On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Petworth Citizen & Reading Room will combine forces with its Upshur Street neighbor, Loyalty Bookstore later this spring. The popular spot for literary-themed cocktails announced it would close its doors February 1st, but when it reopens, customers can expect the food and drinks to be integrated with the bookstore.
The concept of multiple business models under one roof isn’t new to the Washington region.
From a brewery that sells kids toys and kitchen gadgets to a barbershop and art gallery, we’ll explore how local businesses serve their neighborhood’s unique needs.
Produced by Victoria Chamberlin
- Mike Franklin Owner of Franklins Restaurant, Brewery & General Store in Hyattsville
- Scott Abel Co-owner, Solid State Books, H Street Corridor @solidstatedc
- Joe Lapan Co-Owner, Songbyrd Music Hall and Record Cafe, Adams Morgan @SongbyrdDC
- Lesley Bryant Owner, Lady Clipper Barber Shop, U Street Corridor @theladyclipper
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast Nigerian Americans in this region respond to President Trump's recent immigration ban. But first Petworth Citizen & Reading Room will combine forces with its Upshur Street neighbor, Loyalty Bookstore later this spring. When it reopens customers can expect the food and drinks to be integrated with the bookstore.
KOJO NNAMDIBut the concept of multiple business models under one roof is not new to the Washington region. From a brewery that sells kids' toys and kitchen gadgets to a barber shop that hosts art shows, we're exploring how local businesses get creative to serve their neighborhood's unique needs. Joining me in studio is Scott Abel the Co-Owner of Solid State Books. Scott, thank you for joining us.
SCOTT ABELThank you for having me.
NNAMDIMike Franklin is the Owner of Franklins Restaurant and General Store. Mike, thank you for joining us.
MIKE FRANKLINOh, thank you.
NNAMDILesley Bryant is the Owner of Lady Clipper Barber Shop. Lesley, thank you for joining us.
LESLEY BRYANTThank you.
NNAMDIAnd Joe Lapan is the Co-Owner of Songbyrd Music House and Record Café. Joe, thank you for joining us.
JOE LAPANIt's a pleasure.
NNAMDIAs I said, you can join the conversation 800. Mike Franklin, I'll start with you. Franklins began as a deli 28 years ago and it's now a craft brewery, a restaurant with a full menu and a general store that sells everything from $10 bottles of wine to children's toys. How did you get started?
FRANKLINI got started by moving to Hyattsville over 30 years ago. I found a store front that was going to be open. It was a hardware store that was not doing well. I bought the building and then said, hey, now what am I going to do with it?" And what the neighborhood needed we thought was a place to gather and a store to get things that you had to travel for. So I opened up the little general store in the front and the deli in the back. And then 10 years later kind of reinvented ourselves by opening -- building a building next door to be a brew pub, and expanded the store. And we've been going for 27 almost 28 years.
NNAMDIWhat made you decide to do all of this, to combine quirky retail with dining and why Hyattsville?
FRANKLINWell, Hyattsville is where I live. I wanted to open a neighborhood business and walk to work. And the reason we did it the way we did is we thought that's what the neighborhood wanted.
FRANKLINAnd we are here 27 years later. So apparently ...
NNAMDII guess that is what the neighborhood wanted.
FRANKLINThat is what the neighborhood wanted.
NNAMDIWhat's the reaction you get from customers when they first discover you? Are they confused? Are they intrigued?
FRANKLINNot confused, but I think they like the idea of things being a little more and better than they thought it was going to be. That element of surprise as you walk in the door and like, oh, this is kind of a more interesting venue than a brew pub typically has. And, oh, this is a store that's almost like no other with cards, gifts, toys, wine, beer, candy. You name it, urban essentials.
NNAMDIScott Abel, you opened Solid States Books with Jake Cumsky-Whitlock in 2017 after working together at Kramerbooks for years. Your business combines book retail with coffee and alcohol sales and community events. What was your philosophy behind this business and how did you make it different from other book stores?
