Brenda Estrella has a prototypical BloomBars story. Drained from her uninspiring corporate job, she was thinking about leaving the District for good when went to BloomBars one night during a Haiti fundraiser. “It was love at first sight,” she said. “I don’t want to be dramatic, but finding BloomBars made me think maybe this is a place where I can establish some roots.”
She started going regularly, quit her job and soul-searched her way to a position as BloomBars administration and operations director. She’s happily getting by for now on savings and a deal with Chambers — in exchange for her labor, she’s living in his house for free.
Not everything has fallen into place so easily. BloomBars almost met an untimely death this fall, when a $20,000 bill — largely for real estate taxes Chambers has been disputing — came due. The city threatened to seize the place. Chambers held fundraisers and otherwise begged and borrowed and, in a last-minute scramble, secured the money.
Chambers said he doesn’t expect another such scare, but the money part of the enterprise is still a bit sketchy. Audience donations can be paltry, and Chambers is still living off savings and rent from tenants who share his roomy rowhouse. But, ever the optimist, he has funding plans that include adding a tea bar and retail space, selling compilation albums and developing BloomTV. He is working on a deal with a cable channel to air videos of performances and other content — think “ ‘Real World’ meets a grass-roots conscience,” he said. He also imagines that the artists BloomBars cultivates will make it big and give back down the road.
It’s not that crazy: Carolyn Malachi, a former resident, enthusiastically saluted BloomBars at a performance she gave there shortly after her song “Orion” was nominated for a Grammy.
“BloomBars gave me the opportunity to do a lot. Made me believe in my own creativity,” she said in a mini-speech captured in a YouTube clip. “This is what is happening in your community,” she goes on, pointing to the little stage she’s on. “I definitely have the BloomBars family to thank for this song. . . . Spread the word.”
Marech is a freelance writer.