When the pandemic meant that Enica Barnes couldn’t return to her job as the social media and events lead at local retailer Steadfast Supply, she says she found herself in a tight spot financially. So in August of last year, she started baking at her home in Silver Spring, then selling her creations via social media. Her first homemade treat, a five-spice tres leches, sold out. “It felt so good because it ignited this entrepreneurial spirit in me,” she says.
After that experience, Barnes not only continued selling baked goods but got more involved with the local pop-up community. The eventual result: She recently co-founded, with friend Mahammad Mangum, a pop-up called Neighbors DC, which curates more than 50 local vendors, rotating seven to ten vendors each Saturday and Sunday at Village Cafe near Union Market.
“We make it an effort to prioritize Black-owned businesses,” says Barnes, whose own business, A Contemporary Market, has branched beyond baked goods into skincare and other products. “But POC businesses are welcome. Small businesses, independent brands, women-owned brands, are all welcome.”
“Our goal is creating an innovative incubator space where we can be placed in underserved communities and help them grow socially and economically,” Mangum says. “So this kind of gives us a small-scale feel to what our overall goal is, which is creating a marketplace where people can grow.”
Things really started picking up for Neighbors DC in April, when Barnes and Mangum made the pop-up two days a week—on Saturdays and Sundays—rather than just on Sundays. Mangum thinks visibility played a big role in the growing interest; vendors’ tables are easily seen through the cafe windows, so pedestrians walking by on their way to Union Market often see them and stop by.
For first-time visitors to the pop-up, Barnes recommends checking out Sōultry Brand, which describes itself as the collision between self-care and soul care, with items such as polymer clay earrings, whipped shea butter, and handpainted plant pots; as well as the aromatherapy brand Honey Glow Co. Those who drop by on Sundays can hear local DJ Monique McCrery, who goes by the handle M$NP.
For Barnes, Neighbors DC is a way to remedy some of the cultural displacement that’s happened in DC due to gentrification. “Being able to bring some of that passion and some of that culture back into the community, while being open to everyone, it’s kind of divine. And I’m proud, and I’m excited, and I’m eager, and I’m constantly looking forward to what’s next,” she says.
Neighbors DC will be taking a brief hiatus August 1 through 14 to prepare for what’s next—a pop-up festival. Barnes describes the event, which starts August 21, as an “immersive shop-small experience,” featuring 14 vendors. Moving into August, Barnes also hopes to host workshops where pop-up vendors will have the opportunity to teach visitors about their craft in the Village Cafe Lab 1270.