On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The holiday season usually means a spike in revenue for small business owners. But this year, they’re being met with a spike of COVID-19 cases — and shoppers who may no longer be in a position to spend big for the holidays.
Nonetheless, local businesses are getting creative with how they’re reaching customers. Many are participating in outdoor holiday markets that allow for a safer shopping experience. And for those not comfortable with in-person interactions, some small businesses are hosting virtual holiday shopping events.
We discuss how we can still get into the holiday spirit this winter while staying safe and supporting local business.
Produced by Inés Rénique
- Mallory Shelter Owner, SHELTER jewelry shop; founder, DC Shop Small
- Yasmin Elgibali Owner, Pookie's Bakeshop
- Eric Hilton Restauranteur and owner, El Rey, Chez Billy Sud, The Brighton and others. Curator, Victura Park at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' REACH space; @EricHiltonMusic
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast Kojo For Kids welcomes Author Jacqueline Woodson. But first, the holiday season usually means a spike in revenue for small business owners. But with one in four closed due to the pandemic either permanently or indefinitely, those still open are left wondering if this holiday season will be a bust. And for shoppers many look forward to holiday markets this time of year. So are outdoor and virtual markets a good way to support local businesses this holiday season?
KOJO NNAMDIJoining us now is Eric Hilton. He's a Restauranteur and owner of local favorites like American Ice Company, El Rey and The Gibson. Now he's also the Curator of Victura Parks Holiday Market at The Kennedy Center. Part of their new reach space. Eric, good to talk to you.
ERIC HILTONHey, Kojo. How are you? Great to talk to you.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us, Eric. You're a restauranteur and bar owner of some of the most popular spots in D.C. Some are still open like U Street's El Rey and Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown. But others like the Gibson, Brixton and Players Club you say are on hiatus. Tell us about the difficult decision you and Ian, your brother, made this fall to indefinitely close some of those beloved spaces.
HILTONWell, we knew it was going to be a very challenging year that goes without saying. I also had some indications just from the news and everything that this was going to be a yearlong event. And, you know, we had to struggle with landlords and figure out some common ground with them so everyone could be happy and think about of our employees and how we can maintain or retain as many as we can. And we gave it a great shot at a lot of places. But we found we were losing money by remaining open with a few exceptions. El Rey is doing just fine. But, you know, we really felt like it's probably better to just take a hiatus and wait for the things to return to normal hopefully in the early part of next year.
NNAMDIWell, the pandemic has allowed you also to pivot towards something new, curating a new holiday market. Tell us about what's going on at Victura Park part of The Kennedy Center's REACH space.
HILTONWell, we were approached by Robert Van Leer, a program director at Kennedy Center. And we were all set to open a permanent spot at the REACH in the river pavilion. We are very excited about that. And then, of course, the pandemic hit and all plans were thrown out. And then we were approached again by the folks at The Kennedy Center, who have been great by the way to do a pop-up. And we decided we would do a beer and wine garden with good food and just a place for people to be and feel safe and enjoy the outdoors. And that's been going since July. And it's been fantastic.
HILTONAnd then the cold weather started to come around and we thought, Okay, what do we do now? And my brother came up with a great idea of a holiday market. So we are now open as a holiday market on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and it's been fantastic.
NNAMDIWell, you're the first person who caused me to go to the REACH. So tell us about some of the vendors. What will people find at this holiday market?
HILTONWell, you'll find mostly local -- actually all local products. You'll find great candles. You'll find local foods. It's a great assortment of local vendors that frankly we discovered at American Ice Company. We had a great event there with -- I'm sorry. I'm losing connection a little bit. I'm sorry.
NNAMDIWe are hearing you. So I'll see if we can talk to one of the other guests while we check on your line, because you might not be hearing us but we're hearing you loud and clear. We'd also like to hear your calls loud and clear 800-433-8850. Do you feel comfortable at outdoor markets right now? Give us a call 800-433-8850. Here is Rebeca in Baltimore, Maryland. Rebeca, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
REBECASimilar to the Victura Park holiday market, we actually at the Parkview Farmer's Market launched our first ever holiday market this December at Hook Hall in Northwest D.C. for really the same purpose that you guys have been discussing. You know, not only supporting small and local vendors who usually rely on these in person sales this time of year, but also really pushing to get neighbors to feel that sense of community again. We've gotten a lot of messages just that folks are wanting to come out and find opportunities to be supporting these local vendors. So we're really excited to provide a safe opportunity to connect some amazing local vendors with folks who really want to be supporting them.
