When Angel Gregorio opened a new location for her specialty spice shop called the Spice Suite, she invited several other Black women business owners to join her. She thought big.
Instead of just opening her own brick-and-mortar, she transformed a 7,500 square foot lot in D.C.’s Langdon neighborhood into a retail community for local Black-owned businesses. She dubbed the space, which is located at 2201 Channing St. NE and had its soft launch on Friday, Black And Forth.
"It was just this catchy, cool name that I created for how I describe my process of going back-and-forth with Black business owners," Gregorio tells DCist/WAMU. "And now it is the name of a shopping center — a strip mall — that I own in D.C. So I feel good about that and I’m grateful to be in the space."
Gregorio felt ready and was excited to deliver on her novel concept. Her own spice shop opened in the lot on Friday and will be joined by four other salon businesses in the next three to four weeks. The hair, nail, waxing, and braid salons will lease commercial space from Gregorio and are going to set up shop inside renovated shipping containers. The owner of the nail salon business, Nail’d it, had been operating inside her apartment in Southeast for the last six years, according to NBC4.
"We have a lot of conversation about affordable housing, but we don’t talk enough about making commercial space affordable for Black women. And so since no one is talking about it, I’m just going to do it and let people talk about it," says Gregorio.
Gregorio says she purchased the space for more than $1 million in December 2021, in part with D.C. government dollars. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced earlier this week that one of her administration’s goals is to increase the share of minority-owned businesses to 33% by 2028 — and Gregorio is helping the city to meet that goal. According to D.C. ofﬁcials, Gregorio was the ﬁrst applicant of the city’s Commercial Property Acquisition Fund, which provides assistance through grants of up to $750,000 or 25% of the sale price to eligible businesses aiming to expand or maintain a commercial property. To date, the Bowser Administration awarded $4 million to 12 businesses through the ﬁrst round of the Commercial Property Acquisition Fund. Applications are still open.
At-Large Councilmember Kenyan McDufﬁe helped to create the fund with Gregorio’s business in mind.
"We’re going to keep making these sorts of investments, so we can do the sorts of transformational things that allow our Black and brown entrepreneurs not only to be great business people [but] to build wealth that they can pass on for generations to come," McDufﬁe said at Friday’s ribbon cutting
ceremony for Spice Suite and Black And Forth. McDufﬁe was one of several D.C. ofﬁcials who celebrated alongside Gregorio, including the mayor herself.