The Chamber ALX has released the finalists for the Best in Business Awards, and the top businesses will be announced at a gala in Old Town next month.
It’s no secret that Don Simpson, Jr. is the chamber’s 2023 business leader of the year, since that cat was let out of the bag last month. Just who will receive the other highly coveted awards, however, is still secret. This year’s nominees are listed below, and winners are determined by a panel of previous awardees.
The Best in Business Awards, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank, will be held at the Westin Old Town Alexandria (400 Courthouse Square) from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Octo. 12. The event costs $125 for members and $150 for non-members.
Land use attorney Cathy Puskar was named business leader of the year last year. Read more about last year’s event here.
Alexandria’s 2023 Best In Business finalists
Small Business of the Year
- 9Round Fitness
- Cualtzin Salon
- Jillian Keck Hogan Group
- Salon deZEN
- Solutions Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine
- The Wise Family
- Wine Gallery 108
Medium Business of the Year
Large Business of the Year
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon
- United States Senate Federal Credit Union
- Woodbine Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center
Rising Star Business of the Year
- Ada’s on the River
- BeeLiner Diner
- Mount Purrnon Cat Cafe and Wine Bar
- Silk Rose Spa
- VIP Alexandria Magazine
Nonprofit & Association of the Year
The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce has selected Don Simpson, Jr. as its business leader of the year.
Simpson, the president of Simpson Development Company and vice president of Simpson Properties, Ltd., was recognized for giving back to the community. He’s a fourth generation Alexandria and has worked with his family firm for more than 40 years.
Simpson now serves as chair of the INOVA Alexandria Hospital Foundation Board.
Simpson is an active member of the Alexandria Rotary Club, the city’s Youth Sports Commission and the Youth IMPACT Foundation. He was named a Living Legend of Alexandria in 2020. He previously served on the boards for the Alexandria YMCA, the Miracle League of Alexandria and the Center for Alexandria’s children, among others, and his company has raised funds for dozens of local nonprofits.
Married with two children, Simpson graduated from T.C. Williams High School in 1978, and later Virginia Tech with a degree in building construction and engineering. His family also helped create the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria.
Simpson will be honored at the chamber’s annual Best in Business Awards on Oct. 12.
The new chair of the Chamber ALX says that she will focus on supporting local businesses and making the organization more resourceful.
Nicole McGrew, owner of Threadleaf & Company, celebrated officially taking over as chair during a chamber event Thursday night held in the visitor’s center of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Her term officially began Jan. 1.
She is the first Black woman to chair the chamber and succeeded former Chair Angela Hartley.
“When I joined the chamber in 2018, I never imagined I’d be here as chamber board chair,” McGres told event attendees Thursday. “As a chamber, we are here to support and advocate for our businesses, large and small, for-profit or nonprofit, everything from parking to procurement. You have a question and we’re here to help you do it.”
McGrew opened Threadleaf in 2018 after an impressive decade-long legal career. She has a history from the University of Chicago, a master’s degree in political science and government from Hofstra University and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. For five years she was assistant general counsel for the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, and she was the deputy general counsel for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy during the final year of the Obama administration.
Threadleaf & Company closed its brick-and-mortar location at 102 N. Fayette Street last year, eventually closed its online shop and transitioned to personal consultations. In a Dec. 23 Instagram post, McGrew said that she is transitioning away from her business.
“Businesses do not exist in a vacuum,” McGrew told the audience. “How do we create and maintain sustainable businesses and livable communities that will last for our children and our children’s children? These are my priorities this year — growing business, engaging community and promoting a culture of sustainability so that in another 300 years, Alexandria will still be the best city on the Potomac.”
Scott Reamy, a manager at Dominion Energy and a Chamber board member, told attendees “we’re in good hands for the next year.”
“There is not a more genuine person here tonight to lead the chamber in our efforts moving forward,” Reamy said.
The event was attended by six members of City Council as well as many local business owners and other members.
Bread & Water Co. just got into the pet store business.
