Good neighbors make good business

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The rich perfume of chocolate, gaily painted walls, tasteful furnishing, live orchids and original art make Artfully Chocolate uniqueand one of the most popular shops in Del Ray.

Eric Nelson, the genial owner and creative mind behind Artfu

lly Chocolate frequently greets guests at tastings to introduce new local artisan suppliers.

In less than two years, Artfully Chocolate has been such a hit that Nelson has added Artfully Paper on Mount Vernon Avenue and Artfully Chocolate featuring Kingsbury Confections on 14th Street in the District. He soon will move from the original location on Del Ray Avenue to include a demonstration kitchen at a site near Artfully Paper, while the Del Ray Avenue site will become a production shop that sells the accoutrements necessary for making chocolates

Artfully Chocolate is not the only funky shop in Del Ray. The Dairy Godmother is what owner Liz Davis calls third place. After home and work or school, there is the third place where people congregate; she wanted that to be The Dairy Godmother.

With frozen custard and nostalgic treats (including puppy pops for dogs), the Culinary Institute of America graduate furnishes her shop with picnic tables and a juke box (with more nostalgic treats) a jig saw puzzle to pass the time, a mural by T.C. Williams High School students and enough Wisconsin memorabilia to remind company of her roots.

 The original third place on the same block is St Elmos Coffee Pub. Like many of the businesses along The Avenue, as most Del Ray residents call their main street, St. Elmos doubles as an art gallery.

In opening St. Elmos a decade ago, Partlow intentionally created the simple coffee shop – which hosts live music and poetry, book signings and a fair share of meetings –  as a community gathering place in what was then a seedy Del Ray.

Before St. Elmos, Los Amigos Mexican restaurant, which recently closed after 26 years, was the first family venue on Mount Vernon. Then followed the Snuggery, where Partlow had worked before opening St. Elmos, on the site of the popular Evening Star restaurant.

Del Ray now boasts several excellent restaurants, including the very popular Los Tios, Taqueria Poblano and the Caboose, another popular gathering spot that sometime offers live music in the evenings.

Homey shops on the Avenue include homegrown stores like Clay Queen Pottery, the eclectic Eight Hands Round antique and gift shop, the recently expanded Cheesetique, (a cheese boutique with a wine and cheese bar), and A Show of Hands, which specializes in products by local artists and craftsmen.

New businesses are setting up shop on the popular Avenue. Contessas Garden and Gift Shop recently opened near the Post Office. The butcher shop Lets Meat on the Avenue  recently opened in Cheestiques former digs, and an exciting new Italian restaurant La Strada is expected to open this week on the Los Amigos site. Several other shops have also opened, including the recently opened Bungalow housewares shop, which will occupy the former dry cleaners.

In about 15 years, Del Ray has transformed from an area Rosemont parents warned their children to avoid, to a neighborly and vibrant community that just keeps getting better.

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