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On New Year’s morning, Luke Shlagel of Shlagel Farms was among a handful of vendors at the weekly Del Ray Farmer’s Market. Some customers asked why he wasn’t hanging out with his family and taking the day off, and he had a simple answer.

“If I hadn’t come on New Year’s Day, that would have been 20 days since the last market,” Shlagel said. “Christmas was on a Saturday, New Year’s Day was on a Saturday, and if I waited for the following Saturday, the eighth, that’s too long for the community to be without us.”

The Waldorf, Maryland, farm raises approximately 150 acres of fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy products and flowers through a variety of avenues. Their bread and butter has been a 29-year-long contract supplying vegetables to Giant Food with vegetables, followed by directly selling their products to consumers at half a dozen farmers markets in Maryland and Virginia.

Del Ray is their biggest market, and customers can pick up pre-ordered boxes or shop in-person every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Getting to this point, though, took a lot of work. Farmers markets were not deemed essential in Virginia at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Within weeks, though, Shlagel Farms was back in Del Ray with a new e-commerce site, and selling pre-ordered and boxed products for pickup.

“Maryland deemed farmers’ markets as essential, but not Virginia, and that hit us like a ton of bricks,” said Russell Shlagel, the company patriarch. “But now, thanks to our online sales, we have surpassed 2019 numbers. We were able to pivot, and we get emotional about it, how people said they needed us to supply them with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat.”

More than half (54%) of Virginia farmers market vendors started or expanded an online platform after the onset of the pandemic, according to the Virginia Farmers Market Association.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had far reaching effects on farmers market managers, vendors and customers during the 2020 market season,” the association reported. “Amidst supply chain shortages and panic buying, farmers markets were deemed non-essential infrastructure by the state during the pandemic.”

Sales are good, but there’s a catch, Russell Shlagel said.

“Within the last year, fuel costs have gone up drastically,” he said. “Crop protected costs, fertilizer, and labor have gone up drastically.”

Luke Shlagel said he compiled a customer email list before March 2020 in Del Ray, and that the company was ready. After all, his mother, sisters and wife are all ER nurses, and they warned the family of what was coming. For many Saturdays after Covid hit, the vendor was alone at the Del Ray market.

“We has a notebook and we asked customers to jot down their emails for us,” Luke said. “Then it was unbelievable. All of a sudden we have more than 300 orders coming in, and all of a sudden I’m in the position of shopping for your family, making sure that the product that I’m putting in these boxes is the very best. Really, it was the support of the people of our people in Alexandria that made the whole thing successful and made it come together and work well.”

Via Shlagel Farms/Facebook

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2525 Mount Vernon Avenue, photo via Google Maps

Redevelopment plans are finally moving forward for an office building in Del Ray, the Washington Business Journal first reported.

Bonaventure Realty purchased 2525 Mount Vernon Avenue, which currently houses the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS). DCHS will be moving to the West End in 2023.

“On Friday, the developer submitted a development concept plan for a new project at 2525 Mount Vernon Ave., bound by E. Mount Ida Avenue and Stewart Avenue, calling for a redevelopment of the older office building there for mixed-use,” the Washington Business Journal reported yesterday. “Plans show the roughly 1-acre building and parking lot would be redeveloped with a four-floor, 88,500-square-foot building with ground-floor retail and 78 apartments above.”

Bonaventure Realty leaders previously said they were waiting for the city’s plans for the area to move forward before redeveloping at 2525 Mount Vernon Avenue and other nearby properties.

Photo via Google Maps

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Xfinity outage map, photo via Comcast

(Updated 3:40 p.m.) Internet service is down for many Alexandrians as Comcast works to get its network up and running again after yesterday’s snowstorm.

According to the Xfinity outage map, there are several thousand Alexandria affected by the ongoing internet outage, most of them in Del Ray and Arlandria.

Yesterday, Alexandria emergency services were hit with downed power lines city-wide, closing streets and causing localized power outages. Kristie Fox, vice president of communications for the Comcast Beltway Region, said that the internet service is dealing with a combination of local power outages and damage to a fiber cable in the area.

“Separately from the overall winter storm power outages, there was a power line that fell on our fiber today as a result of the storm and that caused a fire that is also impacting our service,” Fox said. “We’re having multiple crews on-site working to restore service.”

Del Ray resident Mark Stephenson said that last night around 8:30 p.m. one of the power lines between Rosemont and Del Ray was damaged. Stephenson noted that work crews from Dominion Energy responded quickly and have been working on repairs.

