Instead of Boarding Up, Businesses Are Painting Their Storefronts With Uplifting Messages

Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal is personally paying artists to create murals around town

Andy Shallal paints the storefront of Oyamel. Photograph courtesy Andy Shallal.
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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.”

Andy Shallal painted the first mural at Busboys and Poets in Anacostia. Photograph courtesy Busboys and Poets. 

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.”

Andy Shallal brightened up the 14th Street location of Busboys and Poets. Photograph by Ted Eytan.


Artist James Terrell added more artwork to the 14th Street Busboys. Photograph by Ted Eytan.


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.

China Chilcano artwork by Shawn Perkins. Photograph courtesy Busboys and Poets. 

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.”

Busboys and Poets in Mt. Vernon Square painted by artist Shawn Perkins. Photograph courtesy Busboys and Poets. 
Artist Luis Del Valle Peralta painted “love” at Zaytinya. Photograph courtesy Busboys and Poets.
Busboys and Poets Hyattsville mural by Luther Wright. Photograph courtesy Busboys and Poets.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.