NNAMDIAnd how are things looking at Hook Hall so far?
REBECAIt's been great. So we had our kick off this past Saturday and we had a bunch of folks come through, you know, customers and vendors both express they felt safe and just relieved that they could safely shop and be supporting these local businesses. So we'll be there at Hook Hall the next two Saturdays from 10:00 to 2:00 through December 19th. And we have a rotating lineup of about 30 different vendors ranging from, you know, local makers and artists and some of our specialty food producers from our farmer's market. So, yeah, it's a great lineup. And we're excited to, you know, be providing this opportunity for both customers and for vendors.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Yasmin Elgibali, the Owner of Pookie's Bakeshop and operating out of Fairfax County. Yasmin, thank you for joining us.
YASMIN ELGIBALIThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIYasmin, like Eric you also made a bit of a pivot this year after you were furloughed, because of the pandemic. You followed your dream of starting your own bakery. I got to say that sounds, well, brave. Tell us about that.
ELGIBALIYeah, definitely. Was it in my plan for 2020? I've been a longtime marketer and had always had a passion for baking. So, even though, the pandemic was a deterrent to starting a business, I wanted to find the silver lining. And being furloughed from my fulltime job and used my time to really pursue something that would fill my bucket. And for me owning my own business was always something I dreamt of. And to be honest, I was always too scared to do. So I just decided, you know what? Now is the time. It's now or never, and here I am. You know, I've a home-based bakery for the last four months.
ELGIBALIThe first months were just kind of the business planning, the permits, the inspections, and now that I'm up and running it feels so great to have a local community support us, and I think now more than ever locals want to support small businesses. They really see the importance of, you know, why you need to shop local to keep them around. And formerly living in New York, you know, the charm of New York where that there was so many mom and pops and I want to keep that alive in Northern Virginia.
NNAMDIWell, you were planning to sell your goods at the Fairfax City Holiday Market this year. As a new small business without a physical storefront, what did this holiday market cancelation mean for you?
ELGIBALIYeah, so especially because I'm a newer business that was going to be my first market ever, my first big market. So this was my -- it was going to be three days long. I had been to this market in years past and knew that it would always have a huge turnout. So without that I really hit the floor running to figure out other opportunities to have a footprint. So I decided to pursue other markets and even created my own holiday market with a few other small businesses that was hosted at a Wedding Loft in Leesburg, which was very successful.
ELGIBALISimilar to the previous caller, people were just eager to support and, you know, they did feel safe because we took all the precautions to make sure everything was COVID friendly. So, you know, even without the Fairfax City Farmer's Market I found other market's to participate in. They may not be as big, but I've also increased my social media awareness, which is honestly lended itself to be one of the successful things I've done thus far.
NNAMDIHere now is Brian in Alexandria, Virginia. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANGood afternoon. Thanks for taking my call. Yeah, we just went to the holiday market in Alexandria yesterday. It was open Saturday and Sunday in the Carlisle area of Alexandria. It's not quite in old town. It's right pretty much in the shadow of the Masonic Temple if you're familiar from Alexandria. It's a big development there that has a huge grassy center court kind of space that's been there for years. Alexandria has just started using it for various events. Earlier this year they had what used to be the King Street Art Fair that wasn't on King Street this year. It was held there and they ring this huge oval, you know, several football field sized space with vendors.
BRIANAnd they has this similar thing yesterday, or Saturday and Sunday. I went yesterday. And, you know, it only had a couple of dozen vendors if I recall in just a few things that we wandered around. They had the booths situated so it was facing the center grassy area. So it was kind of nice. You were just walking on that.
