GMS Annual Meeting Asks What’s the ‘State of the Street’?


Spirits were sparkling last Wednesday, April 6, as Georgetown Main Street (GMS) hosted its annual meeting dubbed the “State of the Street” at Compass Coffee, 1351 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

With creative and tasty catering by Chef Jen Cravato of 1310 Kitchen as well as complimentary high-end coffee bar sensations from the host venue, attendees in the open public gathering heard GMS’s board chair Melanie Hayes provide welcoming remarks, Executive Director Rachel Shank summarize Main Street’s accomplishments for 2021 and outlook for 2022, and guest speaker, Ward 2 Council Member Brooke Pinto discuss her priorities for helping local and small businesses along the Wisconsin Ave. corridor, to assist with the mission of GMS.

Welcoming the gathering, Board Chair Hayes thanked previous chair Daphna Peled and grants committee chair Beth Cooper. “A lot of organizational building we’re doing is thanks to your leadership,” she said. After welcoming new board members, she also gave a shout-out to the District’s Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), which provides 80 percent of Georgetown Main Street’s program funding.

Executive Director Shank then announced GMS’s revised mission statement, “to strengthen the vitality of Georgetown small businesses by representing, promoting, and supporting the Wisconsin Ave. commercial corridor and engaging with residents, businesses, community organizations and visitors to build a vibrant Georgetown.”

In 2021, Shank highlighted, GMS increased its grants budget by 50 percent. “So last year,” she said, “we directly gave $60,000 in direct grants to small businesses.” This windfall allowed GMS to “help 20 small businesses with 20 different projects.” Benefiting from such grants, Thomas Sweet was able to purchase new freezers, Lutece could open up their spaces by removing a freezer, and Bacchus Wine was able to “replace their flooring,” Shank highlighted.

GMS also increased its one-on-one assistance to businesses applying for city grants. More than $420,000 were distributed to businesses from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and D.C.’s Bridge Funds for retail grants, Shank said. GMS also boosted volunteer support from 532 helpers last year to over 1,000 already for 2022. “So, our organization is just growing so much around the work they’re doing which is just wonderful,” Shank said.

Citing cell-phone data from the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID), Shank said 1.2 million visitors came to Book Hill last year, representing only 10 percent of all visitors to Georgetown. However, while the pandemic reduced visitors by 4 percent last year, in 2022 higher numbers of visitors have already come to the area in February and March. “So, we’re recovering pretty well,” she said.

According to the data, 50 percent of Book Hill visitors in 2021 came from less than 5 miles away and 31 percent from less than 2 miles away. “So, for the folks visiting Book Hill, about half came from our little community of Washington, D.C.” The average visitor spent less than one hour on Book Hill. However, with the Fountain Inn opening (at 1659 Wisconsin Ave. NW) it’s sure to provide more vibrancy and “more opportunities for people to visit the area.” Fortunately, 7 new businesses also started up on the Wisconsin Ave. corridor last year, Shank emphasized.

Shank cited statistics to show GMS’s remarkable growth in recent years. “We were previously at $170,000 annually, but last year we got up to $200,000 and I think this year we got to $220,000, so we’re growing pretty rapidly and we can’t do that without your help. The Main Streets grant remains consistently at $150,000 each year, so in order for us to grow our programs and our technical assistance to give more grants to small businesses, we need a little more financial help from our community,” she said.

Looking ahead for 2022, GMS is going to be hosting the Art Walk on May 13 to showcase local Book Hill galleries. The following day, on May 14, GMS will be sponsoring the Georgetown Sweets Tour in which 12 local bakeries and a dozen local retail locations will combine efforts to “get people into these spaces they’ve never been into before,” Shank said. GMS will also be hosting another Art All Night on September 3, for which they received a $20,000 grant from DSLBD. They’re hoping to boost attendance from 1,700 in 2021 to 5,000 in 2022. They’ll also be hosting a “new signature event” called Shop Small Georgetown featuring a “different industry each day” and highlighting “all the small businesses” along the corridor.

After generously thanking GMS for all of its support for local small businesses on the Wisconsin Avenue corridor, Ward 2 Council Member Pinto emphasized her top legislative priorities will all be helpful for local commercial vibrancy. Her agenda includes housing and mental health services for the homeless, cutting red tape for business licensing, making license renewal fees more progressive to help newer and smaller businesses and to increase city funding for “flexible dollars” in direct grants to help specific local business needs.

The best way community residents can ensure business vitality, Pinto added, was to shop local. “I know it’s easy to shop online,” she said, “but the best thing you can do is support our local business establishments.”

 

 

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