For D.C. couple, community activism launches lucrative real estate careers

Wayne Dickson and Carol Felix link building owners with tenants through their real estate company.
Wayne Dickson and Carol Felix link building owners with tenants through their real estate company. (Marvin Joseph/washington Post)
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By Thomas Heath
Monday, January 18, 2010

My community activism is limited to planting and saving canopy trees in Chevy Chase, where I live with my wife, Polly. With no entrepreneurial gene to speak of, I have been unable to spot any business opportunities while carrying out my do-good-ism.

Not true for Wayne Dickson and Carol Felix, whose community-activist role in landing a Whole Foods Market for their Logan Circle neighborhood in the District a decade ago launched them into commercial real estate careers.

"The brokers who did the deal made buckets of money off that," Carol said of the Whole Foods move. "So, we sat there and said, 'How hard can this be?' "

Wayne and Carol are 71 and 67, respectively, which gives me hope that if I stay nimble (I am 54), I will be able to find something to do in my later years.

The couple has been in business together for about 30 years, and have remade themselves repeatedly, starting in publishing, then opening an advertising and public relations firm, then becoming consultants to retail stores, and now, real estate brokers.

"Both my wife and I get bored really fast," Wayne said.

Their firm, Blake Dickson Real Estate Services, specializes in remaking emerging neighborhoods such as Logan Circle. Their revenues come from linking building owners with tenants. They collect 2 to 4 percent of a sale or lease, which means they can make a couple thousand dollars on a small deal or a couple hundred thousand dollars on a big one.

The couple, who work out of their home, follow many of the commandments for successful entrepreneurship. They take risks, network like mad, pay copious attention to detail, and are willing to delay immediate gratification in anticipation of a big payoff down the road.

The Dicksons' involvement in real estate began more than a decade ago on the back patio of their Q Street Northwest home, which they bought in 1986 for $230,000 and is now assessed at $1.6 million.

"We were sitting around on our patio one evening, drinking wine, and neighbors said, 'Have you heard Whole Foods is going up to 13th and V?' "

That launched the Dicksons on a years-long marketing campaign to instead lure the store to P Street, hoping it would help bring a renaissance to the neighborhood and increase property values. They consulted economists, put together a marketing plan, organized neighbors, handed out leaflets at Metro stops, and lobbied Whole Foods executives.

They even helped create a video that compared 13th and V with 14th and P.

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