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Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the name of the retailer Temporium.
For artists, storefront on a shoestring

By Danielle Douglas
Capital Business Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2010; A11

Lugging dresses, necklaces, clutches and earrings around the District is not exactly how Dana Ayanna Greaves likes to spend her weekends. But the designer behind Artistic Aya says that setting up shop in the city presents a number of challenges. Where rents are affordable, foot traffic is scarce. And where shoppers fill the streets, lease rates are astronomical.

So Greaves was thrilled when Philippa P.B. Hughes, founder of the Pink Line Project, invited her to sell her wares at the Temporium, a kind of retail incubator sponsored by the city. "Trunk shows only last for a few hours, and that doesn't always give customers enough time," Greaves said. "So the store is great because people will have more time to view the collection and decide to buy."

The Temporium, located in the former R.L. Christian Library at 13th and H streets NE, is an outgrowth of the D.C. Office of Planning's "temporary urbanism" initiative. "We want to activate vacant spaces and create lively neighborhood corridors throughout the city that would support creative entrepreneurs and highlight retail potential in emerging areas such as H Street," said Tanya Washington, chief of staff at the Office of Planning.

She said the city brought together a number of creative types, including Hughes, to brainstorm on the best uses for the empty spaces sprinkled about the District. Hughes championed the idea of establishing a short-term retail collective. These artist incubators are fairly common throughout New York and Los Angeles but have not become so on the D.C. design scene.

Hughes, a local cultural maven, has organized a fair share of visual and performance art events throughout the city, including a few exhibits at vacant retail spaces. Most of those events, she said, focused on the experience of the art, whereas the Temporium is about the business of art. "This is about creating a business model that is viable," she said. "If the designers sell their goods, expand their brands and get new customers, that would be a mark of success."

Each of the 12 designers and artists slated to occupy space at the store is expected to contribute about 10 percent of their earnings. That revenue will be coupled with the $20,000 grant provided by the city to operate and spruce up the space. The temporary store will be open from July 23 to Aug. 15, during which time Hughes expects to host a variety of events on the weekends to generate buzz.

Hughes said it wasn't hard to find people to offer their work for sale at the boutique, given the close-knit nature of the city's artist community. "I haven't had one designer turn me down, because it is such a fresh approach for D.C. and for showing work," she said.

Artists, Hughes suspects, are also drawn to the fairly low cost of participation. Retail rents at fashion-forward, high-traffic corridors such as Georgetown can average between $80 and $100 a square foot, said Steve Solomon, a broker at Solomon Real Estate. Even in areas such as H Street NE, where rents range from $20 to $50 a square foot, leasing, say, 1,000 square feet and paying utilities would be difficult for many young designers.

"I would love to open a store, but it's not feasible at this time," Greaves said. "So this is a great way for me to explore it further." Besides, she added, "in D.C., Philippa is the go-to woman for engaging, quality events, for artists, designers and creative businesses. So this is a good fit."

In recent years, H Street has attracted a steady stream of artists, but with sparse retail offerings, the area is largely in transition. "This is ultimately an initiative to stimulate community building, promoting neighborhoods and using these as opportunities to drive new economic development in areas that would otherwise sit vacant," Washington said.

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