I first met Petworth resident Tarek Anandan at Domku during the summer of 2015 just after I launched the Petworth News website. We’re both web professionals who can’t help tinkering with things that interest us, and we took a quick liking to each other. And Tarek is indeed a tinkerer — beyond building websites for a career, he and his wife Valentine are passionate for little consignment shops, antiques and fixing up old and interesting furniture.
They both enjoy shopping for odd, vintage furniture — but finding places to visit was a challenge. They wished there was a way to find antique shops in the DC area, and see what new products they had available. So Tarek and a friend, Francisco Serrano, made one: ATTIC DC, a website that promotes local, independently owned antique and fashion retail here in Petworth and around the city.
Writing about people like Tarek is one of the things I like best about writing Petworth News: profiling a local resident who is following his heart, doing something exceptional, and someone you might otherwise not have realized lived a few doors down from you. In fact, the Washington Post wrote about the launch of ATTIC DC this summer, and the DC Chapter of the Awesome Foundation selected ATTIC as its July 2015 micro-grant winner. It's because he's following his passion and doing great work.
Originally from the Detroit area, Tarek has been bouncing between Michigan and DC for most of his adult life. He moved to DC in 1999 to work at a think tank (how very DC), and then left to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan. He quickly returned after he received his degree.
His wife, Valentine, is a “Californian via France,” and is now a linguist at the University of Maryland. (They met in DC and were married here three years ago.) They bought a house in Petworth a few years ago, and fell firmly in love with the area.
“We landed in Petworth after shopping around all over the city for nearly a year,” Tarek said to me, when I asked him why they chose Petworth as a neighborhood to live in. “What appealed to us most about the area were the developing strips that promote foot traffic and greater density like Upshur, Georgia Ave and 14th Street. I'd love to see even more retail options, on top of the already existing places. There’s Willow, DC Treasure, Bentley's, Fia's and Upshur Street Books in Petworth proper. And towards Park View, there’s Mom N Pop Antiques. The maker/education space Lemon Bowl, and the used bookstore Walls of Books are nice additions, too.”
“It's probably not a surprise, but one of the reasons we fell in love with our home is because of how little it has been changed from the original state. It's been well taken care of for nearly 100 years and makes a great setting for two vintage furniture aficionados.”
ATTIC offers pictures of furniture and fashion being offered by stores from across DC, along with quick links to learn more. The site also helps customers know what stores are open in the DC area, and which might have closed. Tarek makes it easy for stores to promote their products on ATTIC, as he can automatically pull images and information from their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other sites. There is no other site like this serving the DC area, especially one that describes its services as:
From midcentury to shabby chic, the latest items from 35+ local stores and designers. Enabling you to create beautiful home interiors using the unique offerings of independent small businesses in your community.
“I want people to realize that there are tons of local, independent options when it comes to furniture and other products when they visit ATTIC,” Tarek said. “Part of what makes DC great is all the unique stores in the area. We have to support them if we want them in our neighborhoods.”
“I don’t think it’s fully a coincidence that I undertook ATTIC after moving to Petworth,” Tarek said. “It wasn’t just to help us furnish our home. One thing that I’m faced with more so than other places I’ve lived in the city is the mix of old and new, alongside rapid change. I’ve had to confront the pros and cons of gentrification on a personal level. ATTIC was an excuse of sorts for me to start meeting more of the community. I already knew many of the furniture storeowners, but not all, and I’ve been meeting more and more small business owners throughout the city. I want to feel more connected to Petworth and the city as a whole. ATTIC has been one means of doing so, and I want to get more involved in other ways too.”
Always interested in the newest store and where to go, Tarek is conscious of the fact that running a retail store can be a hard business. “Some of these stores are fairly fragile,” Tarek said. “Five independent furniture stores have closed in the District since late last year. Fortunately, they were partially offset by the opening of Gumbo Lounge and a new extension of the Nomad Yard Collectiv slated to open later this year.”
“I can't put an exact finger on why I'm into this stuff,” Tarek said. “I think it's something to do with getting furniture that has a soul — because of its age — at a reasonable price and getting it from a place that isn't a national mass marketer or retailer. Beyond that,” he said, “I think different people are attracted to vintage and antique furniture for different reasons. I often hear people say that it reminds them of something from their childhood, perhaps their own home or a relative's house.”
Noah David owns DC Treasure (205 Upshur St NW) and is a contributing store with ATTIC. “Attic DC is just a brilliant idea, and something that I had actually wished someone would develop,” Noah said. “When Tarek approached me, I was thrilled.”
“The stores selling in the vintage marketplace all have unique stuff — we’re not selling the same widgets. We're not a threat to each other, so the more we can promote DC and Petworth as a vintage and antique destination, the more it helps all of us,” Noah said, supporting the idea of what ATTIC is trying to do.
“I firmly believe in spreading the love, referring other shops to customers and propping them up because it will only come back around," Noah said. "ATTIC puts all the shops on a level playing field and gives the small guys incredibly valuable exposure that they wouldn't have had before, being buried so far in a Google search. Now, when you Google ‘vintage furniture DC,’ ATTIC is one of the first listings. That means customers are going to see my shop too, not just the big boys in town.”
