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All Things Fashion DC | April 21, 2014

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Op-Ed: D.C. Retail Grant Programs

Op-Ed: D.C. Retail Grant Programs

by ATFDC Contributor Susan Stipanovich

Recently, the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership issued a press release announcing the finalists for the H Street NE Retail Priority Grant Program, designed to award grants to independently owned retailers in order to improve the H Street neighborhood community.  The release detailed that “the grants are meant to stimulate small-business development and expansion while also creating new job opportunities for District residents along the emerging H Street NE retail-and-entertainment corridor and the surrounding area”.  Small business development in the District is needed as independent boutiques struggle to compete with national chain retailers eager to place storefronts in the center of one of the wealthiest areas in the country.

All Things Fashion DC recently explored the alarming number of independent boutiques shuttering their doors across the District, a trend that indicates that this grant program is particularly well-timed.  “Locally owned businesses and non-profit corridor improvement associations are the lifeblood of this city,” asserts Deputy Mayor Hoskins. Given the difficulties faced by small business owners, engagement with the local government via grant programs can be hugely beneficial to building a retail community with a thriving independent boutique presence.

The program is fairly new, beginning in the fall of 2011 the District had $1.25 million to offer new or existing retail businesses that were “small and unique” along H Street.  Business proposals that included “entrepreneurial and innovative retail element[s]” were given special consideration, according to the District law that created the grant. The program is slated to have more cash to offer over the next five years with incentives for small retail businesses in the interest of reinventing H Street. The tax revenue generated from the increased retail will be invested back into H Street projects.  Businesses will only get money if they create jobs that employ D.C. residents.  Terri Hill, manager of hair salon A Fresh Look by Janice & Co. at H and 7th Streets, told DCentric “We want this district to look like 14th Street, because that’s the way it used to look here. You could get everything along H Street. We’d like to see [more retail]. It doesn’t matter to me what kinds.”

What does this mean for Fashiontonians?  More options for shopping independent boutiques, on H Street and potentially other neighborhoods.  Though difficult for independent retailers to be successful in the current economic climate, grant programs such as this are helping to make success more likely. “It’s hard for any small, independent business to thrive in DC because of the exorbitant price of retail space,” says Holly Thomas, editor of Refinery 29 DC  told The Washingtonian. “In most cases, the only brick-and-mortar spaces that are affordable are so far off the beaten path that retailers can’t get the foot traffic they need to stay in business.”  If programs such as the H Street NE Retail Priority Grant Program can help to offset these costs for independent retailers, a more vibrant community of small business is possible in the District.  Fashiontonians should be excited about the potential for greater boutique options that offer merchandise curated specifically for customers in the area.

photo courtesy of  DC Office of Planning

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