When Gary Williams, Jr. and Tamon George originally pitched the idea for The Gift Shop a few years ago, they had no idea that they would eventually be opening the store during a pandemic.
The co-founders behind the local creative agency Creative Theory (Williams serves as chief creative officer, George as CEO) run a team that works with national brands like Google, Spotify, and Netflix. But as entrepreneurs themselves, they’re also deeply rooted in the local maker and creative community. “We had an understanding that there was so much creative talent here in the District that just was untapped,” says Williams, “and specifically Black creative talent.”
Hence the idea for The Gift Shop, which the duo opened in the Union Market district this month. It’s a one-stop spot for folks to shop Black-owned brands, and focuses specifically on local makers who may not otherwise have the opportunity to showcase their goods in a brick-and-mortar store.
“We really think about the work we do in terms of representation and creating value in places where it had been previously overlooked,” says George. “We want to continue to support Black-owned businesses in our community, and make more and more impactful economic opportunities for people who we know are starting out just like we did.”
The front of the Union Market space serves as The Gift Shop, which will feature a rotating list of brands such as Ron David Studio, District of Clothing, Small Wooden Box, and Black Pepper Paperie Co. And in the back of the space is Creative Agency’s headquarters (the group was previously based elsewhere in Northeast).
While the store is currently featuring local brands, they plan to eventually showcase Black-owned brands from across the country—and someday open more Gift Shops across the nation, too. “We want to make sure people know—this is not a pop-up,” says George. “This is not a light investment.”
But back to the pandemic: No, George and Williams never anticipated opening their store during a global health crisis, but they say this year ended up being the right time to launch. This summer, lists of Black-owned businesses began to circulate during the Black Lives Matter protests, but there wasn’t a local spot where folks could exclusively shop Black-owned brands. And the pandemic also has had a disproportionate effect on Black-owned small businesses. George and Williams saw this as a moment to meet consumer demand while also helping Black makers. “It’s just a testament to how, you know, when people have access and the opportunity, the success that can happen there,” says George.
Ultimately, George and Williams see The Gift Shop as more than just a storefront. It’s the beginning of consumers’ commitment to shopping Black-owned: “The Gift Shop is like an introduction to brand after brand after brand,” says George. “Anything can happen after that.”
The Gift Shop is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 AM to 6 PM.
The Gift Shop; 1258 Fourth St. NE