Even though it has been open for less than four months, the Sycamore & Oak Retail Village located in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Ward 8 in Southeast Washington has generated a great deal of activity and buzz.
“It’s been great,” said Yarne Glascoe, the 39-year-old owner of VAYA Beauty, a cosmetics supply shop located in the the Village.
“I have had the chance to meet a lot of people who live in Congress Heights. I am so glad to be here. This place educates and inspires the younger generation to become entrepreneurs.”
The Village is located on the St. Elizabeths East Campus next to the Entertainment & Sports Arena and is close to the Congress Heights Metro Station on the Green Line.
The two-level facility consists of 13 small, minority-owned businesses such as a fitness gym, urban-oriented clothing stores, eateries and a store offering fresh food on the lower part.
The lower level has a stage for several types of entertainment and has hosted such speakers as Vice President Kamala Harris. The upper level consists of tables and chairs for meetings and dining.
The Village consists of over 20,000 square feet and has been built with an eye toward green construction and use the timber. Redbrick LMD, the Emerson Collective and the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation worked in concert to build and maintain the facility.
Monica Ray Leads the Way
Monica Ray, the president of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation, played a key role in the conception and the building of the Village.
“The development corporation, through me, serves as the operator of Sycamore & Oak,” Ray, 51, said. “We serve as the program manager as well as rent out the spaces, maintain the grounds and select the activities that will take place.”
Ray said the Village serves as a training ground for entrepreneurs with the goal of having them successfully transition in three to five years to the planned more permanent facility that will consist of over 600,000 square feet. Abandoned buildings located east of the facility will be redeveloped into a permanent town square-like structure.
“We want all of our businesses that are presently with us to move into that building as brick-and-mortars,” she said.
Ray said the development corporation coaches the businesses on their operations, making suggestions to improve their bottom line. She envisions other businesses joining The Village in the future.
Entrepreneurs Rave About the Village
Joe Houston is the founder and president of WeFitDC, a fitness business. Houston, 29, said working at Sycamore & Oak has been hectic at times, but worth it.
“The pace here is fast and there are a lot of challenges,” he said. “I am learning. It is just about being organized. I have had a lot of love and a lot of support here.”
Mohammad Hill is the co-founder and co-owner of The Museum, an urban apparel retailer. Hill agrees with Houston on the fast pace of operating a business at the Village.
“The foot traffic here is amazing, especially after Mystics games and graduations at the Entertainment and Sports Arena,” Hill, 38, said. “We also get a lot of business when concerts are here and especially when there is karaoke night on Wednesday.”
Meryem Yusef is the co-owner of the eatery, Buna Talk Café. Located in the food service section of The Village, it offers coffee, pastries, and sandwiches with an Ethiopian touch.
“This was once a deserted area,” said Yusef, speaking of the pre-Village days. “Now it is bustling. We offer a breakfast fare which is quite popular. Our coffee is always brewing and ready for our customers.”