Alexandria, VA

Alexandria’s latest cupcake bakery will celebrate its successful opening with a party this weekend.

On Saturday, November 16 from 12-2:30 p.m., guests are invited to Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery (1506 Mount Vernon Avenue) for free mini cupcakes, face painting, and more.

The national chain opened its Del Ray location a month ago, focusing on cupcakes, ice cream, and rotating seasonal flavors.

“A few years ago I was figuring out what I wanted to do,” said franchise owner Breanna Perez.

“Then I realized love baking, I always have, and I love the Smallcakes menu. They allow you to design your own store and get creative with the menu, so this shop really feels my own,” Perez said.

Smallcakes stores ordinarily feature 18 cupcake flavors each day, but Perez scaled down and focused instead on baking high-quality, creative cupcakes.

In addition to several staple flavors, every day of the week the bakery features a different seasonal option. On Wednesday, for example, Perez bakes an Oatmeal Creme Pie cupcake, and on Thursday will bake a Vanilla Berry Cheesecake and Banana Snickerdoodle.

Smallcakes also features ten different flavors of scratch-made ice cream. There are classics such as vanilla and cookies and cream, along with twists on cupcake flavors with pieces of cake and icing swirled in.

Smallcakes founder Jeff Martin is expected to be present during Saturday’s grand opening celebration. Martin competed several times on the Food Network series “Cupcake Wars,” and has expanded Smallcakes to over 50 locations nationwide.

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Morning Notes

Del Ray More Influential Than Old Town? — “For many years, Old Town dominated city politics. Del Ray didn’t even become part of the city until 1930. Now it seems the influence of the ‘little neighborhood that could’ has become outsized. Del Ray has about 250 more active registered voters, and those precincts had a higher turnout last year.” [Gazette Packett]

Old Town Ranks High on Oprah Xmas List — “Old Town Alexandria in Northern Virginia was recently named one of the 19 most magical Christmas towns and villages within the world, by O, The Oprah Magazine. Old Town ranks No. 7 on the list, followed by Santa Claus, Indiana and Mont Tremblant, Quebec.” [WTOP, Alexandria Living]

Holiday Toy, Gift Card Drive — “The holiday season can be a tough time for families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. The City encourages the community to support these families by donating gift cards or unwrapped new toys.” [City of Alexandria, Twitter]

Local News Roundtable Discussion — ALXnow’s Vernon Miles was among the local journalists to appear on T.C. Williams High School’s daily news show, Behind the Headlines. Topics discussed included “scooters in Alexandria, Amazon coming to Arlington and the controversy of T.C. Williams football field lights.” [YouTube]

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This Veterans Day, the Friends of Rocky Versace are holding their annual memorial for the MIA local Medal of Honor winner Rocky Versace and other Alexandria Veterans.

Versace’s unit was ambushed, but he was able to provide covering fire to allow other to escape. When he was held prisoner, Versace resisted interrogation efforts. The North Vietnamese Liberation Radio announced Versace’s execution on Sept. 26, 1965. His remains were never recovered.

The ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11, at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center (2701 Commonwealth Avenue).

This year, retired Major General James Jackson is scheduled to be in attendance as part of a memorial celebrating the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.

“He’s going to speak and going to make a presentation to veterans in the audience who have not already received the Department of Defense Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin,” Kevin Rue, a member of the Friends of Rocky Versace, said. “The qualifying period is service in US armed forces from Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975.”

The veteran doesn’t have to have served in Southeast Asia, so long as they were in the military during that timeframe. No paperwork is required, Rue said Jackson will take people at their word on their service.

Rue said a few veterans he spoke with recently at an event said they didn’t know about the lapel pin, and hoped that more who qualified to receive them would show up at the ceremony.

Rue said Jackson will also be available to give out certificates of honor to Gold Star families.

The event is also scheduled to feature a performance from the Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corp — complete with Revolutionary War period uniforms — and the Alexandria Harmonizers.

