News & Politics

Heroes of the Crisis: A Group That Supports Restaurants and Small Businesses

District Bridges' Brianne Dornbush helps retailers in some of the areas hit hardest by Covid.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

This article is part of Washingtonian‘s feature “Heroes of the Crisis.” From medical professionals to social-justice activists to culinary stars, here are some of the people who have helped get us through these most challenging of times. Read about the 15 people making a difference during the pandemic here.

Brianne Dornbush
Executive director, District Bridges

How she’s helping: 

District Bridges runs Main Street groups in five neighborhoods: lower Georgia Avenue, Columbia Heights/Mount Pleasant, U Street, Cleveland Park, and Logan Circle. The nonprofit supports 967 small businesses, many of which are located in some of DC’s hardest-hit areas. During the crisis, District Bridges has been helping retailers and restaurants access micro-grants and PPP loans and is providing technical training to business owners.

Hardest moment: 

Whenever an establishment closes for good. Says Dornbush: “The first few weeks, we were all on the phone constantly, just listening to business owners crying and pouring out their hearts, laying off staff who are family.”

Toughest challenge: 

With a small staff and a fast-changing situation, the day-to-day pressures of helping freaked-out retailers can get intense. “You’re dealing with people who are in crisis and scared and overwhelmed.”

How she unwinds: 

Spending time in the garden with her husband or drinking a glass of bourbon. “When you’re staying at home all the time, there’s never a stop and start to the day. It just feels like one continual day. So I’m creating space for life—creating space to just be still.”

Who’s inspiring her: 

The business owners, many of whom are immigrants. “They’ve been so resilient. To move to a new country and start a business that is your dream—we do this work for that.”

This article appears in the October 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in NoMa.