Businesses Band Together to Rebrand Their Block
15th and U is a three-minute walk away from the gentrified bustle of 14th St NW, but it couldn't look more different. The block from 15th to 16th is home to 30 small businesses, most of them mom-and-pop operations. And for a while, 15th and U was struggling.
Construction plus favorable publicity for all the new restaurants and shops along 14th Street equaled disaster for the small businesses a block away, but a new branding initiative is aiming to change that.
"Initially, everybody was very excited about all the action on 14th Street," says Shannan Fales, owner of Junction, a vintage boutique on the block celebrating its 12th year in business this year. "We thought it would bring more people to the neighborhood and more customers." But that's not what happened.
"We noticed shops on 14th were closing such as Pulp and Rue 14, mom-and-pop retail similar to what we had, and what was coming in was Trader Joe's and expensive condos."
Sidewalks were closed, scaffolding was everywhere, and 15th and U was...kind of being ignored.
"If you're a tourist [getting off the metro], you don't even know what's three blocks away," she says. "It just wasn't very inviting to wander our way. That was kind of our theory." Fales talked to a number of businesses that had been open for decades who all said that 2012 was the worst year they'd ever seen. "I was getting to the point, 'Do I get another job? Do I close down?' And that was kind of when I said, 'I really need to do anything that I possibly can to make this work.'"
Fales convinced a number of businesses on the block to put up white string lights to unify the streetscape and held a raffle where the prize was something from each participating business. And then she held a mixer. And then she met Patrick Cavanaugh.
Cavanaugh works for BRINK, a marketing agency three doors down from Junction. He and vice president Josh Belhumeur mentioned they had also been thinking about branding the block to improve business. "I think it's an awareness problem," Cavanaugh says. "Once people get here, they're impressed."
Together, they applied for--and received--a grant from the D.C. Department of Small and Local Businesses, and 15 And U was born.