Heights resident Dalia Rihani says she was charmed by all the unique architecture in her neighborhood. So in 2016 the graphic designer and illustrator started doing drawings of the historic houses she and her husband photographed on their bike rides – and mailing postcards of the homes to their owners.
Now, another passion project of Rihani’s is helping local businesses impacted by COVID-19.
“I started illustrating local businesses to bring attention to independently-owned places that need our support during this time,” Rihani said. She then shares the results on her Instagram page (@drihani12).
“A big reason why I enjoy living in the Heights is because of all the wonderful independent restaurants, bars and coffee shops – and everything in between,” she said. “They shape our neighborhood and add so much welcome character to the area. These places are the heart of communities, and we’re so lucky to live in a city that has such an incredible and diverse variety of places to eat and drink. It’s heartbreaking to think that so many of them may not ever reopen.”
Rihani hopes she will bring more attention to the work of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which is trying to save local restaurants and the more than 11 million employees they employ by getting Congress to pass the RESTAURANTS Act. The bill would set up a $120 billion fund to provide grants to restaurants and bars that cover payroll, mortgage and other expenses through 2020.
“Independent Restaurants employ 11 million workers directly, and indirectly 5 million more – that’s over 10 percent of the entire U.S. workforce – so saving them would have a huge economic impact that goes way beyond restaurants, including up and down the supply chain,” she said.
Rihani says she knows the issue is much bigger than the restaurant industry.
“I’m trying to do what I can to bring attention to our favorite local places in hopes that they not only survive this pandemic but also help revive our economy,” she said.
There is not a very defined process for who or what Rihani illustrates, or when, but she doesn’t tell people or places when she draws them. She just tags them on Instagram when she posts her work and will send a complimentary original upon request.
“A few of them have reached out and (others) will repost on their social media feed,” she said.
Rihani said Uncle Bean’s Coffee on Houston Avenue and Tea Sip on West 19th Street have been among those who showed their appreciation.
“Dalia is so talented,” said Jessica Boyd, Founder and CEO of Tea Sip. “We were honored to be featured in her support local project. This year has been crazy, to say the least, but we are so thankful for our supportive community and people like Dalia who are bringing awareness to local businesses.”
Levi Rollins, who owns Urban Eats on Washington Avenue, said the project has drawn new attention to his business.
“We’re proud she selected our spot as a feature,” he said. “These initiatives spotlight businesses in our community, creating awareness and conversations that benefit everyone.”
So far, Rihani has drawn 35 business since mid-March. She estimates that it takes her about 4-5 hours for each drawing. The drawings are done with a computer program called Sketch, a vector program made for UX Design.
Rihani still does some illustrations of area homes by commission, but the business project is a labor of love.
“A lot of people feel helpless,” she said. “I want to help in any way that I can.”