by Mary Beth Ray
Four years of hard work yielded a magical evening at the sold-out Van Ness Main Street “Friend-Raiser” on Saturday, November 5th.
The event was co-chaired by Mary Beth Ray, president of the VNMS board of directors, and Eun Yim, a board member, chair of the VNMS events committee, and general manager of Bread Furst. It brought in about $8,000 for Van Ness Main Street, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit which depends on donations for its success.
The clear, cool weather allowed guests to spill onto the elegant terrace overlooking Soapstone Valley Park, and to enjoy the ample candle-lit bar: cocktails prepared by DC mixologist David Strauss, vodka donated by Republic Restoratives, fine wines given by Calvert Woodley, beer donated by Sheldon Ray, and Pellegrino from Giant. Stunning floral arrangements in fall colors were prepared and given by Sally Gresham. A selection of gourmet breads and lavash were donated by Bread Furst, with cheeses contributed by Patricia Davies.
Between bites of handmade pasta in an herb-infused cheese sauce, guests were thrilled to meet and mingle with Fabio and Maria Trabocchi, chef and owners of Sfoglina, our new Van Ness pasta house, and their team. Fabio expressed his excitement to be in Van Ness, saying, “We hope to be here for many years to come.” Maria said later, “What an amazing neighborhood, we can’t wait to be fully part of it. We were honored to be at Park Van Ness and to participate. This adventure will be fun!”
Soapstone Market treated the group to its famous mini-crab cakes, corn chowder shooters, and baked sweets, with not a crumb left over. Co-owners Tracy Stannard and John Fielding also donated shopping bags with the handsome art deco logo of Soapstone Market, which along with the VN Main Street wine bags were given to each guest. Tracy and John have been burning the midnight oil, and on Sunday morning, while many of us were nursing the effects of too much fun the night before, Soapstone Market’s fresh orange umbrellas signaled their opening.
BF Saul’s vice president of leasing, Zach Friedlis, who also serves as VP of Van Ness Main Street’s board, expressed his delight at the changes we’re already seeing in Van Ness.
Executive Director Theresa Cameron spoke about some of the many activities of the group, including design changes to improve the building façade at the corner of Connecticut and Albemarle; Jazz @ VN; Art All Night; music and chef demos at the Saturday morning UDC farmers market; special grants and business-to-business breakfasts which she runs to connect and help promote our merchants.
The president of the University of the District of Columbia, Ronald Mason, spoke about renewed efforts to connect UDC with the community. With the new Wellness Center opening soon, neighbors will be eligible for a special membership rate. UDC donates office space to Van Ness Main Street in its building next door to Acacia Bistro, and they are also generously hosting Murch Elementary School and the Cleveland Park Library during construction.
A highlight of the evening was the winning bid by neighbor PG Gottfried on a fabulous “Best of Van Ness” basket, conceived of and assembled by co-chair of the Economic Development Committee, Dipa Mehta, and Events Committee Member Frances Wu. Area merchants donated generously, including gift certificates to Bread Furst, Sfoglina, Soapstone Market, Flagship Car Wash, Laliguras, Acacia Bistro, Italian Pizza Kitchen, Giant, and Van Ness Wines and Liquors. John Torti, renowned architect of Torti Gallas who attended the event and designed Park Van Ness, even donated a guided tour of the building, and WAMU generously donated branded swag.
Board members highlighted the events that led to the formation of Van Ness Main Street. On a 2012 walk, it was easy to see what was wrong with Van Ness, a concrete canyon of outdated architecture, traffic of 40,000 cars per oday, a lack of good retail options, and no management structure.
But participants on that walk also saw what good bones we have. A unique combination of Metro access and pristine hiking trails. Great institutions like UDC, with its Theater of the Arts, Hillwood Museum, the Levine School, and Howard Law School. Wide sidewalks and plazas perfect for events. Lots of smart and friendly neighbors.
And we had a dream. A dream of making VN a cultural destination where our businesses thrive. A dream of activating our streetscape, using environmentally thoughtful designs, and public art, to make this a place people love living. And so, just four short years later, we’re making progress toward that dream.
Mark Furstenburg of Bread Furst saw our potential, and he took a risk on Van Ness when he opened his bakery here in 2014. His Bread Furst, WAMU, the UDC Student Center, and Park Van Ness have all served as powerful catalysts. We at Van Ness Main Street also have a management structure with a skilled executive director, who is expert at using the arts to foster economic development, and a community of supporters who together believe in smart growth, and that Van Ness is open for business.