Destination Congress Heights Main Streets wants the community they serve to know that they are turning the neighborhood around for the better, first starting with existing businesses.
Community members, business leaders and jazz musician Kayla Waters kicked off Summer Jazz Nights on Thursday, Aug. 10, in the 3100 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue Southeast. The event powered by Congress Heights Main Streets served to alert residents of the business development taking place around them.
“This event that we are doing is both for the community and to attract people to the business corridor,” said Wendell Quann, Congress Heights Main Streets’ program director. “We’ve helped with the Bunn building, Congress Heights Arts and Culture Center and bringing the first law firm to Congress Heights — the LaRuby May Law Firm.”
Quann said his organization also assisted with bringing Rita’s Italian Ice to the community and is currently helping with the storefront improvement of The Washington Informer.
“There a number of businesses along the corridor, but we are focusing on this particular block,” he said.
MLK Deli, an eatery once established on the avenue, will make a comeback this month with the help of Congress Heights Main Streets.
“We did their new signage, storefront and helped them with their permitting,” Quann said. “We live in a food desert, so that’s a new business coming here that the community can enjoy.”
Waters, a classically trained pianist, lent her talents to the event to show her investment in the community.
“Number one, I love D.C., number two, I am a resident of southeast D.C. and I love bringing positivity to this community,” she said.
The Howard University graduate, whose debut album “Apogee” is on the charts, said she believes in the potential of Congress Heights.
“A lot of times people give this area a bad rap, but it is full of life, culture, music and art so I definitely am happy to be a part of this initiative,” Waters said.
Quann asserts that through study groups with the community residents have been vocal about more food choices, coffee shops and places to eat during lunch.
“People remember when there was a Safeway up the street, there was also a McDonald’s, so they are looking for small retail opportunities,” he said. “One of the challenges we have is [that] the corridor is 100 percent occupied in terms of leases, so there isn’t a lot of spaces to bring businesses, but we are working on creating that mix.”
In the meantime, the Main Streets program are focused on planting trees for beautification and assisting businesses on the 3100 block that they are calling Congress Heights Plaza.
“The main thing is to thank the community and let them know about new businesses and our entrepreneurial program, an eight-month program to train new entrepreneurs,” Quann said. “With Destination Congress Heights our purpose is to help the existing businesses better develop their business to attract more customers. We provide technical assistance to them, help them make storefront improvements, point of sales system and we provide general assistance.”
Quann said residents shouldn’t worry about Congress Heights Main Street gentrifying the block.
“We do need a mixture of incomes, not necessarily races, but we think the community is already diversifying and it will help bring business,” he said.