Angel Gregorio sought to create a space to help other Black business owners like herself after realizing there wasn't much inexpensive real estate for business owners in D.C.
Gregorio, the owner of Black + Forth, said, "I have pals that do hair and nails. I decided to create a dialogue about inexpensive commercial space in a city where we often talk about affordable housing after noticing that they were paying outrageous sums of money for their locations in D.C.
Gregorio acquired a 7,500-square-foot site in the Langdon Park section of Northeast Washington in December 2021. The Spice Suite, Gregorio's business, and a government grant were used to pay for the $1.1 million property and the about $2.3 million in renovations.
Gregorio's Spice Shop, a natural hair care salon, a nail salon, a braiding studio, and a wax studio are all located in the strip mall of shipping containers known as Black + Forth, which made its official debut earlier this year. All of the businesses are run and owned by Black businesspeople. Additionally, it provides workshops for entrepreneurs and a farmers market.
"I want the space and my business to be known for relentlessly supporting Black people [and] for intentionally creating spaces for Black people in a city that is always changing and intensely gentrifying," Gregorio added.
Hope is brought to Congress Heights through a shopping district of local businesspeople.
Gregorio personally extended an invitation to join to each suite owner. They had previously operated out of other businesses or their homes.
"I'm filled with pride. The proprietor of the Braid Bar, Senna Minor, said, "I feel a sense of sisterhood and community. We can make fun of each other, taunt each other, and even suggest each other's enterprises. It's fantastic.
"We're doing what people say Black girls don't do," Minor added, "supporting each other honestly, healthily, and effectively."
Another renter is Tinea Porter, a 40-year-old businesswoman and proprietor of TGR Beauty. She was fired from her position as a high school teacher, which is when she started her career in the hair care sector. Porter worked at Sola Salons in Lanham's Woodmore Towne Center before obtaining a suite there. She had been coloring hair for Gregorio for years, and she was happy to take one of the spots that were open in the strip mall.
"Black women are changing the world. We are in this structure that we built and designed, Porter said. We were able to enter the market at a time when people are moving out and leaving such a mark because of gentrification and the fact that most of us are starting to be priced out of residential and commercial real estate. That is significant. Most people lack the confidence necessary to even follow through on such visions.
Nicole Lovelace, the 41-year-old owner of PRMP, a brow and beauty salon, claimed she "couldn't say no" when Gregorio asked her to join the business. Northwest Washington is home to another PRMP facility.
Since we won't be able to find this sort of space or this kind of community anywhere else in the city, Angel is really just creating something that makes our growth more cheap, according to Lovelace. These services she offers are inexpensive or free. We are able to offer the community better services.
After leaving her position as a school principle, Gregorio started the Spice Suite in 2015. It developed into more than just a store over time, becoming a hub for female businesswomen known as "Spice Girls." These ladies assist in running the business and frequently have pop-up locations where they can sell their goods.
Andy Reyes, a 36-year-old accountant from New Haven who flew to Washington, D.C., to promote her and her husband's business, Tierra Soap Co., in the Spice Suite's shopfront, is one such entrepreneur. Salts, bath bombs, and soaps are the company's areas of expertise.
Reyes stated that she believes D.C. is the perfect place for minority company owners to grow their enterprises, create networks, and make new connections.
Reyes will be back in September to take part in one of the farmers markets hosted by Black + Forth, which are held on the second and fourth Sundays of every month. According to Gregorio, these farmers markets offer a direct forum for growers and farmers to interact with the public, so promoting the sales of regional food.
Gregorio offers free space in the farmers markets and pop-up businesses. Additionally, Black + Forth provides free business school courses. The demand for these classes, which were first offered monthly, has increased, according to Gregorio. There are currently two or more classes offered each month. More than a dozen people recently attended a workshop where Mastercard officials taught them the use of data in business operations.
The foundation of Community Business School, according to Gregorio, "is that I believe we have enough genius in our communities to grow our communities." "As a result, I invite my Black friends who are masters in branding, marketing, and imagery. We make an effort to provide anything you might require.
More improvements to Black + Forth are planned, according to Gregorio, including a rooftop bar and pop-up events for Black bartenders.
(Story was first published by Corinne Dorsey. Photos by Rob Hill / Washington Post)