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Washington Business Journal: Artists, Crafters Get a Place to Call 'Work' at Monroe Street Market

August 23, 2013

Published in Washington Business Journal

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Hands down, the best thing about Melissa Esposito's new artist studio space at Monroe Street Market? Once again being able to sit at her dining room table.

Esposito is founder of Craftgasm, a vintage-inspired paper products business based in D.C. She and fellow vintage lover Lisa Rowan of Beltway Vintage just moved into their 500-square-foot studio space — which they've deemed Analog — along the Monroe Street Market Arts Walk.

In all there are 27 artist studio spaces as part of Monroe Street Market, a 1 million-square-foot, mixed-use development in Northeast D.C.'s Brookland neighborhood from Abdo Development, Bozzuto Development and Pritzker Realty.

The arts walk is situated along a pedestrian walkway to the Brookland Metro station, below apartments that are leasing now.

Other parts of Monroe Street Market are still under construction, but that doesn't bother Esposito and Rowan, who were happily sanding away on a recent afternoon in preparation for their early September opening.

The pair had looked for some combination of studio and retail space for nearly two years, to no avail.

"We had seriously considered buying a truck or an RV and setting up a mobile shop, because there was no way we would be able to afford shared space or individual space," Rowan said.

Both ran their businesses out of their homes — hence Esposito's dining room table situation.

"I haven't been able to sit at the table for more than a year," she said.

The rents for the studio spaces are comparable to others in the city, and they are about 20 percent of typical retail rents in the development, according to Mike Henahan from Bozzuto. The fact that they offer both work space and retail opportunities is key for the artists.

"That's a unique aspect, to be able to sell to the public," Henahan said. "A lot of them have a roll-up door and they can spill right out into the arts walk. That's been a huge selling point."

Foot traffic in the evenings during and after rush hour has been encouraging, said Rowan.

Competition for the spaces was tough: The developers, in partnership with Cultural D.C., received more than 60 applications for the spaces. They range in size from 300 to about 625 square feet.

"From our perspective, this fills a really acute need," said Karyn Miller of Cultural D.C. "It offers a concentration of artists all in one space, and there aren't too many comparable spaces in D.C. with that many artist studios and the opportunity to create community."

Another future artist tenant of Monroe Street Market, painter Cedric Baker, does have studio space currently — but it's just too far away.

Baker lives in Woodbridge and currently paints at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, but the location doesn't make for many sales.

"I couldn't get people to come down there to see my work, so I figured, I'll bring my work to the people," Baker said.

He felt the time was right to set up shop in D.C., he said, because of the growth. He worked security for years at the National Gallery of Art before he began painting full time, and he's happy to be coming back to the District.

"I want to connect to the community in some way," he said. "I'm thinking of doing something with young people, and maybe with veterans."