A few days after DC restaurants were forced to shutdown for dine-in service, Busboys and Poets in Anacostia had a break-in. Someone threw a brick through the window and stole an empty cash register. Afterward, owner Andy Shallal had the storefront boarded up with plywood and painted black.
“Then I got this idea: Basically I have a canvas in front of me, and why not use it for something positive instead of getting upset and angry?,” Shallal says.
So, he painted “Busboys [heart] Anacostia.”
The outpouring of gratitude and support from the community was overwhelming, and it inspired Shallal to bring art and uplifting messages to darkened businesses in more neighborhoods.
“I’m walking around, people are crossing the street from each other. People are not looking face to face with one another. There’s this sense of isolation mentally and physically that’s happening. I just feel that sometimes you’ve got to poke them a little bit and go, ‘Oh, I’m still alive. I’m still here,'” Shallal says. He also believes the art will help to discourage vandalism and unwanted graffiti. “People are much more respectful when a space has already been tagged.”
Shallal, who considers himself “an artist first,” continued by painting the Busboys windows on 14th Street with the message: “In dark times shine your light brighter.”
Shallal also called up celebrity chef José Andrés and offered to paint a couple of his high-profile Penn Quarter restaurants, Oyamel and China Chilcano. Today, he’ll be working on the Diner in Adams Morgan with the message: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” Next up, Tryst and the Coupe.
In addition to picking up a paint brush himself, Shallal is paying artists out of his own pocket to help with the murals. He sees it as a way to support artists who may have lost gigs and still want to showcase their work—while social distancing. He’s also encouraging others follow suit using the hashtag #PaintTheStorefronts.
“We sent it out to people to say, ‘Paint your own!’ You don’t have to wait for us to come and paint it for you.”