Pop-Up Retail and the Beach on 8th Street


Pop-Up Retail And The Beach On 8th Street by Sharon Bosworth

Though DC has been largely spared, the recession lingering around the rest of the country has created new losers and very few winners.  In these murky financial times many of us have been searching persistently, testing ways to make a buck in the changed financial landscape.  Recently we were introduced to an up-to-the-minute idea that mixes the remains of the old, pre-recession good times with some tricks of the new century. The name of this game is pop-up retail.  And, it’s happening on 8th Street.

Hard to say how it started but certainly at the core it is a very old notion. Then, on the way to its present-day iteration, something happened and a whole new concept emerged. The old temporary concept store (think Christmas tree stands) grew new legs with the spread of social media and the fast-paced recession which shuttered bricks and mortar retail stores creating rows of VACANCY signs. Throw in the growth of Internet shopping and the ability of smart phones to take credit card sales and, voila: pop-up retail stores are now overnight happenings.

tabula rasa In Latin is “Blank Slate”

Riding the crest of this wave here on Barracks Row, we recently welcomed our first event space, an on-purpose empty store front,  just waiting to be rented short term. Its name tells the tale: tabula rasa or “blank slate” in Latin. The concept for tabula rasa, 731 8th Street, SE came from Amanda Clarke, who works with husband, Cable Clarke, at Clarke Consulting, 731 8th Street, SE, Suite 202, which is dedicated to coaching organizations and government agencies through culture change.

For those keeping score, this is the same Amanda Clarke who co-founded Boogie Babes, the group which brings children’s musical performances to Eastern Market’s North Hall on Thursdays and to ATLAS on Fridays and some Saturday mornings.  Amanda and Cable Clarke, who have three small children and a typical space-challenged Capitol Hill household, use venues outside their home regularly for family and social events. Early on Amanda felt the logic of an aesthetically pleasing event and pop-up space.

“Pop ups may be the way of the future” noted Clarke, “especially for online retailers who are challenged to get noticed and to get products to their potential customers to see and feel.  Rents keep going up and pop ups offer product visibility to a new and varied population for a short term at a low price. They also offer established boutiques a chance to test new markets. ” Then there’s the synergy of social media – both her own efforts to promote tabula rasa and the social media reach of those who use her space. “It does not confuse people at all that we are a candy store one weekend, a jewelry store the next,  and last weekend we were Periwinkle - a woman’s clothing boutique. We are tabula rasa, our customers want and expect to be surprised by us and they check our website to see what we have each weekend. With new offerings and events at tabula rasa every week, different groups of consumers who are on the mailing lists of those businesses keep discovering us.”  Up-coming events include a meal planning workshop, a book signing and quite a few grown-up birthday parties.



White Cork Floors - Lavender Ceilings?

“With the DC parking lot (under the freeway) just a block away plus Metro, the Circulator and regular city bus service all on 8th Street, we are easy to get to,” continued Clarke.  There are many potential customers who spot tabula rasa as they drive or walk by on errands. “We are getting phone calls from political organizations, those who sell products and even non-profits who see our sign and want to use our space for a few hours, or a day or two.”

Though the roots of pop up stores lay in grungy, seedy, long vacant retail spaces, tabula rasa is the polar opposite. First, polar – everything in this space is pristine white. Nothing battered or shabby to be seen, the space glows with chic sparkle. Light filters in through the luminous picture window on 8th Street; the window-wall facing the charming courtyard delivers even more light. The finishes are sustainable, the floors are white cork, the seating is white leather, the ceilings are white but with the twist of an LED button, they can glow red, yellow, green or anything in between.

The Beach on Barracks Row

There must be something to that white-on-white color scheme. This past weekend another new establishment-wrapped-in-white opened on 8th Street, SE.  Pacifico Cantina, 514 8th Street, SE, made its debut on Saturday, June 16.  An investor group led by Xavier Cervera developed the Pacifico Cantina concept. The opening was magical: it was a perfect 75 degrees with full sun and very low humidity.  The happy crowd on the expansive roof deck enthusiastically discovered the delicious Baja inspired menu; as the breeze swayed the red umbrellas you could almost hear the surf! There’s really no place like Pacifico Cantina in DC or for miles around until you hit the bay beaches.

As summer at the actual shore or at its 8th Street, SE, counterpart beckons, here’s a question:  what was the Best DC Party in spring of 2012? We nominate the Barracks Row Garden Party.  On June 7, under a huge tent in the garden, our annual fundraiser unfolded at historic Deer House hosted by Tip and Connie Tipton. Guests had the opportunity to meet the chefs of five of our 8th Street restaurants and sample their best recipes. They also could meet neighbors, local and national politicians, members of the Capitol Hill business community and officers of Marine Barracks Washington.

We Need YOU to Sustain the Momentum

We thank our Platinum Sponsors: National Capital Bank, CSX, Minerva Marketing and the International Dairy Foods Association for their generous support.   We further salute our Gold, Silver and Bronze sponsors. Because of them we are able to continue our mission to bring prosperity to all five blocks of Barracks Row.

To our party guests, along with the entire Capitol Hill corporate and residential community, we send our


heartfelt appreciation. By working together we have been privileged to foster the rebirth of the oldest commercial corridor in the federal city.  On our watch 8th Street, SE, has been transformed from a blighted, under-used connector to a destination for boutique shopping and international dining.  Owners of new establishments like tabula Rasa and Pacifico Cantina are attracted to 8th Street, SE, and then add their compelling offerings to Barracks Row’s mix of urban adventures. Together we have built today’s 8th Street experience to new levels of satisfaction.  Visitors return year after year to sample the excitement of our ever evolving transformation.

To learn more about us (maybe the date of next year’s Garden Party?), or to volunteer for one of the events hosted by Barracks Row Main Street, send your contact information to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 202-544-3188. We need you.  It takes a village to make a Main Street!