The restaurant company recently finalized its purchase of The Dog Park at 705 King Street. The dog and cat boutique has been owned and operated the last 12 years by Anna Franklin, who thanked her customers on Instagram
“As some of you may already know, I have officially sold The Dog Park,” Franklin wrote. “These past 12+ years have been more than I could have hoped.”
New owners Markos Panas, Noelle Rickey and Doug Abedje opened their first business, Bread and Water, in the Belle View Shopping Center. They also own Beeliner Diner in the Bradlee Shopping Center and the Bun Papa sandwich restaurants.
Rickey was a former veterinary technician for 10 years and has a lengthy background in retail.
“We have a lot of work to do, but my hope and goal is to make something that is successful, does good for the community and can grow,” Panas said. “This is all one day at a time, but I’m excited about the opportunities to be an active member of the community.”
“We’re going to offer food subscriptions with online ordering,” Panas said. “There’s also a dog grooming station built out in the back that has ever been used. So, we’re going to do something with that. We’re also going to do a lot of public events.”
Photo via The Dog Park/Instagram
Alexandria land use attorney Cathy Puskar was named the 2022 Business Leader of the Year by the Chamber ALX at its annual Best In Business awards on Thursday night (Oct. 27), and restaurant Chadwicks (203 Strand Street) was named Overall Business of the Year.
“I don’t just ‘Remember the Titans,'” said Puskar, a 1985 graduate of T.C. Williams High School (now Alexandria City High School). “I am a Titan.”
Puskar frequently represents landowners in major development projects, like Inova Alexandria Hospital’s massive redevelopment of Landmark Mall.
She added, “I love living in a vibrant progressive city where I’m surrounded every day and tonight by family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and ‘YIMBYs’ who share a vision for moving our city forward, championing economic development, supporting our public schools, celebrating our diversity, helping others, and bringing the fun back to Alexandria.”
Chadwicks owner Trae Lamond accepted the Overall Business of the Year award.
“Anyone that’s told you that a business starts from the top down is wrong,” Lamond said after receiving the award. “We’ve got dishwashers, busboys, servers — they’ve been there for 25 years. They’re the reason Chadwicks is standing here now.”
Puskar, a lawyer with Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley, & Walsh, is a familiar face in city government. Puskar frequently represents landowners in major development projects citywide.
“With an in-depth knowledge of the law, process, politics, and people required to achieve her clients’ goals, Cathy has successfully represented a number of clients in obtaining the necessary entitlements for a variety of projects including major residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments,” The Chamber ALX said in a release.
The Chamber ALX cited Puskar’s work in projects from Potomac Yard to Eisenhower East.
Some of her other notable development approvals include:
- New headquarters of the American Physical Therapy Association in Potomac Yard
- Mixed-use project at 2901 Eisenhower Avenue
- Alexandria Memory Care Center
- Expansion of Goodwin House
- The Thornton
- Hotel Monaco, the Morrison House and the Lorien
- The Clayborne
The Chamber ALX said Puskar also currently serves on the board of the Alexandria Police Foundation and the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce’s Government Relations Committee.
“She will be honored at the 2022 Best in Business Awards, presented by Burke & Herbert Bank, on October 27,” the release said.
The Chamber ALX wants to turn things up a notch and increase their influence in Alexandria. That’s according to new Chamber Board Chair Angela Hartley, who thanked members for their support at the annual Chair’s Gala on Tuesday night (April 19).
“We want to make sure that the Chamber really is representing all parts of this city, all types of businesses,” Hartley said. “And by the way, nonprofits are businesses, too. Then we represent all of the people that live in the city, all of the age groups, all the diversity that we have here.”
The event was held at The National Industries For The Blind (3000 Potomac Avenue), where Hartley is the executive vice president and chief program officer. The Chamber also conducts a number of events throughout the year, including the 40 Under 40, the Valor Awards for first responders, and networking mixers.
Hartley was named chair in January, has been on the Chamber board for six years, and her term as chair expires at the end of the year.