ABELWell, I think the primary, you know, motivating factor is bring people together. Seeking to give, you know, in this instance a neighborhood that didn't have a bookstore. Something they really want and giving them a third place, somewhere they could be that isn't home that isn't work. And a place you can be without having to spend a lot of money. We've all seen the way Washington has changed and, you know, the increasingly great restaurant scene and the bar scene.
ABELThose are pretty known qualities, but we want to give people a place to be that is a little bit different. And they can be and, you know, enjoy each other's company and like bring people together across, you know, all sorts of ways. And books do that and the events do that. And, you know, we all have to eat. So that sort of is a natural thing to give everyone as they come through.
NNAMDIYou set out to create a third space in the city, some place independent from work and from home. Does this combination of bookstore and café help and how is it working out?
ABELIt's working out very well. We really took our time to seek out a neighborhood in the town that needed this kind of offering. And we found that on H Street it's been a great experience getting to know all of our neighbors and we have lots of good independent businesses on H Street. And it's a good arts community as a piece of the city that's growing in a good organic way.
ABELWe see a lot of great neighbors coming in every day and using us for just a cup of coffee at 8:00 a.m. or they're using us for a glass of wine at the end of the day with some friends. And there's -- we've seen a lot of parents. So I mean, it's been a lot of fun to kind of see what this actually quite large neighborhood in the city didn't have and how we were able to find, you know, our first best guess was books, beer, wine, coffee and events. And we've continued to do that and that's really -- it was a good guess. And we're going to keep growing and trying other things too. But in terms of how much more we can do, we might have to add more people, add more staff. We'll see.
NNAMDIWell, you're coming from Kramerbooks, which has been established in that location for a very long time. And you're trying to create something new here. How did the locations compare?
ABELIt's good. I was at Kramer's for 14 years. It's a different neighborhood obviously. And that's the biggest thing is the tourism I think that probably drove a bit of what was at that shop. What we're doing has a little bit more to do with the community, D.C. itself. It's the organic, the neighborly connections that we're growing with everyone.
ABELAnd beyond that, you know, specifically events, we have a great big event space and we're doing stuff almost nightly. And sometimes that's not even with a book. It's just bringing people together for panels about the history of the neighborhood or this or that or the other thing. And then the children's book store, so we have a great big children's play area and books selection, which I think is really fantastic. It's probably one of the best in town. And I think that's a big differentiator for us.
NNAMDIAnd you don't consider yourself a two in one business model. You consider yourself a four in one business model.
ABELYeah. We were just joking off air before you came in. We're kind of like slashies, you know, books slash events slash coffee and our panelists, you know, kind of all felt that way. It's a great thing. It's the way we designed the store. It's almost like a rubric, you know, each corner of our space.
NNAMDIJoe Lapan, you and your Co-Owner Alisha Edmonson wanted the business to be focused around music whether it be as a venue or through vinyl record sales. How has that concept tied the different aspects of your business together?
LAPANYeah. Thank you. Songbyrd, we're going on five years now of that concept in Adams Morgan, Washington D.C. Northwest. And, yeah, I think you hit it, which is to organize it around the music for sure. We are both, you know, passionate music fans. I grew up in the area. She grew up on the West Coast. And we both have, you know, histories with music. Anecdotally, you know, when we found this space in Adams Morgan the space itself actually has a music history.
LAPANIt was the Show Boat Lounge in the 50s and 60s of Washington D.C. Charlie Byrd was, you know, the house act and had a part in the ownership and management of that venue. So there was sort of a serendipity there. But you're correct to say we organize everything around the music, and the idea that, you know, why shouldn't a space be tying together events and, of course, live music with also vinyl records and other, you know, music formats that people can purchase.
LAPANAnd it opens up kind of a world of opportunities in terms of how we can partner with artists, labels, and other stakeholders, you know, both on the customer consumer side as well as the artist production side to just kind of retie things back together in that sense.
