In Borderstan’s northeast corner, a collection of people pay for the privilege of sharing chairs and desks. This concept is known as a co-working space; and this particular space is called Affinity Lab. Housed in a small building near 9th and U Streets NW, Affinity Lab is the office for people working for themselves.
Originally located in Adams Morgan, Affinity Lab has been around for 11 years. However, since the business relocated to its current U Street NW location in 2010, it’s grown significantly. Affinity Lab’s success can be attributed to a number of things, including its interest in building a social and professional community.
Another reason for its growth: the Lab’s new location. “Some of the success of this location is the fact that it’s so close to the metro,” said Lauren Hodge of Affinity Lab. “It’s kind of at a really good spot on U Street to be a part of things that are changing and growing and evolving rapidly.”
How Affinity Lab works for its customers
People pay to join Affinity Lab because it offers a community for what often can be a lonely road, that of the entrepreneur. Along with a spot to work, wireless Internet, a printer and shared conference rooms, Affinity also offers its members a connection with others running their own businesses.
A listserv of about 200 people routinely circulates a range of opportunities for both current and past Affinity members. “The listserv is a kind of trusted YellowPages if you will,” said Hodge. “People use it to get or to give value.”
Affinity has three membership levels, ranging from those for entrepreneurs who need a set working space to what’s called virtual memberships. The latter is what a majority of members pay for at Affinity. “They’re (virtual members) people who may keep a home office or who may work out of Starbucks,” said Hodge. “For them this is basically an opportunity for them to get plugged in, but they don’t need a physical desk.”
Members of the Lab range from designers to nonprofits. The only restriction Affinity places on who can be a member is how well someone’s mentality fits with being in a co-working space. “You know if you fit here,” said Hodge.
Judging by the buzz of activity on a weekday afternoon, a lot of Borderstan’s entrepreneurs seem to fit just fine at Affinity.
Borderstan welcomes new contributor Nick Barron. He will be writing about local entrepreneurs and startup companies. He also writes about ideas and thinking big at NickBarron.co serves as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 2F/Logan Circle. Follow him on Twitter @nbarron; email him at nick[AT]borderstan.com.
Who said DC is not a town for start-ups? Well, Social Driver, a local social media, mobile app and website development company has put that theory to the test.
Two years ago, Social Driver wasn’t even a dream.
Back then, Thomas Sanchez was busy consulting in social media and technology, while Anthony Shop was obtaining his MBA at George Washington University. Both Sanchez and Shop were new to DC, and both could count on one hand the number of people they knew in the area.
However, Sanchez networked tirelessly and finally had a Rolodex so large he started helping large public relations agencies fill a niche in the services they offered. Then it hit him: Sanchez realized that he had a budding agency on his hands, and he asked the new MBA graduate, Shop, to be his partner in a new business. Once Sanchez and Shop set-up shop (now formally called Social Driver, a social media, mobile app and website development company), the two District residents established a goal for where the business should be in a year.
Only, they didn’t hit that initial goal; they exceeded it.
Last summer, Sanchez and Shop made their first hire. Since then, the small start-up has hired six additional full-time employees and is setting to leave its Dupont office for a larger space in Chinatown. Social Driver’s growth means Sanchez and Shop are letting employees handle clients so they can focus more on the agency’s culture, an aspect that is important in both producing great work and attracting qualified employees willing to generate a quality product and expand the company.
One way in which Sanchez and Shop are working to achieve a cutting-edge work culture (particularly one that favors a work-life balance) is by instituting an unlimited vacation policy. “When you go on vacation, do not check your email,'” said Shop when describing the ideal work life for his employees.
The two partners plan on keeping the company private (meaning they have no equity in the company to offer employees) and plan to offer alternative promotions. “What people want is more responsibility,” Sanchez said. “They want to be able to learn more and take on new challenges.”
Despite its success, Social Driver’s growth has not been free from trials and tests. “DC is good for some types of businesses, but not good for other types of businesses,” said Sanchez, adding limited office space makes it difficult for large companies, particularly in Borderstan. “You’re at a limit in terms of size in DC,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez and Shop also have tales of bureaucratic snafus of difficulties with DC’s local government. “There’s no consistency,” said Sanchez. “One part of the city doesn’t know what the other part of the city is doing.”
Still, Social Driver is committed to helping the city get it right. After all, the company’s clients and employees live in DC, and both Sanchez and Shop are optimistic about DC being a better host to startups.
“One exciting thing about DC is incentives for tech-based businesses – That makes it better for us to do business in the District,” said Shop.
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.