Like expert fingers knitting a long scarf, Danielle Romanetti is busy.
Romanetti’s yarn shop fibre space (1319 Prince Street) is prepped and ready for Plaid Friday, an alternative to Black Friday for shoppers who want to find local deals in Old Town. Back when she first opened in 2009, Romanetti was one of the first business owners in the city to recognize the holiday weekend as an opportunity to capitalize.
A dozen years later, more than 50 independent Alexandria businesses participate in Shop Small Week.
“When I first opened, I asked my neighbors about Black Friday,” Romanetti recalled. “I was told, ‘Oh, we don’t open that day. Everybody goes to the mall.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s the biggest shopping day of the year, and we own retail stores. So, I’m gonna be open at 6 a.m.'”
Romanetti made waves this year by welcoming Vice President Kamala Harris to her shop. It was Harris’ first visit outside the White House since taking office, and Romanetti later appeared with her on a “Women Making History” special on Lifetime. Romanetti also hosted political events, and was featured on GMA3, an offshoot of Good Morning America.
Last month, after a long year of ups and downs, Romanetti’s shop tied with The Jen Walker Team and was awarded the Small Business of the Year award by The Chamber ALX.
A lot has changed for the Pittsburgh native over the last couple years, and except on Plaid Friday, Romanetti is hardly ever seen behind the counter of her own shop anymore. She can usually be found working behind her computer at local coffee shops, or sequestered deep in her office above fibre space, the latter of which was where she was recently interviewed by ALXnow.
ALXnow: How has your day-to-day life changed since you first opened fibre space in 2009?
Romanetti: I have more staff, for sure. I think I opened with only two employees, and I was working full-time at the cash wrap. My desk was one part of the L of the cash register, so that when customers came in, I could turn away from my own marketing, reordering and bookkeeping, and then turn to help them. So, that’s certainly not happening anymore.
ALXnow: Are you easy to work with?
Romanetti: I try to stay away from the team downstairs and let them do their jobs. I don’t want to micromanage them. I’ve done their job, I don’t want to do it. I have a great manager and a phenomenal team, and they manage the front of house, and they tell me what they need and what we should be pushing and marketing. They tell me what the trends are or what’s blowing up on Instagram. They tell me what I need to do. So, that’s off my plate now, because they’re really driving the front of the house and I’m managing the back of the house.
ALXnow: How would you describe your leadership style?
Romanetti: I like to have people understand their roles, like have them be very clear and mapped out, so that I stay in my lane, and they stay in theirs. I want to be hands-off, and I dip my toes in when I need to, or when I feel like they need help, but I don’t want to be micromanaging what they’re doing.
ALXnow: What’s the secret to making it in business in Alexandria?
Romanetti: There are a lot of businesses that have opened here and are now gone that tried to operate in a silo. They’re not tapped into information and people and community, and that’s a shame because that’s like 99% of the benefit of being here. Let’s be candid: Alexandria’s foot traffic is not where it could be. It’s not the same as other communities inside the beltway, where rents are significantly higher as a result of it. We know that the gross sales per square foot of retail businesses in Old Town does not match that of Georgetown or Capitol Hill, so the only way to really get a huge benefit out of opening a business here is to be tapped into the community that’s here, because our community is tighter and better and more diverse and more amazing than all those other places. If you’re not taking advantage of that community, then I guess I don’t think it’s worth being here.
If you just want to operate in a silo and not ever interact with the business associations, businesses around you or city hall, it’s going to be a pretty lonely ride full of fear and probably not very profitable.
ALXnow: Your business can’t stand alone on the strength of your products?
Romanetti: Right. Truly, the biggest draw that you have bringing in customers to Alexandria is selling them on Alexandria. None of us, no small business alone, is capable of bringing somebody from D.C. down the George Washington Parkway to come to Alexandria, but it’s worth it to them coming here to visit my business if they know that I have really great neighbors that they can go visit as well. It’s worth that drive.
