The question -- what happened to Georgetown? -- cannot be easily answered, yet some of the reasons for the change from charming shops to chain retail-stores are obvious to the perceptive passer-by. The flocks of tourists, teens and early-20 somethings, students, and party-goers who traverse M street and Wisconsin Avenue on weekends through the wee hours of the morning are attracted by the likes of Diesel/Club Monaco/H & M and other catchy retail darlings; drinking holes/pizza joints/raw bars, and the many clubs clustered along the main drag offer live music, discounted drinks in over-sized glasses and the allure of being trendy/in/cool (in Georgetown). On the strip of Wisconsin Avenue heading north, once home to small antique shops like Gore Dean, David Bell, and various art galleries, the scene is now about nail and beauty shops, women's clothing boutiques and (more) pizza shops. My bi-weekly nightly walks to peer into beautifully displayed shop windows is now sadly confined to the establishments of a small number of stubborn shopkeepers who have dug their heels and continue to offer superb wares, in spite of rising rents and the influence of the Internet where seemingly everything can be had at the click of the mouse. I am never disappointed or uninspired at the changing vignettes and design goodies at Marston Luce, Darrell Dean, Carling Nichols, Moss & Co/Oliver Dunn, and Metro Interiors.
Of these aforementioned establishments, none is more provoking than Darrell Dean whose eye is trained upon the unusual/iconic/idiosyncratic object, art-piece (and furniture). Today I ventured (boldly and without a penny in my pocket so I had nothing to lose) into his shop, where everything is wonderfully worn and carries a patina worthy of celebration. Heart-stopping finds in the current inventory include a Lalanne-like tortoise, shell-encrusted mirrors, soulful wooden santos, root-wood planters, twig-leaved carved folk-art chairs, quartz-crystal table lamps, several emblematic pieces of prison-art, and what seems like a million aluminum glove molds (all reaching upwards towards the sky). He is friendly as always, and seems pleased to see me (cause I do admire his aesthetic and philosophy, which is: carry the things that speak to you and hopefully others will love them too). He concedes that the design and retail spotlight has shifted to some areas like Cady's Alley, U Street NW, and of course, on-line commerce. Yet, business has been good and he has maintained a steady clientele through his current brick-and-mortar location as well as through 1st dibs (a premier source for decorative objects, antique and unusual objects offered by stellar merchants and dealers). Actually, he shyly admits, most of the AD Top 100 designers have purchased from him, and plans to expand into another shop on the coast are moving quickly ahead. " Objects of beauty that show process and the human-hand, objects that have history and touch our emotions, are the things I look for, both for myself and for the shop, " he shared when I asked what drove the search and selection of the shop's offerings.
I am happy that he has been able to offer wares of a different kind without comprising his integrity, and applaud his continued efforts to remain independent. Small shops have become increasingly rare as our world becomes ever more standardized, and monopolized by multi-national corporations and big-box retailers offering questionable and soul-less stock through thicker and ever-glossier catalogues. If in search for the rare, beautiful, or unusual, consider visiting his website at www.darrelldeanantiques.com, drop in to the shop at 1524 Wisconsin Avenue NW (in Washington, DC), or through the dealer search on 1st dibs (www.1stdibs.com).
Thanks for being a design-obsessed peep, and enjoy today's visual treat (sitting near the front-door at Darrell's shop; so cute and life-like that I expected this iron doggie to wag his tail at any moment).