BRIANWell, we did buy a few things. There was a winery there and we had a wine tasting and ended up buying a bottle of wine, ended up buying some holiday cards, ended up buying a gift there. So we bought three different things there and then had lunch in one of the little restaurants that was right there ringing the space. So I'd like to think we're trying to do our part. But it was luckily the weather was nice yesterday. So we try to go to all the local events that we can. And I'm glad that they did this. They did it a few years ago.
BRIANBut didn't for the last few years and then brought it back this year. So from what I could tell the vendors said that it was working out well for them.
NNAMDIStill taking your calls 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about supporting local businesses safely this holiday season where we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. How are you keeping in the holiday spirit while supporting local businesses? Give us a call. We've been talking with Eric Hilton. He's a Restauranteur, owner of local favorites like American Ice Company, El Rey and the Gibson. Now he's also the Curator of Victura Park's holiday market at The Kennedy Center.
NNAMDIYasmin Elgibali is the Owner of Pookie's Bakeshop operating out of Fairfax County. And joining us now is Mallory Shelter, a jewelry designer and Owner of SHELTER. She's also the founder of D.C. Shop Small. Mallory Shelter, thank you for joining us.
MALLORY SHELTERThanks for having me.
NNAMDIMallory, you're a small business owner. You make jewelry. Tell us about that.
SHELTERYeah. So I own a store over in the Union Market neighborhood called SHELTER. We sell jewelry. We also do custom jewelry design work. And we have small accessories like candles, handbags, a bit of clothing, things like that.
NNAMDIYou've been collaborating with other local businesses through your D.C. Shop Small initiative. Tell us about that and how you're supporting each other virtually this holiday season.
SHELTERYeah, so my shop like so many others closed in April of this year due to the city's shelter in place restrictions. And I was looking for a way that we could all come together as small businesses and encourage D.C. residents to support us online. So I started D.C. Shop Small, which is a website where shoppers can come and find local businesses to support this holiday season. You can filter by location and category. And the site then takes you directly to the brand shop to make the purchase.
SHELTERWe started this year in April 2020 and we had our second Small Business Saturday even this past November. We had nearly 400 businesses joining us. And we heard from many of them that they had an incredibly great sales day. So we're continuing to encourage people to head to the site and find businesses that they can shop from this holiday season.
NNAMDIYasmin, how else are you getting your name out there? Are markets that are still open even accepting new vendors?
ELGIBALIThat's a great question. So a lot of the farmer's markets are not accepting new vendors for the winter season. So I've been finding one off events. For example, the one I had talked about that we did at the Wedding Loft. I'll be at the Manassas Holiday Market this coming weekend. And I've been participating in a lot of virtual events as well including an event I did with Junior League of Northern Virginia. It was their holiday themed fundraiser. So just trying to be creative similar to many of the local businesses. Digital has been very key this season.
NNAMDIAnd here is somebody whose name sounds a lot like yours. Here is Yazmine in Arlington, Virginia. Yazmine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
YAZMINEHi and thank you for having me, Kojo. So good to speak with you. You might not remember, but we met several years ago in person. So this is great. So my name is Yazmine and I'm the owner of (unintelligible). And I wanted to just give some general viewpoints. One is that as a regular vendor on the farmer's market circuit one of the biggest things has been keeping safe, of course. And my husband is immunocompromised. So even if I as a vendor might be willing to take the risk, you know, with being masked up and being gloved up, it's been a very hard decision to make, you know, in order to make sure that A, I don't bring anything back home or even if I have customers who may be immunocompromised having to, you know, be in that situation where I might a transmitter unwishingly.
YAZMINESo one of the things that I've been doing is that if I can't my small business currently on the market circuit, one thing I've been doing is giving my support and lending my voice to the other small businesses out there. And to that end I began creating broadcast sessions on YouTube. It's All that Yaz broadcast where I would highlight and support of the local vendors out there so people know who they are. One of the people actually that I interviewed over the summer was Eileen Egan who was actually at the Carlisle House, the Carlisle event that Brian mentioned. So that's one of the things that I've been able to do. The other part ...
NNAMDIOkay. Go ahead.
