The Retail Village at Sycamore & Oak, Washington, DC

Sycamore & Oak: A Thriving D.C. Retail Village For Black Businesses

The retail space opened in June 2023.

In June 2023, Washington, D.C.’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, announced the opening of Sycamore & Oak Retail Village. The retail center would be owned by the members of the community and was intended by city leaders to be a space for Black-owned businesses to get the resources they are typically denied when trying to open and scale up their establishments. 

As PBS Newshour reported, the experiment in D.C. has been a resounding success as Keyonna Jones, the owner of Soufside Creative, an art and apparel shop, describes the village atmosphere as “a tribe, like a Black Wall Street tribe.” 

Jones continued, “Sycamore & Oak has been an incredible resource for myself and for my business, coming in here as a small business it has been an incubator space where we learn all the professional things.”

Despite the success of the Black-owned businesses inside the retail village, most Black-owned businesses are not the beneficiaries of such a targeted effort to help them succeed, and face struggles. 

According to Bridget Weston, the CEO of SCORE, a non-profit business mentoring program that also provides resources to small businesses, conversations with Black-owned business owners have left her with the impression that there is much work to do before parity in business is achieved. “From what I can see in my role and in talking with Black entrepreneurs across the country, unfortunately a lot of the challenges that they see as entrepreneurs are the same that they face throughout the nation because of systemic issues that persist.”

Weston continued, “Specifically Black-owned entrepreneurs had bigger issues with the lack of childcare, they had more challenges with people or either themselves, their family or their staff being affected by COVID-19, and unfortunately they also had less access to the funds that were available to them to help their businesses survive during the pandemic.”

Chris Pyrate, the owner of Chris Pyrate & Friends, a street wear apparel shop and art gallery located inside the retail center, indicated that he wanted to see the shop avoid the pitfall of gentrification that has been ravaging D.C. for years. “I love the fact that it starts off all local,” Pyrate said. “It could be an example of actually like being a destination in Southeast, without being a super like heavily gentrified project…without losing the accessibility [and] the feeling of that Southeast people are welcome.” 

Jones told PBS Newshour that she hopes that the village’s success continues and serves as a beacon for other Black-owned businesses, “I hope that Black entrepreneurs they know that they have a space within each other and within the tribe to thrive, they keep me sharp and they’re making sure that I’m working at my highest potential and I’m grateful for that.”

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