New business group works to ‘fight the blight,’ draw businesses to downtown area
BY KRISSI HUMBARD — You may have noticed that Route 1 in downtown Hyattsville is a little more colorful these days. New art is transforming the Arts District, thanks to a group of local business owners.
The group is in its infancy, but has big plans for the area. Business members currently include Tanglewood Works, Three Little Birds Sewing Co., Vigilante Coffee Company, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, Franklins Restaurant, Brewery, and General Store, Retrograde Vintage, Green Owl Design, and Artist & Craftsman Supply. Bronwyn King, the curator for Studio SoHy, is also involved.
Called the SoHy Collective, the group’s mission is focused on developing a visual and commercial identity which promotes and supports small businesses and nonprofits in the SoHy district of Hyattsville. “Our purpose is to support the businesses and the business district,” said Sue Mondeel, owner of Tanglewood Works.
Realizing there was no official business association for Hyattsville, Mondeel said she decided to gather local business owners to discuss what resources were already available and what they wanted to do to increase the visibility of Hyattsville as a retail and dining destination. “Those of us who met soon realized that our strength was in creating visual interest and experiences, so we have made that our focus,” she said.
The group is responsible for the newly painted H-shaped planters in Centennial Park, and the new paint job on the Tanglewood Works building. Green Owl Design is also creating a mural on the building behind its storefront. Each business is working on their individual projects, while consulting the group to create a cohesive branding.
Erica Riggio, cofounder of Green Owl Design, said the Hs lacked appeal. Working to “fight the blight,” her team paired with Artist & Craftsman Supply to develop a design and repaint the planters, which came from H Street in DC about 10 years ago. “These Hs are one small step in branding and creating a sense of place,” Riggio said.
“The primary focus of the SoHy Collective is to increase local economic development by making Hyattsville an attractive, artistic, and fun place to visit,” Riggio added. “We can do this by banding together and offering creative assistance to the city, developers, etc., and taking on projects like the Hs.”
Riggio said she asked Assistant City Administrator Jim Chandler if her team could “spruce up” the Hs, and he told them to go for it. “Jim has always been great to work with, and we appreciate his trust in our abilities,” she said.
Chandler said it has been helpful to have a collective business group to work with. The group has “great energy — and we need that,” he said.
Chandler said the projects that the group has taken on help build a sense of ownership. The business owners are putting their “blood, sweat and tears” into the area, he observed, which is different than if the city were to come in and paint something. “They’re building sweat equity,” he said, adding that he “absolutely” thinks the efforts will draw new businesses.
Mondeel says that, in addition to beautifying an area that has been neglected for some time, the group sees themselves as the welcome committee for new businesses that are opening in the area.
“I was really, really happy to move here,” Mondeel said, “but I had to figure it all out [on my own] … those of us who have been here awhile and have figured it out want to help the new wave of people who come in.”
The group’s efforts and enthusiasm are already drawing new businesses. Retrograde Vintage, one of the pop-up shops that is currently selling in Tanglewood Works, is working out details to lease a space on the strip.
Mondeel says the SoHy Collective is just getting started. They have been working with the city on some “vibrant and interesting” signage for Route 1 and the SoHy district. That project was spearheaded by SoHy Collective, but is being implemented by Green Owl Design and Artist & Craftsman Supply. “They are taking it to the next level,” and making it happen, Mondeel said.
The SoHy Collective is also working with the city to bring some holiday cheer to the downtown Route 1 area. The group has big plans for Small Business Saturday in November, when they’ll stage an event they’re calling “Light it Up.” The individual businesses will decorate their window displays, and the collective is working with the owners of vacant businesses to create fun, festive displays and “get the whole corridor lit up,” Mondeel said.
Mondeel stressed that the business owners in the collective are joining forces on this because they love Hyattsville and they want to keep their businesses here.
Riggio agreed, saying, “We envision a thriving business community in which residents and non-residents are able to enjoy an enhanced artistic and visually appealing experience.”