“Around 8:30 p.m. there was a huge boom and flash of light which we thought at first was a tree falling, but then I could see some flames on a line,” Stephenson said. “It seemed a heavy branch had fallen on the line. We called the fire department who came out almost immediately to rope off the street, along with APD. Then around 9:30 it happened again, and that’s when the internet went down.”

As of this afternoon, Stephenson said he was watching as a team from Xfinity was working to repair around 400 feet of cable.

In addition to the fiber damage, Fox said there can be some confusion about how power outages impact internet service.

“Once power is restored to home, internet can be restored, but power needs to come on first,” Fox said, “and even though power might be restored to an individual home, it might not be restored to a Comcast distribution point that serves a neighborhood. There could be instances where one person on a street and a neighbor down the block doesn’t because of a distribution point.”

Some locals on Twitter said they’ve seen 4 p.m. as an estimated restoration time, but Fox was hesitant to put an exact estimated time for repairs because it could vary from household to household.

“Some of it will be dependent on whether it was customers affected by fire in one area or the broader storm,” Fox said.

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Walking in snow-covered streets, shoveling out submerged cars and all the other telltale signs of a snowstorm were seen in Alexandria on Monday (Jan. 3).

Nearly one foot of snow fell on Alexandria from the morning throughout the afternoon, prompting the closure of the city government and virtual learning for Alexandria City Public Schools. Many eateries throughout the city are still open, including in Del Ray and Old Town.

The National Weather Service’s Winter Storm Warning remains in effect until 4 p.m., and Tuesday is expected to be sunny with a high of 37 degrees.

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A number of New Year’s Eve parties are being voluntarily canceled in Alexandria, and some businesses scaling back their services. All of this, of course, is in response to a dramatic jump in COVID-19 infections over the last month.

According to the Del Ray Business Association, the following businesses have stopped in-person service:

In Old Town, the rising tide of new cases led to the cancelation of First Night Alexandria, the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration.

These businesses have canceled their New Year’s Eve parties:

These New Year’s Eve celebrations are still on:

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Earlier this week, City Council member Redella “Del” Pepper finished up a historic run in city leadership that includes an unparalleled treasure trove of stories about the behind-the-scenes battles that made the city what it is today.

Pepper joined the City Council in 1985 and has remained in office for 12 terms before announcing last November that she wouldn’t run for reelection.

“During these 36 years I have worked with five different city managers and six mayors,” Pepper said. “Each one has had their own merits. I’ve gotten to know quite a few people here.”

Pepper is a native Nebraskan and has an amiable, folksy charm that belies a shrewd political operator with decades of stories about the making of modern Alexandria.

One of those Pepper is most proud of is the story behind the closure of GenOn Power Plant in North Old Town. Today, it’s a location with demolition and redevelopment on the horizon, but for much of Pepper’s tenure, it was the site of an ongoing fight to close the largest polluter inside the beltway.

“We had tried everything, policies and regulations and laws. Nothing would work. We tried a lot of talking and negotiating and VDEQ and we couldn’t get anywhere,” Pepper said. “I co-chaired that and it was really a chore, going down to Richmond and nobody would listen. In the end, it was all a matter of money.”

Pepper said GenOn — then Mirant — wanted a permit to change the layout of the plant but couldn’t get it because the city kept objecting at every turn. Pepper said the city would grant the permit if Mirant would change certain things on the site causing environmental damage, but eventually, implementation of those changes became such a financial burden that it wasn’t worth the cost. The plant eventually closed in 2012.

“In the end, they realized that their business was not all that red hot and it wasn’t worth it to them to lose the money they put in escrow,” Pepper said. “That one was terribly important.”

Not far from the plant, Pepper recalled the more public battle where the city, led by then-Mayor Patsy Ticer, and City Manager Vola Lawson, warred with Washington Redskins owner Jack Cooke and Governor Douglas Wilder to keep a new stadium out of Potomac Yard. Pepper said the city was caught completely off-guard when Cooke announced that he and Wilder had made an agreement to build the new stadium in Alexandria.

“It was a shock, really, to those on the Council,” Pepper said. “We were stunned. They were saying ‘in a handful of months they were going to have this stadium’ and that was not the use that we had in mind. What’s coming was what we had in mind, what we’re building right now, and every day we’re building something that moves Alexandria forward.”