You have to be tapped in, you have to explain to your customers or the people that you’re trying to get here that it’s worth the drive. There are amazing restaurants here. There are amazing other retailers here, there are adorable tree-lined streets with actual red brick town homes that have been here for hundreds of years. It’s authentic. There is an authentic vibe here that you don’t have in these other places. And so you’ve got to sell them on the entire experience of Alexandria. That’s always been my philosophy.
ALXnow: Who were your mentors?
Romanetti: I had a lot of mentors. One of the first business owners I met with when I was starting my business was Nora Partlow, who owned St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub. Her philosophy was the same. In Del Ray, bar crawls involve all of the businesses. It’s a community event. I was sort of raised by the Del Ray business community, and I’d been teaching knitting classes at St. Elmo’s, and Del Ray was initially where I wanted the business to be. I ended up in Old Town, but I was sort of raised by the Del Ray business community, and by folks like Nora Partlow and Pat Miller. We learn from each other and that’s how we become better business owners.
ALXnow: Are you ever going to expand to more locations?
Romanetti: I own this building. This was the goal — to own my building. So, I achieved what I was going for. I want to obviously continue to be involved and engaged in the local business community as much as possible, but I don’t want to replicate this business. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yarn shops don’t tend to have more than one location because they start to look like a franchise or a chain, which goes against the entire concept of your local yarn store, which is your small, independently owned yarn shop.
ALXnow: You’re a critic of the city government, but have a good relationship with public officials. How do you make that work?
Romanetti: I’m a giant pain in the butt to our mayor and our City Council, obviously. They love me because I’m actually participating, but when I need parking enforcement to show up to our block, you’re also going to hear from me, because I need them to do that work. I’m also one of the first business owners that they think of when they are thinking of actively engaged business owners, because I am willing to do the work.
ALXnow: Any other tips to business owners?
Romanetti: Stay informed. Even just being involved or engaged in what Visit Alexandria has going on, and reading AEDP’s monthly newsletter — those things can help. But really, I spent a good chunk of my 12 years just walking from my business up somewhere for lunch and stopping and talking to other business owners and making sure that I was connected with them. That’s how you get ideas for creative events, creative collaborations, or just inspiration, because you’re never doing everything well.
Cortado Cafe opens in Alexandria’s West End — “A new coffee shop has opened in the Shoppes of Foxchase shopping center in Alexandria’s West End.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
Council amends, renames Transportation Master Plan — “City Council approved an amendment to the Alexandria Transportation Master Plan during Saturday’s public hearing that aimed to expand the city’s focus on alternative modes of transit while addressing concerns such as congestion, accessibility and equity.” [Alexandria Times]
Voting starts for Del Ray Halloween contest — “Voting is now open for the People’s Choice Award for Del Ray’s Best Decorated Halloween House” [Visit Del Ray]
The Chamber ALX hosts business awards — “Tonight was epic! Best in Business 2021 did not disappoint with 200+ attendees and 14 restaurants.” [The Chamber ALX]
School Board forum yields big turnout from District B constituents — “Alexandria City School Board candidates gathered in the second of two virtual forums last weekend to prepare for the Nov. 2 general election.” [Alexandria Times]
The Chamber ALX is hosting a wine and chocolate get-together for local businesswomen — “We’re excited to be back in person for our annual Evening of Perfect Pairings: Wine + Chocolate, Women + Business event! Join us in the beautiful back (heated) garden of Sonoma Cellar for a curated wine tasting/food pairing, networking and celebration of the year.” [The Chamber ALX]
City of Alexandria observes bullying prevention month — “In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month in October, the Mayor’s Campaign to End Bullying encourages Alexandrians to learn more about bullying, what to do about it and how to prevent it.” [City of Alexandria]
Caribbean-Spiced soul food coming to Springfield — “Caribbean-leaning soul food spot KitchenCray opened its first Virginia location over the weekend, taking over the former Walker’s Grille space at 6909 Metro Park Drive…” [Eater DC]