Familiar Face Leads H Street
Tim Lewis Takes Helm of Corridor’s Revitalization Group
As the new executive director of H Street Main Street, Tim Lewis spends most of his days attending planning meetings, recruiting volunteers and connecting with local merchants to promote an atmosphere of growth along one of the District’s up-and-coming business corridors.
But Lewis, 35, also finds some time every week to put in a few hours of work at Hair Rage, a hair salon on H Street where he’s worked as a stylist for the past eight years.
“I’m very much in tune with the community,” said Lewis, who attended Howard University as an undergraduate and holds a graduate degree from George Mason University. “I understand the pain of the merchants.”
And Lewis said that experience will serve him well as he works to expand H Street’s growth in the coming years.
Before the riots of the late 1960s, the H Street corridor was a busy business and retail area that was home to the city’s first Sears, Roebuck and Co. department store.
“There’s a certain irony that you have this community that’s right on Capitol Hill’s back door and it’s been forgotten. … Today, we want to get people in this area in a position to take advantage of the growth when it starts to take off,” Lewis said last week as he sat in the window of his donated office space, looking out at the busy foot traffic moving up and down the corridor. Taped up on the walls around him are sketches for new business signs his organization has helped develop for local merchants.
As the only paid staff member for H Street Main Street, Lewis’ job consists of “a little bit of everything,” from coordinating volunteer work and cleanup efforts to informing local merchants about upcoming transit and construction projects along the corridor. One of the biggest projects Lewis has already been involved with is the H Street Northeast Corridor Transportation Study, a $27 million revitalization and growth project that aims to reshape the look of the area to emphasize its unique historic and cultural aspects.
With all the plans that the city has for the H Street corridor, “in the past month, it seems like my life has been one big meeting,” Lewis said with a laugh.
“The most challenging part of the job is retaining volunteers and keeping the momentum up,” said Tomika Hughey, assistant projects manager for the D.C. Alternatives Analysis and Lewis’ predecessor on H Street — she was named the corridor’s first director at the beginning of 2003. “But it’s rewarding when a new business comes to the corridor and when you help new residents come to the neighborhood.”
Hughey now works with implementing new transit alternatives across the city, including H Street, in her job with D.C. Alternatives Analysis. “H Street is one of our priority corridors,” she said.
“Tim is going to do a great job because he’s familiar with the community, and half the battle is being someone who has legitimacy in the community,” Hughey added.
Lewis said getting out in the community and interacting with local merchants and residents is one of his favorite parts of the job. Last week, he was planning to stop by a new Caribbean-style restaurant that had just opened to sample the cuisine.
Lewis said many people are receptive to his work, but some are also skeptical. “They’ve heard the same story over and over again for years, but for some reason it just doesn’t get done.”
One project Lewis has started working on since he began his term as director is coordinating with local universities to begin an urban immersion program for students. He hopes to offer volunteer internships in social services, marketing design and consulting services to students at local universities.
“We have a lot of great opportunities for volunteers around here. It’s a great way to get hands-on, real-world experience,” Lewis said.