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Phoenix Rises: Boutique Reopens After Overhaul

By Andria MooreCurrent Correspondent

The Phoenix has operated as a family-owned boutique in Georgetown for over six decades, but recently co-owner Samantha Hays-Gushner decided it was time for some fresh ideas.

When she proposed a renovation to her father, John Hays, his response was “Why not?”

The store at 1514 Wisconsin Ave. NW recently underwent a six-week renovation, reopening in mid-February with a new look. Hays-Gushner had envisioned redesigning the boutique to make it more spacious and inviting.

“The ideas had been rattling around in my head for about 10 years or so,” she said. “It was only a matter of putting my plan into action.”

Brian Kapur/The CurrentThe Phoenix has sold clothing, jewelry, folk art and other accessories since 1955, in a building that is now a century old. Hays-Gushner said the historic building presented some design challenges for the renovation — including rotted floorboards and old pipes — but also some pleasant surprises.

“When we took out the rear wall, we found a fireplace underneath that had been boarded up,” Hays-Gushner said. The fireplace was painted in black and white stencil, and incorporated into the new design.

Previously, the store shared a space with Swiss Watch Works, but when that shop moved to Bethesda, The Phoenix was able to expand its space to include a front sunroom.

“It’s definitely more open and spacious,” said Barbara Waymack, who has been shopping at The Phoenix for as long as she can remember. “I think it’s the difference of it being more of an art store, to now being more display oriented.”

That transformation was one of the goals of the renovation, according to John Hays. “Before when you came into the store, it looked like a jewelry store with folk art,” Hays said. “So one of the reasons we redesigned it is so it would look more like a clothing store.”

But this isn’t the first transformation The Phoenix has undergone. The boutique was owned by Bill and Betty Hays in the 1950s, originally selling Mexican wedding dresses.

“My parents fell in love with Mexico,” Hays said. “The summer before we opened we spent driving around Mexico collecting art and clothing to sell in the store.”

John Hays and his wife, Sharon, ran a halfway house in Boston and a group home in Maine before returning to D.C. in the 1980s to take over for John’s parents. They gave the rest of the Mexican wedding dresses to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and decided to sell a variety of unique clothing brands along with folk art. Throughout the years, the family has maintained a commitment to find clothing designers that are ethical and sustainable.

“We want to maintain the level of quality of goods that we are bringing in to sell,” Hays-Gushner said. “We find designers whose clothes fit our ethos and who are producing in a conscious way.”

The family continues traveling to Mexico once a year, as well as to fashion shows in New York and Boston to search for new partnerships and new items for their store.

While the store’s former magenta ceiling and adjoining wall are gone, the multi-colored wooden animals painted by Luis Pablo of Oaxaca, Mexico, and other trinkets remain.

Hays-Gushner hopes the design will attract new customers while retaining the core aspects of Phoenix’s longtime appeal. “The response from our customers has been incredible so far,” she said.

This article appears in the March 1 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.