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Reflecting on her journey as one of many successful entrepreneurs, CEO of The Spice Suite Angel Gregorio said, “When we started, my only goal was to never have to go into my bank account to pay the rent. That was year one; year three, I think I was like, ‘a’ight, if I could pay myself a salary, I’d be happy. Year five, things changed.”
Things have indeed changed. This year, Gregorio opened a new strip mall dedicated to hosting Black women-owned businesses in Washington D.C.
Gregorio has transformed a 7,500 square foot lot in D.C.’s Langdon neighborhood into a retail community for local Black-owned businesses. The space, Black And Forth located at 2201 Channing St. NE, had its soft launch last Friday.
In December, Gregorio shared the big news in an Instagram post saying, “On this day, as we honor the principle of collective work and responsibility, I have an announcement!!!”. She also expressed her optimism in how “Black and Forth” will help bolster Black businesses and communities.
More space for more Black women entrepreneurs
How did she come up with the name Black and Forth? “It was just this catchy, cool name that I created for how I describe my process of going back-and-forth with Black business owners,” Gregorio tells DCist/WAMU. “And now it is the name of a shopping center — a strip mall — that I own in D.C. So I feel good about that and I’m grateful to be in the space.”
According to JPMorgan.com, Black women are the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S., with nearly 2.7 million businesses nationwide. But even with their growing presence in the business world, these women face disproportionate financial headwinds.
In an effort to address those disparities, Gregorio was able to purchase the space for a little over one million dollars through the city’s Commercial Property Acquisition Fund two years ago. The Commercial Property Acquisition Fund provides assistance through grants of up to $750,000 or 25% of the sale price to eligible businesses aiming to expand or maintain a commercial property. According to D.C. officials, she was the first applicant.
Earlier this week, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that one of her administration’s goals is to increase the share of minority-owned businesses to 33% by 2028. Gregorio is helping the city to meet that goal.
In addition to The Spice Suite, Black and Forth will host four other hair and nail salons, who will lease space inside renovated shipping containers. Gregorio also has plans to add a Black farmers market in the spring.
Gregorio’s ultimate vision is to build community and help close opportunity and access gaps for Black people. “We have a lot of conversation about affordable housing, but we don’t talk enough about making commercial space affordable for Black women. And so since no one is talking about it, I’m just going to do it and let people talk about it.”