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As D.C. Reopens, NoMa Businesses Get Creative To Support The Community

The Metropolitan Branch Trail in Northeast D.C. has been popular for outdoor recreation during the coronavirus pandemic.

The signs are everywhere: Northeast D.C. is slowly starting to reopen. Residents can see it as they pass outdoor dining areas at Union Market or take a stroll down Rhode Island Avenue and watch businesses prep for curbside pickup.

Washington began lifting its pandemic restrictions this past Friday, entering into Phase 1 of its reopening plan. Restaurants can resume outdoor dining, barbershops and salons can open by appointment only and nonessential retail stores can offer curbside sales. Parks, tennis courts and fields can reopen to the public. 

But gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, and D.C. residents are required to wear masks in public and maintain social distance. Some businesses, including gyms and clothing stores, are still not allowed to have customers on-site. 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said lifting the restrictions cannot be viewed as “an on-and-off switch,” adding that life in the district will not go back to the way it was before the pandemic, but the government is working to slowly bring daily activities back. 

While an official date for Phase 2 of the city’s reopening plan has not been announced, residents can check here for updates. As they slowly return to normalcy, Northeast D.C. businesses and organizations have been working to serve their community through a mix of outreach and ingenuity.

A customer picking up local craft beer from NoMa's Red Bear Brewing Co.

NoMa Businesses Pivot To Make A Difference 

Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District, said local businesses, particularly restaurants, have been thinking outside the box to come up with ways they can use their resources to help the community. 

Korean comfort food restaurant SeoulSpice has created a virtual bodega where locals can purchase groceries and household items like toilet paper and cleaning products for curbside pickup or free next-day delivery. The goal is to help D.C. residents get the staples they need without having to venture into a large grocery store while supporting the local business community. 

Red Bear Brewing Co., a brewpub on M Street, has been using its equipment to manufacture hand sanitizer.

Ebenezer's Coffeehouse, which is owned and operated by National Community Church, closed its retail shop at the start of the pandemic and turned it into a place to offer daily meals to those in need. 

“NoMa restaurants and retailers have demonstrated their drive, nimbleness and ingenuity since the crisis began,” Jasper said.

Other local businesses working to do their part include Turning the Page, which works with local parents of public school children to develop at-home learning habits in D.C.’s highest-need communities. They have launched a “digital hub” to help with at-home learning and instruction during the pandemic. 

Helping Businesses Get Back On Their Feet 

The NoMa BID has supported businesses with technical assistance for grant and loan applicants, virtual events for community members and a variety of gift card promotions. The organization is also working with the District Department of Transportation to help make curbside pickup for retailers go as smoothly as possible.

“Working with DDOT, the NoMa BID has created several pickup and drop-off zones and expanded public space in front of the Walmart on H Street NW in order to provide adequate room for social distancing for customers and staff,” Jasper said. 

To help restaurants that are hoping to make the most out of the new outdoor dining rules, the NoMA BID has been engaging with retail businesses to identify areas where sidewalk widening, lane closures and “streateries” can be most beneficial. 

“We’ve also spoken with retail businesses and office tenants on ideas to enable office workers to take advantage of possible outdoor workspaces in ways that will create opportunities for food and beverage businesses to maximize their economic returns,” Jasper said. 

The NoMa BID has also coordinated with North Capitol Main Street and H Street Main Street to distribute the free personal protective equipment supplies provided by the D.C. government and has created free “PPE Starter Care Packages” for businesses allowed to operate as part of the Phase 1 reopening. 

NoMa BID distributing free personal protective equipment to local businesses for Phase 1 reopening.

Keeping The Community Safe, Fed And Entertained

The NoMa Clean Team has continued its daily work on the streets of NoMa by sanitizing, picking up trash, landscaping and lending a helping hand to those in need throughout this public health crisis. 

For residents who may be experiencing food insecurity, the Father McKenna Center at 900 North Capitol St. NW operates a daily food pantry, while The h3 Project has been working overtime to connect people experiencing homelessness in NoMa with housing and services.

While keeping people safe and healthy is the top priority right now, Jasper said the NoMa BID has also devised a new schedule for its warm-weather events to help residents maintain a sense of community and be entertained. These events include virtual movie nights with Twitter trivia and virtual fitness classes led by local instructors who lead sellout in-person classes, all free of charge. Many include prizes and giveaways, including gift cards purchased from local restaurants. 

“While we are all being tested in these challenging times, the NoMa BID is heartened to observe that the balance and resources that have been created in NoMa over the last 15 years are strong and serving the community,” Jasper said.