NNAMDISongbyrd serves coffee and food, but there's no shortage of cafes in this region and in Adams Morgan where you're located. Why did you decide to include coffee sales?
LAPANYou know, I would echo some of what others have said. I think there's a natural -- you know, again, we're a business that asks people to come and spend time and so, of course, when you're there enjoying music be it live or be it what you're listening to, you know, on the record player through the speaker system, coffee or a beer or a cafe sandwich or any of those things are a natural element to why you might want to spend time there.
LAPANSo we do take pride in that. And, you know, you're right that a lot of places have that. And, again, we would be targeting the person who wants to enjoy those types of offerings in a setting where you can also, you know, browse a record, listen to good music or, you know, while you're waiting to or at a show. So, again, it is sort of an offering that is not rare per say. But offering it, you know, again, makes sense in that environment where you're having people spend their time.
NNAMDILesley Bryant is the Owner of Lady Clipper Barber Shop. Your business combines the most different business models of anyone else on this panel, haircuts and fine art. How did you get that idea?
BRYANTWell, as a fine artist myself, I went to school for graphic design. I always was drawn to the art scene. So when I entered into the barbering scene I thought it was just natural for me to kind of combine all of those elements together.
NNAMDIIt's a brilliant idea for the customers, who might observe a piece during their haircut and then decide they want to take it home. Do you see a lot of crossover from your customers or are they coming for one thing or the other?
BRYANTThey're coming for the whole experience. So I have clients that come in for a haircut and end up walking out with a painting. And then I have customers who just come, because they know we're a gallery to just view the art.
NNAMDIHow did you -- how do you decide which artists you want to feature?
BRYANTSo I open up the floor to -- on Instagram I make a post and I ask people who would like to be -- in the D.C. area, who would like to be featured. And I just kind of wait to see who comes in and I give them a month and we take it from there.
NNAMDIReally? You originally hail from Trinidad, West Indies.
NNAMDIBut you've been here since you were about 12 years old.
NNAMDIWhat's the Trinidad influence in your barber shop?
BRYANTI would say the colors, because the colors are red, white and black and there's a little bit of blue there too for the barbering symbolism. But definitely, you know, Trinidad is a country of carnival and color and art and diversity. And that's also reflected in my clientele. I have people from every race and hair texture coming in. So it's like I'm bringing my culture right back into D.C.
NNAMDIAre people surprised when come in and they see the artwork or do they come in with that expectation? They've already heard about it.
BRYANTFifty-fifty. The people who haven't heard about it definitely like, oh this art is so beautiful. How's painting it? Do you guys paint it? And then we also have customers, who've heard about us or read articles about us and come in to view the art.
NNAMDIYour background is in graphic design. You worked in the design industry it's my understanding for about 12 years. What made you decide to become a barber?
BRYANTI decided to become a barber, because I really needed a change. I needed a change from that 9:00 to 5:00 corporate structure. And I wanted to really be able to express another -- my art in another medium. And barbering was something I just tried and fell in love with.
NNAMDIAnd so here we are. We got a tweet from Genna who said, "My husband and I live in Silver Spring. We love Franklins. Whenever we stop in we look at their wall of different hot sauces and make a new selection. It is definitely a great place to gather with friends and find a gift for someone, who is hard to buy for." Hot sauce?
FRANKLINHot sauces, yep. What's fun about our place is we don't really have a corporate mission other than selling what the people want to buy. So we're not restricted to any category like you would be if you were a store in a mall or a concept where you're only one genre. So people have been buying hot sauces so we keep expanding it. It's kind of like kitchen magnets or kitchen towels or socks. Whatever the category that people want to buy that's what we do.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation about dual or multiple purpose establishments and how they're serving their neighborhoods. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about dual or multipurpose establishments and how they serve their neighborhoods. We're talking with Scott Abel, the Co-Owner of Solid State Books. Mike Franklin is the Owner of Franklins Restaurant and General Store. Lesley Bryant is the Owner of Lady Clipper Barber Shop. And Joe Lapan is the Co-Owner of Songbyrd Music House and Record Café. Joe, if I come into your store and I want to make a record, not just buy a record, what do I do?