Pepper said the City Council, led by Ticer and Lawson, fought relentlessly and eventually kept the stadium from being built. Pepper said the city’s goal was to have a Metro station built there, despite criticism at the time that it was an unsustainable vision.

“We were told there aren’t businesses or people living around there to support it,” Pepper said. “I used to say back to them ‘if you build it, they will come’ and that’s what’s happening.”

There were also fights within city leadership, though. While Pepper describes herself as “barely computer literate” today, in the early 1990s Pepper was an advocate for modernizing the city’s computer systems and digitizing city services.

“One of the things I did in my installation speech was I said ‘we can’t go on with this computer system we have now,'” Pepper said. “It was one big, huge room-sized computer that we used to send out bills and send out checks for staff. This was 1994. What I said in that speech was: where appropriate, everyone who should have a computer has a computer, and here are the things I want to use them for.”

Pepper said she had a list of around seven to ten items she wanted the city to be able to do on computers, like access information on city dockets or for businesses to be able to download information about permitting. But Pepper said she butted heads with a high-ranking administrator who told her to back down.

“I was told it was going to cost millions, but I said ‘I can’t change my position on this; this is what businesses expect from the city,'” Pepper said.

Pepper put together a task force over the summer to strategize about how to push for modern computer systems. Pepper said the administrator slipped a spy into the group, but Pepper was able to win the spy over to their cause, and the group went into the next City Council retreat with a successful push to have a commission set up to address modernizing the city’s digital services. Pepper said that was one of the longest and most energy-intensive fights in her tenure. Read More

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An overloaded electrical outlet is likely the cause behind last month’s three-alarm fire in a Del Ray duplex, the Alexandria Fire Department announced Wednesday.

Two adults and a child were displaced by the blaze, which occurred at around 6 p.m. on Friday, November 19. A cat is still missing, according to APD.

“AFD’s Fire Marshal’s Office conducted an origin and cause investigation and determined that the fire was accidental and originated on the first floor of one of the two units in the residential structure,” AFD said in a release. “Due to extensive fire damage, an exact source of ignition was difficult to determine; however, the probable cause of the fire is attributed to an overloaded electrical outlet where several appliances were connected.”

The duplex has been condemned, and damages are estimated at $1.4 million.

The Del Ray Citizens Association launched a GoFundMe for the residents and raised nearly $40,000.

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The Sushi Bar at 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue is closing for good tonight (Dec. 7), and will soon reopen as a Christmas-themed pop-up bar, owner Bill Blackburn informed ALXnow.

“Joy On The Avenue – A Christmas Pop-up Bar” will open in its place sometime next week, Blackburn said.

The Sushi Bar opened in 2013 — next door to sister restaurants Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow Del Ray, which are all owned by the Homegrown Restaurant Group.

“It’s long been our intention to close it by the end of the year and to change it into something new,” Blackburn said. “We decided to accelerate that plan. Tonight will be the last night of The Sushi Bar. “

The bar will have light appetizers, and will serve holiday wine, beer and cocktails.

“We’re going to do that until the 31st instead, and then close it and remodel to a new concept,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn anticipates unveiling a new concept soon and then reopening at the end of February 2022.

Via The Sushi Bar/Facebook

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Hundreds of people turned out for the lighting of the menorah and Christmas tree at Pat Miller Square in Del Ray on Sunday night, December 5.

The evening was full of families and friends caroling with hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Retiring Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne made the countdown to light the 30-foot-tall tree.

“Thank you for 43 years of supporting me,” Lawhorne said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Last year’s public tree lighting was canceled by the pandemic, and the event was a little smaller than in years past. Santa Claus, for instance, made a drive-by appearance, but was unable to stop for photos due to his busy schedule.

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After seven years in Del Ray, Ascend Cycle (2417 Mount Vernon Avenue) is permanently closing by the end of the month.

Owner Kat Zajac made the announcement this week on social media, and said that the effects of the pandemic proved too much for her business.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I write this announcement,” Zajac wrote. “The impact of the pandemic has continued to be very real across this year. While this decision may come as a shock to some of you, it has been something that I have been working to avoid for quite some time.”

Zajac thanked customers and staff, and said that the closure was not due to a lack of effort.

“From creating an outdoor studio, to online programs, to moving our location to save on rent, to being as frugal as possible, we made every effort imaginable to stay alive,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, our efforts have proven to not be enough – the time has come to let go. This decision comes with a whole host of emotions. Despite it all, I feel grateful to have been surrounded by an amazing community of people. So with that, I want to say thank you.”

Via Facebook

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