From the outside, Caramel Boutique is one of several other shops, salons and cafes along Washington, DC’s U Street, but inside, Caramel is anything but your average clothing store. While they stock international, national and local designers, belts, jewelry and ever-changing artwork, the store is also host to art shows for local artists on a monthly basis, free of charge.
Caramel displays work by local artists throughout its space, featuring a new artist approximately every one to two months. The store is also a long-time business supporter of the Mid City Artists, a diverse group of professional artists who promote their artwork and the Dupont/Logan neighborhoods of Washington, DC that they call home. Caramel has collaborated with members of the Mid City Artists to display their work during their twice-yearly Open Studios weekends.
Sarah Watkins, owner of Caramel Boutique, drew inspiration from her grandparents who owned and operated independent grocery stores for 40 years. (Incidentally, the store is named after Sarah’s grandfather’s favorite candy.) Growing up in a family business environment, Watkins always hoped to open her own business one day. Most of her professional career has been spent managing educational programs and fundraising for nonprofit organizations, and she continues to work as a part-time professional fundraiser while she manages the store.
When asked why she chose to integrate the arts into her business, Watkins stated, “Featuring local artwork at Caramel was part of my initial business plan. When we first opened, we had a number of artists represented in the store. Roughly one year into operation, we began featuring just one artist at a time (sometimes two if artists wished to have a joint show) and organizing opening receptions for each exhibit… One of my goals was to become an active part of the community. I felt working with local artists and displaying their work was a nice way to include more people from the neighborhood and encourage individuals to come into the store not only to shop but also to appreciate the featured artwork.”
Hosting art exhibits and opening receptions has sparked interest in other types of events at Caramel, such as fundraisers for local nonprofits, book readings, trunk shows with local designers, meet-up groups, and styling events. Additionally, other local businesses in the neighborhood have begun to feature local artists, and are supporting the Mid City Artists as well. Caramel has collaborated with the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Galley, just across the street, to cross-promote openings that are scheduled for the same evening.
For more information on Caramel Boutique, visit www.caramelfashion.com.