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Life-Changing: Alexandria Businesses React to Coronavirus

With only five reported cases in the city so far, COVID-19 has had a huge impact on Alexandria residents, businesses and the city government.

There has been one reported instance of price gouging, with packages of 10 rolls of Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper being sold for more than $60 at the Food Star at 206 W. Glebe Road.

City officials contacted the grocery store and the price was reduced to $14.99, according to a city spokesman, who said that a customer of the store officially reported the price to the Attorney General of Virginia. The store manager told ALXnow that the vendor hiked up the price.

“The markup ended up being $61 for that toilet paper, and I said it was too much and I refused a second order,” the manager said. “I said, ‘No, we’re not going to order with you again, that’s too much.'”

Larry Ponzi, the owner of St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray, has had to lay off 60 of his 80 employees. While St. Elmo’s is still open, it will only cater 10 customers at a time inside and will serve mostly carryout orders from its front door facing Mount Vernon Avenue.

“We’re telling our employees to file for unemployment,” Ponzi said. ” I think that we, everybody, needs to get through the next few weeks. We just have to get through it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also put into question the anticipated opening of Ponzi’s proposed Old Town North location. His two Cafe Pizzaiolo restaurants will also only be serving carryout.

A few doors down from St. Elmo’s, Bill Blackburn, co-owner of the Homegrown Restaurant Group, shouted a simple phrase to ALXnow.

“If you can post anything, post in big letters, ‘ORDER ONLINE, ORDER ONLINE, ORDER ONLINE.’ That would be perfect,” he said.

Since the new rules restricting establishments to 10 customers went into effect, Blackburn’s company has been making drastic changes. The company’s three restaurants in Del Ray – Pork Barrel BBQ, The Sushi Bar and Holy Cow Del Ray — closed their interiors and are operating via curbside pickup. Customers make their orders at the front door of Pork Barrel and then pick them up outside of Holy Cow.

The company also closed Whisky & Oyster in Carlyle and are operating curbside pickups for Sweet Fire Donna’s and Tequila & Taco.

Nicole Jones, the owner of Stomping Ground at 2309 Mount Vernon Avenue, is open for business.

“Basically every dollar we’re making right now is going to pay staff. Our revenues are down sizably, so I’m not gonna be able to pay rent. I’m not going to be able to pay our taxes and I honestly will struggle to procure the food to feed customers,” Jones said.

Jones added, “I’ve got 30 staffers and half of them are on salary. We pay a livable wage with paid vacation. We do all the right things. Each one of them is now on reduced hours. And then we’re just trying to do business as usual but as a takeout [restaurant]. Now we’ve also added dinner. We’ve never done dinner as a general thing.”

Peter Zia, the owner of Chinoiserie at 1325 King Street, closed on Monday. He said that it is “shocking” that neighboring businesses are still open.

“I mean this COVIT-19 thing hasn’t really hit yet,” Zia told an ALXnow reporter, who was standing at least 10 feet away. “It’s going to be bad.”

Across the street at Hard Times Cafe, co-owner Richard Kelly was making some hard decisions with his staff. The restaurant at 1404 King Street has been around for four decades, and as of now he plans on laying off about half of his 90 employees between the Alexandria and Springfield locations.

“The restaurant here is 1,600 square feet. The one in Springfield is 12,500 square feet, with 18 pool tables and it’s completely empty,” Kelly said. “Every day we react and respond to whatever is coming up next. When you’re faced with insurmountable issues that you can’t control, then you just deal with it every day. And we’ve been here for 42 years. We’re not gonna go out of business.”

On Tuesday, Alexandria Restaurant Partners, which employs hundreds of people in the city, also announced that it was closing most of its locations.

As previously reported, an unofficial list of retailers and restaurants throughout the city is being regularly updated. Visit Alexandria has also compiled a city-wide list of retail and restaurant options that can be enjoyed at home.

The Alexandria City Council will discuss COVID-19 mitigation efforts at its meeting tonight at City Hall.

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