by James Arvantes; photos by James Arvantes and Allison Shashok
Major Cleveland Park Event Brings Businesses and Residents Together
Volunteers, merchants, and the Cleveland Park Business Association joined efforts to hold the first Uptown Shuffle Dance Party on June 24, an event that celebrated the neighborhood’s rich and diverse businesses while bringing the Cleveland Park community closer.
Nearly 20 local restaurants and businesses set up stands in the Sam’s Park & Shop parking lot on Connecticut Avenue, giving a steady flow of local residents the chance to taste a variety of foods from many restaurants in the community and to meet and mingle with business owners and other local residents. Business owners and managers also had the chance to interact with each other, something that is difficult to achieve during the typical rush of business hours.
“It is a good way for us to meet our (business) neighbors,” said Matteo Catalani, one of the owners of Al Volo, an Italian restaurant on Connecticut Avenue. “It also gives customers a chance to see who is behind the business — who is making it happen.”
“It is always nice to put a face with the business,” he added.
The event, which ran from 4 to 7 p.m., attracted more than 200 local residents and was arranged so that participants could stroll through the Park & Shop at a leisurely pace, stopping at various tables to sample the different wares while getting to know each of the businesses.
“The number of people here is more than we expected,” said Gulziba Ekber, the manager of Dolan Uyghur Restaurant, which specializes in a style of cooking unique to northwestern China which is influenced by the borders that region shares with Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Russia and other countries.
Dolan employees were busy throughout the event, selling homemade noodles and other Eurasian specialties. Like other businesses, Ekber said the event was a “good, low-cost promotion for the restaurant,” much less expensive than running an advertisement in a newspaper or online. And like other businesses, the restaurant handed out hundreds of business cards.
As residents strolled through the event, a D.J. played hits from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, adding to the festive mood and providing music for dancing as well as dance lessons and dancing demonstrations given by instructors from City Fitness, another Cleveland Park business that participated. The event also included several raffle prizes donated by local establishments.
The festive ambience reminded Cleveland Park resident Marcia Kass of neighborhood block parties once held on her street.
“In some ways, this (event) is better than a block party because it draws people into a smaller space,” giving residents “an opportunity to meet their neighbors,” said Kass.
Take the example of Victoria Hutter and Victoria Sams, two Cleveland Park residents who have worked in the same building in downtown Washington for the past five years without ever meeting each other. The two Victorias met for the first time at the Uptown Shuffle Dance Party where they became fast friends.
Hutter praised the event “for getting people out, because communities are about people. The community is stronger when people interact.”
The crowd that gathered on Sunday included a balanced mix of young, elderly and middle-aged residents, demonstrating the vitality and diversity of the neighborhood. One observer noted, “Some people think Cleveland Park is mainly a community for older people, but this shows that our neighborhood has residents of all ages!”
Cleveland Park is a haven for businesses, especially small, family-owned establishments. But in recent years, the neighborhood has suffered from a perception that businesses are closing outright or moving away. The event helped to dispel those myths as well.
Al Volo, for example, opened last year and Dolan opened its doors in December 2016. Another business, Tigi D.C. Salon, a hair salon that caters to men, women and children, will be moving from Tenleytown to a new home in Sam’s Park and Shop within a few weeks.
The Event Cleared Rainy Skies
The Uptown Shuffle Dance Party would not have been successful without decent weather. When the event started at 4 p.m., dark clouds hung over Cleveland Park and a soft rain was falling, threatening an intense downpour. But quickly the gentle rain receded and the clouds parted, giving way to deep blue skies and bright sunshine that reenergized the event, bringing in more residents.
“There is no rain,” said a smiling Pierre Abushacra, owner of Firehook Bakery as he stood and looked out over the event. “We kept the rain away.”
In summing up the event, one Cleveland Park resident said, “Cleveland Park is a great place to live, a great place to visit and a great place to do business.”
Enjoy these photos below, and view a full album on Facebook.