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Alexandria businesses have mixed feelings on turning 200 block of King Street into a pedestrian zone

Alexandria City Council Member John Taylor Chapman wants to pursue making the 200 block of King Street into a pedestrian zone, and employees managing many of the businesses on that block have mixed feelings.

The move would mean having a pedestrian-only zone next door to City Hall’s Market Square (301 King Street) going all the way down to the waterfront.

Chapman told ALXnow that his plan is in its infancy, but that he will ask city staff about the feasibility of extending the pedestrian area that was permanently approved for the unit and 100 blocks of King Street in late 2022. The City closed the 100 block of King Street to car traffic in 2020 to help small businesses with outdoor seating during the pandemic, and the unit blocks of King Street and Strand Street were later added to the pilot.

Chapman is running for reelection and lists creating more pedestrian-only areas in his campaign platform.

“We’ve done the zero block and the 100 block (of King Street), and the 200 block is the next step,” Chapman told ALXnow. “Now I’m talking to those retailers to see if I can get their buy-in.”

Nearly half of the street parking on the eastern portion of the 200 block is taken up by a parklet rented for outdoor dining by The Warehouse restaurant at 214 King Street.

Ethan Wagner, manager of Old Virginia Tobacco (210 King Street), says a pedestrian zone will be a burden on his customers. He also said that the 200 block was shut down during the recent Scottish Christmas Walk Parade on Dec. 2, and that his employees had a hard time finding parking for work.

“There’s at least 15-to-20 parking spots right outside,” Wagner said. “I like the idea in theory, but I’m not a big fan of it because of the parking.”

Jaylen Walker, manager of Kilwins Chocolates and Ice Cream (212 King Street), said that the closure could be an issue for handicapped customers who need to be transported near the front door of the business.

“There’s a lot of parking garages nearby, and realistically, people are already down here to begin with,” he said. “The handicap issue is my only thing.”

survey of community feedback on the closure of the unit and 100 blocks found that 91% (of 1,853 survey respondents) rated the pedestrian zone as very positive.

The city’s transportation division chief, however, said last year that extending the pedestrian zone to the 200 block could be problematic, as it has fewer restaurants that lend themselves to outdoor seating.

Clint Mansell, manager of the Principle Gallery (208 King Street), said that customers and clients like dropping off their art by parking directly in front of the gallery.

“There’s more retail and fewer restaurants on this block,” Mansell said. “There’s a European feeling to it, the walkability. I have mixed feelings. It would be nice to have some time to think about this.”

Todd Lippert, the longtime assistant manager at Comfort One Shoes (201 King Street), is all in favor of the idea.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Lippert said. It’s about time that people in Old Town forget their cars and begin to walk, enjoy their lives, enjoy their shoes and enjoy their walks.”

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