Celebrating Georgetown’s Small Businesses
By November 10, 2021 One Comment 542•
By Robert Devaney and Peggy Sands
At the start of the 2021 holiday shopping season, The Georgetowner asked a few select businesses about themselves and what they think about their vocation and Georgetown — how they started, tips on perseverance, their best sellers and what the town means to them. Since the 18th century, the town’s relationship between merchants and customers has been an intimate one — and continues to be so today.
The family of Samantha Hayes, owner of The Phoenix at 1512 Wisconsin Ave. NW, knows this town. “The shop was founded by my grandparents in 1955,” Hayes says. “They instilled in me a sense of wanderlust and I saw first-hand how communities could thrive by preserving traditional techniques. I work with independent artists and artisans locally, nationally, and internationally. I am always seeking new work our customers will love. For example, my roots are in Maine (I grew up on a farm there), which was the impetus for our “Made in Maine” collection. There are so many talented makers from that state!”
“I think ‘pivot’ became the word of survival throughout the pandemic,” she says. “For us, that meant adjusting our hours, offering curbside pick-up and free local delivery. Because my father wasn’t able to be in the shop, he became my delivery guy. He still drives all over town delivering packages and we will continue to do that through the holidays, if not longer.”
As for top gifts, “Our unique collection of clothing and jewelry are our top sellers, and we always keep an expansive collection of tabletop and home goods our customers love to explore.”
“We love being part of the fabric of Georgetown!” Hayes notes. “Its residents have always supported us. We are a third-generation family business and some of our customers have been shopping with us for three generations too.”
“Being in business with my spouse has kept us moving ahead,” declares Carolyn Wasylczuk, who with her husband Nick owns Just Paper and Tea, the unique specialty shop at 3232 P St. NW, which started with wallpaper 33 years ago. “Don’t fight about money ever … never solves any issues,” she says. Top sellers? “Our invitations (wedding) and tea, of course.” Georgetown’s power of community is something they love, the couple agrees.
Ifat Pridan, owner of LiLi the First — “Inspiring Fashion for inspiring women — at 1419 Wisconsin Ave. NW, remarks, “I wanted to create a boutique that blends a unique and international style with an amazing shopping experience.” As for her customers, Pridan calls them her “First Ladies,” who give us “the energy and the reason to be here.” Latest hit? “Our exclusive, Italian handmade leather backpacks — lightweight and fun to stroll around town with,” she notes. “Georgetown is the only place in D.C. that gives you a European vibe, thanks to the many small businesses that decided to grow here. It’s a small village inside the capital of the world.”
“The fashion business is always challenging and especially these past two years,” observes Alan Behar, co-proprietor of men’s clothier Ike Behar at 2900 M St. NW. “When the brand name is your family name you really have to work harder to persevere,” he says. “You are only as good as your name. So, we always make sure not to cut corners. In these times, we increased the quality of product and service.”
“What also keeps me going is our customer base who depend on our clothes to make them feel and look good,” he adds. “As we see more and more stores go into only causal clothing we have increased our selection of suits and sport coats made from Italy and full Canvas. We have also increased our new collection of leisure wear made with luxury Pima cotton,” Behar adds, “I love the people who live here as well as being next to the Four Seasons. They have been our best brand ambassador.”
Krista Johnson, co-owner of Ella Rue Women’s Fashion Boutique at 3231 P St. NW with her sister Alexa, credits her “amazing clients” and the Georgetown community for their success in getting through the Covid closures and other challenges the past 11 years. But clients credit their neighbor-like friendliness and diverse high-quality offerings, including luxury handbags, the current favorite. “They know all of their clients by their first names,” observes one loyal patron.
MiniMe Little Boutique at 2126 P St. NW with curated gifts and specialty items like matching outfits for moms and children from infants to about school age, is the vision of Liana Vassila. In April, the mother of a three-year-old, opened her beautiful shop because “there is nothing like it here, and there are so many engaged parents and grandparents here,” she says. Vissila is planning to host creative parties and events at the shop, such as a live artist who will custom paint children’s (and their parents’) sneakers.
“Our aim has always been to promote a healthy and joyful lifestyle,” says Emil Merdzhanov, owner of Georgetown Olive Oil Co., now at 2910 M St. NW, which made its debut six years ago. “We celebrate the difference and diversity in our products — and most importantly every product in our stores is a true reflection of our passion for flavor.”
Any tips on perseverance? “Being a part of this great community is what really lifts you up… Set small goals; one day one step and never forget your values, your guiding principles.” And your top seller? “Our customers really enjoy our selection of fresh extra virgin olive oils from around the world and our Italian aged traditional style balsamic vinegar. As for Georgetown, Merdzhanov says, “It’s such a great mix of unique small independently owned businesses, cobblestones and upscale national retailers. It represents a diverse business environment — and it’s also so charming.”
“My interest began with my parents who had a tailor shop in Kingston, Jamaica,” recalls Louis Everard, owner of Everard’s Clothing at 1802 Wisconsin Ave. NW. “I started sewing at six. It was very natural for me to pursue entrepreneurship.”
“My vast knowledge has our business thriving throughout the good and bad years,” he observes “My tip on perseverance is to spoil your clients and your employees.” Working at the shop with his wife Jennifer Nygard, Everard says, “What’s best about being in Georgetown is the generosity of the neighbors. That’s the whole point!”
David Berkebile, owner of the classic, Georgetown Tobacco at 3144 M St. NW, recalls, “I opened in March 1964 because I wanted my own business and had been smoking a pipe since my days in the Navy on a heavy cruiser. So, I opened with a $5,000 loan from my father and made about $25,000 that first year with the help of kind folks in the neighborhood. Somehow, we made it to today. I think the most favorable aspect of this business are the employees, customers and the manufacturers; overall some of the most interesting and pleasant people. Perseverance comes from remaining loyal and always keeping your word to others.”
“I was born in Georgetown at Columbia Hospital for Women,” Berkebile continues. “My first haircut was at Johnsons Barber Shop. I collected newspapers for junk to the recycler on M Street and ate lunch at the old Woolworth’s where my mother worked part time. Georgetown has always been a part of my life, and after 57 years in business I have seen many changes and met many famous individuals within our walls — so many stories.”