Photos courtesy of Glenn MillerAnnapolis Design District President Jessie White mingled at a Design District networking event.
Photos courtesy of Glenn MillerThe Annapolis Design District kicked off its 10th year during a luncheon at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company.
Photos courtesy of Glenn MillerAnnapolis Design District President Jessie White accepted a Volunteer of the Year award from her father, Mark White.
Photos courtesy of Glenn MillerThe Annapolis Design District 2017 board members are (left to right) Mark T. White, past president; Kimberly Goodson, membership chair; Lisa Tullai, marketing chair; Margaret Blunt, design member at-large; Jessica White, president; Rita Siprak-Weill, treasurer; AJ Eckert, associate member at-large; Linda Oliff Rohleder, vice president.
Photos courtesy of Glenn MillerSome of the 10-year founding members of the district are (left to right); Mark T. White, owner of Kitchen Encounters; Walter Neese, owner of WalterWorks Hardware; Jessica White of Kitchen Encounters; Linda Oliff Rohleder of The Appliance Source; and Currie and Dana Mebane, founders and lifetime members of the Annapolis Design District.
Photos courtesy of Glenn MillerHollis Minor, economic development manager, was the guest speaker at the third annual general membership luncheon, speaking to members about the Resiliency Project. The luncheon, held on February 8 at the new location of Annapolis Shakespeare Company, kicked off the district’s 10th year as an organization.
Annapolis Design District Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary
In the world of small business, relationships are essential. When Annapolis Design District founders Currie Mebane and wife Dana owned a wholesale furniture business, interior designers liked the options available at the Mebanes’ store but said they could get more accomplished in a short amount of time at the design center in Washington, D.C. As a result, Currie starting looking for available spaces near West Street in Annapolis.
While on a Saturday morning walk with his dog, Max, Currie took note of the well-established area design businesses and made a few phone calls, which led to the creation of the Annapolis Design District — both a physical district bounded by West Street, Chinquapin Round Road, Legion Avenue and Forest Drive, and a nonprofit organization. At its inception in 2007, the purpose of the district was to provide a way for design-related small-business owners to collaborate on advertising costs and market one another’s businesses. Currently in its 10th year, with 80 members, the organization has evolved to include a variety of businesses, property owners, retailers and service providers, and it reaches far beyond marketing efforts.
Currie and Dana have since transitioned out of the design world, but their vision for a design district continues to unfold largely through Severna Park natives Mark White and daughter Jessie White of the family business Kitchen Encounters.
Jessie served as secretary from 2012 to 2013, events and marketing coordinator from 2014 to 2016 and is now president for 2017 to 2018.
“You couldn’t have found a better person,” Currie said. “Her interest is there, and she’s got my vote 100 percent. She makes the rest of us look good.”
Originally, about 10 to 12 businesses were involved, but when Jessie joined in 2009, only about six businesses were actively participating. In 2011, after a couple of quiet years, Mark, a former Annapolis Design District president, asked Jessie to get feedback from people in the area regarding their thoughts on the design district idea.
“I literally spent almost a whole week going to all the businesses around, whether they were a design business or not, explaining what the design district did, what we were hoping for,” Jessie said.
They then held a lunch that attracted about 20 people, at which point an Annapolis Design District board was formed. Jessie realized there was a lot more excitement than she had initially realized regarding the opportunities the district would offer small businesses.
At the luncheon, there were some attendees with businesses outside the physical design district who wanted to be involved. Businesses such as banks and printers were interested in being a part of the district for networking purposes. The design district leadership decided at that point to open its doors to anyone who wanted to be involved.
Amanda Simpson, the branch manager of Essex Bank in Annapolis, has been a member of the district for two years and now serves as the events coordinator for the organization. In addition to enjoying the district on a social level, Simpson has been able to contribute and profit professionally.
“I have benefitted so much from being in the design district too because I’m able to support the small-business owners by small-business banking, [managing] their accounts and different financial needs for them too,” Simpson said.
Linda Rohleder of the Appliance Source has been a member of Annapolis Design District since the beginning and has seen significant growth. She recalled a time when the Maryland Department of Transportation handed out documents in the area regarding parking regulations.
“They actually referenced the Annapolis Design District in their letter about parking in the Annapolis Design District, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s us being recognized in a government capacity,’” Rohleder said.
Rohleder loves hearing people say they moved into the district to be a part of the design community, as it speaks to the increased exposure the district has had and how far the district has come – from being primarily business-focused to including community outreach.
One of the members based outside the physical district is Sew Beautiful, located across the street from Severna Park Elementary School and owned by Margaret Blunt. Blunt was encouraged to get involved in the district by a designer she works with, Katalin Farnady.
Blunt enjoys the camaraderie that comes with the organization and the opportunity to grow professionally by learning from other businesses owners. She also appreciates how the district goes beyond connecting with other like-minded business people.
“It’s not just another networking group … I think what really sets it apart, in my opinion, is the interaction with the community as a whole as opposed to being a group that benefits just businesses,” Blunt said.
One way the design district contributes to the community is through various committees. They have a community liaison committee that is involved with other nonprofit organizations, the Annapolis Arts District and the economic development of Annapolis, and they have a beautification committee that has partnered with Urban Walls Brazil to put up murals in the design district.
“That’s to take away from the industrial appearance of this area,” Jessie added. “The murals add that pop of color and interest.”
Twelve murals have been put up over the past two years. Each year, when new murals are unveiled, the design district holds a street festival. Last year, about 500 people attended.
Every month, the district holds events. Some are business-focused while others are community focused. Last year, the district started an outdoor movie series, which will start up again in May. New this June will be the Annapolis Arts Week in partnership with the Annapolis Arts District, the historic district and others that have put on past Annapolis festivals. In September, the design district will host its annual street festival, where three additional murals will be unveiled.
Mark was one of the driving forces in bringing the district to its present success. “We believe in it. We’re enthused about the potential that we have. We’ve seen a lot of growth just in recent years,” Mark said. “I think we’re going to continue along that path and attract more businesses and ultimately more clients to all of our businesses.”
The original founders, Currie and Dana, who still live in Annapolis, were awarded a lifetime membership last year by the design district and frequently attend design district events.
“We definitely want to get more exposure and have people know that they can come here and literally build a house from the ground up or come here and just buy a lamp if that’s all they need,” Jessie said. “There’s no limitations or project too big or small for the members here in the design district, and I think that’s an important factor for any of the communities in Annapolis and the surrounding areas.”