LAPANSo we do have something for you. We are the owner of a 1947 vintage voiceograph machine. We source that actually from a gentleman, who lives just outside D.C. in Maryland. We had seen these items and kind of fell in love with the idea of them. You know, the visual, the functionality everything. So we do have a room on our record cafe side. Think of it like a phone booth almost that you would walk into except it has a vintage microphone and a recording technology, a very analog recording technology where essentially you can make a 45 sized and speed record that can record a little over three minutes of whatever you would like to record.
NNAMDISo I don't have to limit myself to singing. I can simply recite a poem. I can simply send a message to loved one.
LAPANYeah. And in fact, that's one of the things that they were designed for in the 40s and mid-century was often used by soldiers sending messages home or, yeah, anyway that you want to send a message. Although we do have a house guitar in there, so certainly music becomes something that people have done and do do in that booth.
NNAMDIAnd Lesley Bryant, I come into your barber shop. Not only do I want a haircut and I want a piece of art that I see. And I know it's a local artist so I want to be in touch with the artist personally. Can you hook me up?
BRYANTYes, totally, I have information available for each artist. I also post a short bio on our Instagram page every month so that you can contact them directly or you can contact them through me.
NNAMDIDo you ever have artists in the barber shop at all?
BRYANTSome of my clients are the artists that are hung on the walls.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Barbara who says, "We lived in Cheverly for 10 years and Franklins was our go to neighborhood hangout. Mike Franklin allowed so many of our non-profits and civic groups to hold fundraisers there, a portion of the sales that day in the store and restaurant going toward a good local cause. Franklins still makes the best black bean burger. Hyattsville is lucky to have Mike and Franklins." Care to comment on that?
FRANKLINWell, first of all I'm very flattered. Thank you. But I will also say that one of the things I'm proudest about is the support we've been able to give to local non-profits. Over the years we've been open we've given over half a million dollars -- donated over half a million dollars to various local causes through our Monday and Tuesday fundraising events where 20 percent of whatever anybody purchased from the store or the restaurant goes to the particular cause. And it's not only just giving them money, but it also builds a sense of community for those non-profits because all the people are there hanging out together, shopping, buying, laughing, having a good time. It's one of my favorite things we've been able to do.
NNAMDICare to share the recipe for your black bean burger?
FRANKLINIf you come in, personally and try it then certainly. We share information.
NNAMDIEvents are a big part of what each of you do from community gatherings to music and art and non-profit fundraisers. What is some of the challenges of running both a business and managing events?
ABELIf that falls to me, I would just say it's really just staffing and expectations.
NNAMDIThis is Scott Abel.
ABELYeah, making sure that everyone knows how to handle themselves, you know, and that's on the staffing side. And then, you know, delivering on the expectation to every customer while they're -- or visitor while they're in the shop. You don't want to see someone making an espresso and grinding for an espresso while there's an event going on if it's a nice, you know, quiet poetry reading or what have you.
ABELBut bringing people in and messaging. You know, just making sure that everyone on staff knows that we're going to be -- we're flipping into host mode here for something, you know, whether that's just a local panel talking about climate change or voter rights or if it's someone who has a name whose written a great book whose coming to the store as a really nice guest. So both of those ways we just want to be on and host in an in-host mode.
NNAMDISame question to you, Mike.
FRANKLINI'm sorry. Repeat the question.
NNAMDIHow do you manage to have events? What is the challenge of running both a business and managing events? We heard from our emailer.
FRANKLINI would echo what was just said that staffing is a critical area and just that events take time. And to plan them to carry them off so that everybody is happy at the other end. Staffing is definitely the biggest component of it. And I just want to shout out to my staff. The other thing I think I'm most proud of is how long we've been able to have some of the same people work for us. I'm very proud of that.
NNAMDIOnemorepagebook tweets, "We sell books, wine and chocolate here at One More Page Books in Arlington. And we love the combination. We're the perfect zombie apocalypse hide out." Here now is Laurie in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Laurie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURIEYeah, hi. I just wanted to say that my husband and I had our very first date, met each other for the first time at Franklins nine plus years ago. And, you know, it was a special place for us then and then we used your beer and growlers for our wedding reception, because we wanted to keep it green and keep it local. And let's just say we ran out of beer at our wedding reception. So thank you, Franklins.
NNAMDIWell, had this all not worked out, would you have been blaming Mike Franklin for it?
LAURIEHeck no. Heck no.
NNAMDIOkay. But it all did work out. So congratulations and thank you very much for your call. You too can give -- care to comment on that, Mike. Do a lot of people meet for the first time in your establishment?
FRANKLINA lot of people met for the first time. And we're actually a regional meeting place for -- people use us in different ways. We're a place where one family lives in Annapolis another meets in Rockville and they'll go, hey, let's meet in the middle at Franklins.
ABELSee, this is unfair to have up here with a 26 year institution, you know.
NNAMDIThat's why we did that. Lesley, to what extent does the artwork on display in your barber shop generate conversations? People love to talk in barber shops anyway. So you give them something to talk about. What kinds of conversations does that generate?
BRYANTPeople sit in my chair and they, you know, they sometimes start discussing how that art makes them feel. What do you think the artist was thinking when they made this piece? You know, who is the artist? How old is the artist? They really want to know and get closer to where the artist's mindset was in that moment.
NNAMDIAnd you have the background that can help them to have that conversation. One of the most intriguing things about the Songbyrd, Joe Lapan, is the mumbo slice and the jumbo slice. People will think that when I say jumbo slice I'm talking about what they can get on 18th Street. But tell us what is the mumbo slice and that is the jumbo slice and what's the difference?
LAPANWell, the jumbo slice is a famous, you know, D.C. and sometimes specifically Adams Morgan thing. There are many jumbo slices and probably most people listening have enjoyed one at different times. You know, when we launched we had a concept for a dish called the mumbo slice, which was essentially a baked square pizza sandwich using mumbo sauce. I hate to disappoint anyone to say that is actually not currently on the menu, but because you brought it up I'm going to explore bringing it back.
NNAMDIYou got to put it back, yes. And the jumbo slice?
LAPANWell, the jumbo slice is something, you know, that is famous to Adams Morgan.
NNAMDIYeah, both famous and infamous. Finally, Mike Franklin, do you think this dual multipurpose business model is something we're going to be seeing more of in this region? You've been at it for a long time, but are we going to be seeing more of this especially as real estate costs and rents seem to keep going up?
FRANKLINThe short answer is yes without a doubt. In fact, in Hyattsville we have right across the street from us a combination of three different businesses. They came from different directions and combined just to combat what you were saying. I think the high rents. You know, it's Tangle Woodworks, which does a lot of do your own painting of your own wood and gifts, and Suffragette City, which is vintage clothes. And my Dead Aunts Books, which is a used bookstore combining all to save rent and kind of generate their own little buzz by having more than one thing in the building. And I think you're going to see a lot of that type of thing as we go on.
NNAMDIMike Franklin is the Owner of Franklins Restaurant and General Store. Mike, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIScott Abel is the Co-Owner of Solid State Books. Scott, thank you for joining us.
ABELOf course, Kojo, thank you.
NNAMDILesley Bryant is the Owner of Lady Clipper Barber Shop. Lesley, thank you for dropping in.
BRYANTThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd Joe Lapan is the Co-Owner of Songbyrd Music House and Record Café. I'll be coming by to make a record at some point.
LAPANCheers. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us, Joe. We're going to take a short break. When we come back how Nigerian Americans in this region have been responding to President Trump's recent immigration ban. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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