"A little less chasing, a lot more finding."
With the special web code that Tarek and his partner Francisco created to pull photos from the stores’ social media accounts, they're able to easily republish them on ATTIC for each store, meaning store owners don’t have to manage their content on the site. From talking with storeowners, this is one of the benefits of working with ATTIC — the site does the work for them, making reaching potential customers easier.
Bill Simms, who’s owned Mom N Pop Antiques (3534 Georgia Avenue NW) for 29 years, said he joined ATTIC DC as a participating store because he found that managing his own website wasn’t useful. “A website was too hard to manage," he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand, "but Tarek convinced me to go out and buy a phone and post on Instagram, and that’s been great.”
“That’s one of the reasons I got into this,” Tarek said. “I found different stores, like DC Treasure, on Instagram, but there were too many accounts to follow to find them all. Plus, the stores themselves had small, sometimes awkward websites. I wanted to bring them all together into one spot so people can see all these artisans in one place.”
Soon after ATTIC launched, Mom N Pop was the first store to get a referral purchase because of ATTIC, helping to prove the concept of the site.
Mom N Pop Antiques
Bertram Keller, owner of Bentley’s Vintage Furniture and Collectibles (810 Upshur Street NW), said he saw ATTIC as another way of reaching an interested audience. “I see a lot of young couples looking to furnish recently acquired homes,” Bertram said. Bertram has been a life-long collector, and has had the store on Upshur Street for 8 years.
Bentley's offers a very eclectic mix of small treasures and large finished furniture, interesting lamps, artwork and even pieces ready to be fixed up by someone. He's also easy to spot with his trademark hat standing outside his Upshur Street store, greeting with familiarity everyone who passes by, and always ready to chat and talk about the neighborhood.
Bentley's Antiques & Collectibles
It's not just furniture in the attic… there's clothes, too.
ATTIC now includes local fashion stores along with antiques and collectibles on its site. Two Petworth stores participating on ATTIC are Willow (843 Upshur St NW) and Fia’s Fabulous Finds (806 Upshur St NW).
“Tarek has good energy and wants to bring the small business community together,” said Safisha “Fia” Thomas, who owns Fia’s Fabulous Finds. “ATTIC offers us great visibility from those who might not otherwise come across my boutique, as well as cross-collaboration with companies outside the retail area.”
Fia's offers quality, name-brand ladies’ clothing and accessories in new and nearly-new condition at prices significantly below department stores. There's almost always a mannequin out front of the store showing off a great dress or necklace. You can often find deeper discounts with "Fia's Basement" deals and special sales. Her customers love the store.
Fia's Fabulous Finds
“One of the cool things about working with ATTIC," said Julie Wineinger, owner of Willow Fashion, also on Upshur Street, "is that because we have a couple of great vintage stores in Petworth, (Bentley's and DC Treasure) we are able to do joint photo shoots that cross-post on all the ATTIC platforms. It helps not only to get exposure for Willow but helps out other Petworth businesses.”
Julie is known for Willow's beautiful window displays featuring holiday or occasion-inspired clothing and accessories, including clothing for kids and men. Julie has plenty of Petworth-centric offerings, from original t-shirts, cork coasters, mugs and more, featuring Petworth designs. It's a great place to stop by to get a gift for a friend or family member.
For his part, Tarek claims that antiques and web aren’t his only interests. “I've been trying to get better with building and fixing in the ‘analog’ world,” Tarek said with a laugh, “specifically with projects around the house. For example, I learned the insides and outs of our steam boiler and radiator system last winter, enough to fix a long-standing problem. Valentine likes to make fun of me for the enthusiasm I took in reading a book about steam systems. For more traditional fun though, I enjoy live music and go to a fair number of shows/concerts as evidenced by my online ‘“show log.’”
Tarek isn’t resting on his laurels and isn’t done with his work yet.
“One other thing I’d like to accomplish with ATTIC is to create or improve the idea that DC has a local retail ecosystem of sorts,” Tarek said. “We need variety, we need creativity and we need each other to make a healthy ecosystem. I mean that in the sense that businesses need local support and patronage, but also that local stores can gain from collaboration. For example, some of the clothing stores on ATTIC Fashion are marketed using photographs taken at or using products from the furniture stores.”
Since ATTIC is more of a passion and isn’t a full time job for Tarek and Valentine — much less a paying job — they’re looking at ways they can keep innovating to promote the stores, and their personal passion for antiques and collectibles.
“We’re also considering how to find the resources and time to make native iPhone and Android apps for ATTIC, possibly via a Kickstarter campaign. If we get that going, we’ve got tons of ideas to make it even more useful,” Tarek said.
Increasing the exposure of Petworth businesses is a common theme from the stores that work with ATTIC, and is one of the reasons I urge you to check out ATTIC’s website, and then visit the local stores.
If we want to keep local-owned, independent businesses in our neighborhood, supporting them by shopping and visiting sites like ATTIC is critically important.