YAZMINEYeah, two more parts that I think will be useful for other vendors. One is really how to keep motivated, right? It's so hard to keep motivated during these days. But I think the motivation really lies in looking at the fact that customers -- it's knowing the customers that actually drives the business. Right, so know that at some point we'll be able to get back to that circuit where we can check up on our customers and find out how they are is really key. And knowing that there's a light at the end of the tunnel will be one of the main things that keeps us going.
YAZMINEAnd thirdly, there's light -- vaccine is coming.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, and the assertion that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 800-433-8850. It is my understanding now that we are joined by Ian Hilton, who's Eric Hilton's brother after Eric dropped off the line. Ian, are you there?
IAN HILTONHi, I'm here, Kojo. How are you?
NNAMDII'm doing pretty well, good to hear you and happy to speak with both of you brothers in the same day. Ian.
HILTONWe're actually the same person.
NNAMDIYeah, I begin to believe that sometimes. It's called a thievery corporation, isn't it?
HILTONWe never appear together for a reason.
NNAMDIThe downtown D.C. holiday market is one of the biggest in our area. And this year they've expanded to two full blocks on F Street to allow more space for people to circulate. And they've also added a single entryway check-in to limit foot traffic among other measures. Ian, what are some of the COVID safety precautions visitors can expect at Victura Park's Holiday Market?
HILTONIt's a good question, Kojo. So, you know, we've -- since we've been doing our kind of winery pop-up there for the last few months, we've kind of already had that apparatus built in to how we do things. So we had always had a large contingent of what we call porters who are kind of roaming around in yellow shirts, staff shirts, making sure that everybody is, you know, observing social distancing, wearing a mask when they're up and about.
HILTONAnd we have a one way flow of traffic to keep people kind of -- we're doing our best to keep headed sort of in one direction. We had -- I've never done anything like this before. So while it did seem odd to have tents so far away from one another it kind of -- it made sense to me, because it was kind of the only setup I'd ever had to do. The feedback from the vendors, they were certainly -- I mean, I was used to it comfortable with it being there most weekends.
HILTONThe vendors came in and they were -- you know, they definitely had their concerns. And after the first couple of days, they really thought that we kind of pretty much nailed the safety factor. So we're really happy about how things are going. And your eyes tell you we have a lot of room out there.
NNAMDIYep. I know you do.
HILTONAt REACH, but you just want to keep capacity where it's manageable so you can maintain that flow of one way traffic.
NNAMDIMallory, what's your sense of whether or not locals are feeling comfortable and safe shopping at outdoor holiday markets this year?
SHELTERI think it's mixed. I do think that many local businesses and the holiday markets are all taking strong safety precautions. So requiring masks, having limited shoppers in store, distant shopping, hand sanitizing. So, of course, everyone needs to take safety measures that work for them, but I have seen very strong and stringent safety precautions being made across the board.
NNAMDIYasmin, you must face unique challenges now as a food business owner. What safety precautions are you taking at markets? And what upcoming local markets will you be selling your baked goods at?
ELGIBALIYeah. So we've been individually wrapping things as needed. We've all been wearing masks as we're doing baking production. It's also keeping in mind allergens as well as social distancing. So, you know, making sure we have a credit card reader where we're not exchanging cards. I usually do some type of raffle or giveaway at my pop-ups and things like not having, you know, pens and raffle sheets. So even from the big to the large -- big to the small details I'm keeping in mind, you know, less contact as possible. In terms of -- oh, go ahead.
NNAMDINo, you go ahead.
ELGIBALIOh, sure. So upcoming markets, we have the Manassas Holiday Market this Saturday. And then I'll be in the Manassas Farmer's Market each Saturday moving forward.
NNAMDIIan, when is the Holiday Market at The Kennedy Center open and how can people find out more?
HILTONSo we are open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday till further notice. I'm hoping that we'll actually stay open a couple days after the Christmas holidays. We open at 4:00 p.m. on Fridays and the market opens at noon on both Saturday and Sunday and runs till 6:00 p.m. -- 8:00 p.m. on Fridays. You can find all the information about the vendors that will be in rotation for the week as well as food offerings, how to get there, where to park, etcetera at victuraparkdc.com.
NNAMDIIan Hilton, Mallory Shelter and Yasmin Elgibali, thank you all for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Kojo For Kids with Author Jacqueline Woodson. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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