The President (yes, Barack Obama) made a pit-stop for lunch this afternoon at Taylor Gourmet’s 14th Street location for a small round-table discussion with four local business owners, including the gourmet deli’s owners, Casey Patten and David Mazza.
President Obama spent his lunch break listening to concerns from the group of selected small business owners – concerns he plans to take to Congress this afternoon. (In November Obama and his daughters made a shopping trip to Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe on Small Business Saturday.)
“We discussed employee tax credits and all things that will help small businesses grow,” said Patten, who stressed the importance of increased wages and raises for employees of small businesses.
President Obama’s trip is all part of his small business “To Do List” – A list that encourages Congress to pass legislation that gives a 10 percent income tax credit to firms that create new jobs or increase wages in 2012.
“Little by little we are rebuilding our economy and it’s starting with these guys,” said Bridget Bean, director of the Washington Metropolitan Area Office of the U.S. Small Business Association and coordinator of today’s meeting.
“It was really an honor to be apart of this,” added Patten. “It was a lot of fun and it happened on my birthday, so it doesn’t get much better.”
Last week we spoke to Kristen Swenson, one of the owners of Ginger Root Design who gave us an update on the store’s expansion and invited us to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at the store tomorrow. The cause for celebration is the store’s expanded space along with a four-artist Trunk Show, from 3 to 7 pm.
The store, at its 1530 U Street NW location, is currently half shop and half sewing studio. But it will expand to fill the entire space, allowing them to carry even more locally made and eco-friendly goods. They have taken over the space upstairs which, after renovation, will be a floor devoted entirely to tailoring and design services.
“With the new sewing space, we will be able to hire the additional sewers we’ve needed, but just didn’t have enough room for. We are also taking the opportunity to update our branding, with a new Ginger Root Design logo,” said Swenson.
The show will include locally made goods from their newest artist Ciao Nina, alongside YB Green, Lauren Joan and Clara Cantor.
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.
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.
Kaveh Rad will somehow be the new kid on the block when he opens his new store this Saturday on 14th Street NW — Capital Carpet at 1832 14th Street. For residents, the good news is that a new retail store is opening in the neighborhood, one that carries home goods. The shop will be located on the ground level of the building that will also house Edan MacQuiad’s pizzeria on the second and third floors of the building.
Rad, who has been in the neighborhood for the last 18 years, has seen the Logan and U Street areas change dramatically. The new store offers a more high-end selection of merchandise than what has been in the neighborhood up until now — the result of the residential construction boom and the changing demographics of the area. “I hope to entice the new residents of the neighborhood and welcome old friends,” said Rad.
Capital Carpet brings the tradition and expertise that Kaveh gathered while working in the industry, but also a new approach to carpet retail. For openers, it is a dog-friendly store (although that seems to be a growing trend in Borderstan). Moreover, it is a very welcoming space with a boutique feel to it.
Rad has a selection of carpets for both residential or office use. Rad points to premium brands such as Karastan and Masland that he will carry. The store also carries wood flooring and Italian design tile.
From Alejandra Owens. You can find her at her food blog, One Bite At A Time. Alejandra also writes for City Eats DC, a Food Network site, where you can book dinner reservations. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @frijolita.
Tortilla Coast announced this week they’ll be open for happy hour – margaritas, sangria, two kinds of micheladas, beer and wine are all on special.
- 3:30-6:30 pm
- at the bar only
I know, you’re asking: what in the world is a michelada? Our dear fashion friend Khelan is in love with these things, and they are pretty darn tasty, I must admit! A michelada is a Mexican beverage made with beer, lime juice, tomato juice (or Clamato), and assorted sauces, spices, and peppers. Basically, it’s a beer bloody mary. Entiendes? Go get one, it’ll definitely make your day better.
Another long-timer is closing: Melody Record Shop announced on its website that the store is closing this winter after 34 years in business. It’s sad to see another family-owned business go down, especially one that survived some many transitions in the music world. The store is just north of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue.
From Melody Records: While we wish that we could continue indefinitely, technology, the internet and the economy has taken its toll, and we have concluded, unfortunately, that it is not possible to survive in this environment. We are a family owned business and it has been our privilege getting to know many of you so well over the past 34 years. We nurtured Melody, in much the same way that we raised our children, with tender loving care. We watched our store mature and grow, from vinyl, to 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, and back to vinyl! We kept pace as VHS evolved to DVD. Read the full statement.
Gallery plan b, located in the exciting Fourteenth Street arts corridor, provides a casual, hip space for a dynamic group of both established and emerging local artists to show and sell their art. Plan b presents both group and solo shows for: