework what they already have.  Once we have the people, we would love to expand.

Borderstan: Do you have any advice for other local fashion designers?

Derge: Keep designing, and wear your stuff, because you are your best calling card. DC has a great momentum right now where people have a hunger for local design, so just keep doing what you love.

Borderstan: What words of encouragement can you give to someone considering starting a small business?

Swenson: Don’t expect it be easy, but don’t let that discourage you!

Details

  • Ginger Root Design, 1530 U Street NW, Basement
  • Hours: Noon-7 pm Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; and 1-6 pm Sunday.
  • Contact: info@gingerrootdesign.com or (202) 567-7668
  • Twitter @gingerrootdc and Facebook.

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