The Wash

‘A huge step’: How a small business in Cleveland Park pushed to remain in the community

Daniela Lobo/The Wash

Femme Fatale’s team had the goal of purchasing its current retail space in Cleveland Park. With the help of a significant grant from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration, it achieved that goal.

A Cleveland Park small business achieved a major goal this year by purchasing a permanent space on Connecticut Avenue to support female and non-binary entrepreneurs. 

Femme Fatale was recently awarded funds from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Commercial Property Acquisition Fund, a government grant that aims to provide much-needed support for equity-impact businesses that seek to purchase commercial property in the District. 

With the grant’s help, the team was able to purchase its current retail space located in the 3400 block of Cleveland Park’s commercial corridor. Inside, you find multiple stands with miscellaneous items from different female and non-binary-owned businesses. 

Cee Smith, the chief executive officer of Femme Fatale, said the business started up as a pop-up in 2016. She said the collective would move through different neighborhoods as a pop-up before deciding to settle in Cleveland Park. 

“Essentially, we would go into the community and revitalize unused commercial space to use it as a pop-up and then move on to the next neighborhood,” Smith said. “Cleveland Park had a good neighborhood demographic and supported our needs, and it just made sense to come back and make it our permanent space.” 

One of the many stands inside Femme Fatale’s new flagship location. (Daniela Lobo/The Wash)

According to its website, the collective’s mission includes amplifying the influence of women by providing inspiration and practical support.

Smith said the team found out its current location was for sale earlier in the year. She said it made sense for the collective to pursue the goal of purchasing a space they can call its own. 

“We’ve been moving around for seven years now,” she said. “It made sense for us to take this huge next step as it was a better-supported location for, not only our business, but the community itself.” 

Intending to purchase the space, Smith said she started looking for resources and came across CPAF. She realized her business qualified to apply and decided to go through with the process. 

“It was a very grueling process. So much paperwork, so many details,” she said. “But without the grant, we would not have been able to purchase the building. So, it came exactly when we needed it. We are extremely grateful.” 

According to the CPAF’s website, requirements include being a resident-owned enterprise, a small business that is at least 51% owned by an economically disadvantaged individual, or having been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias.

The program is one of many in the District providing financial opportunities to small businesses. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website, other funding opportunities include SBA’s State Trade Expansion Program, which assists companies with export development, and COVID-19 relief financial assistance.

Nick Rajpara, an economic development specialist at the U.S. Small Business Administration, said it is very common for small businesses to seek help from grants provided by local and federal governments, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“A lot of the grants offered come mostly from local governments,” Rajpara said. “Now that we’re going back to normal operations, it is not seen as much but most businesses still seek the help.” 

A customer looks through a collection of books wrapped in newspaper. (Daniela Lobo/The Wash)

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, small business owners continue facing challenges, such as rising inflation and supply chain disruptions, that pose a threat to their business operations. 

Rajpara said, in recent years, there’s been a growth in not only small businesses, but people launching new companies. He said there’s been a high number, particularly among women-owned businesses. 

“During the pandemic, a lot of folks launched their own enterprises or side hustles. That created a boom,” he said.  

Bob Ward, the chairman of Cleveland Park Smart Growth, said in Cleveland Park there’s a diverse group of merchants on the commercial corridor that tie the community together. 

“I think there’s a great satisfaction of being able to live in a neighborhood where all your daily needs are met,” Ward said. “It makes the commercial area very important to people who live here and those visiting.” 

Mia Lily, a college student who frequently walks by the Cleveland Park area, said she believes small businesses are as essential in a community as retail chains. 

“I think they’re in some part the core of a community,” Lily said. “They create a more personal experience, you know? The owners make you feel more welcomed than what you feel at a Target, for example.”

For Femme Fatale, Smith said the future holds big things now that the collective has its own, permanent space. 

“We’re looking for different ways to expand and grow now that we have our flagship location,” she said. “We want to continue our mission of bringing customer sales and support to the women entrepreneurs of D.C.” 

There are at least 70,000 small businesses in the District, according to the Department of Small and Local Business Development. Data from SBA shows that almost 50% of employees in the city work in small businesses. 

Daniela Lobo

Daniela Lobo currently covers the Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights neighborhoods. Prior to The Wash, she worked as a content producer at NBC10 Boston and Telemundo Nueva Inglaterra. Daniela is currently pursuing her masters's degree in journalism and public affairs at American University.

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