The Friends of Rocky Versace gather at least twice a year, on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, to commemorate Versace and other Alexandrians who died in various American wars.

“It’s important to have heroes,” Rue said. “This country has to have heroes; those who live up to challenges, who will defend the country when the country requires defense.”

Photo via Friends of Rocky Versace/Facebook

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Alexandria is taking another look at the future of Arlandria and Del Ray and how those communities can weather the planned urbanization of the “National Landing” area.

This fall, the city is launching its community engagement for plans to update the 2005 Mount Vernon Avenue Business Plan and the 2003 Long-Term Vision and Action Plan for the Arlandria Neighborhood. The city cites the nearby arrival of Amazon, the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, and the North Potomac Yard Metro station as looming developments that could start to change the character of the residential and commercial communities to the west.

Neighbors and organizations in and around the area are invited to offer feedback to help identify the most important community issues and start to build a framework for the new plans — which will start taking shape next year.

At a joint meeting of Arlington and Alexandria, city officials recognized that there was frequent difficulty in getting responses from communities most prone to the effects of gentrification, so several of the outreach events are focused on going out into the community and interviewing residents rather than relying on those residents and business leaders to come to meetings.

The first event will be this Saturday, Nov. 9, from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Simpson Field (500 E. Monroe Avenue). City staff will be out at the field talking with local residents and will move up and down Mount Vernon Avenue to speak with people in stores and markets, according to the city’s website.

Additional outreach events are planned throughout November and December.

A community conversation for Arlandria is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21, from 6-8 p.m. at Cora Kelly Elementary School (3600 Commonwealth Avenue). The meeting will be held in Spanish with English translation available.

A similar meeting for Del Ray is scheduled for Dec. 12 from 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. at Mount Vernon Community School (2601 Commonwealth Avenue), this one in English with Spanish translation available.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

APD Officer Saves Man’s Life — “Last month, Alexandria Police Department Lieutenant Mike Kochis responded to a call in the Carlyle area and found an unconscious middle-aged man lying on the sidewalk… The man’s symptoms lined up with an opioid overdose, so Kochis turned the man on his side and sprayed a dose of Narcan into his nose.” [City of Alexandria]

Local Bride Meets Girl Whose Life She Saved — “Sarah Aiken from Alexandria was practicing walking down the pretend aisle in the back of the restaurant in Annapolis before her wedding rehearsal dinner. ‘I looked to the left and saw this family, her blond hair and I knew exactly who they were.’ Fourteen-year-old Kinley Strohl had flown in with her family from Ohio to attend the wedding of the woman who had given her a bone marrow donation seven years ago and saved her life.” [Gazette Packet]

Alexandria Officers Unite Cultures at T.C. — “They’re more than just cops. Find out how @AlexandriaVAPD Officers Gary Argueta & Johnny Larios turned a fractious group of @IntlAcademyTCW students into an unstoppable soccer team called Athletico.” [Alexandria City Public Schools, Twitter]

Free Food for Returning Nats Stars — “The owners of Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray liked the feeling of winning the World Series so much that they recently announced a special offer. Pork Barrel is offering free food to Washington Nationals stars Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman if they choose to sign new contracts in the nation’s capital.” [Zebra]

Construction Ongoing at Trampoline Park — “Construction is progressing on Get Air Trampoline Park, an indoor recreation and amusement park in the West End of Alexandria at 340 S. Pickett St. Management at Get Air confirmed they do not have an opening date set and they are awaiting approval of permits.” [Alexandria Living]

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A bike rodeo tomorrow (Saturday) will help celebrate the launch of the Mount Jefferson Traffic Garden, a small park designed to help teach children about traffic rules in a safe environment.

Plans for the grand opening include a cycling event for children hosted by the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, to include lessons about key bicycle skills like turning and hand signals.

The event is being held from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Mount Jefferson Park, located between the 300 blocks of Hume and Raymond avenues in Del Ray.

Local bicycle shops have also signed up to offer bicycle and helmet safety checks.

Adults are welcome, but the event is aimed at children ages 4-11.

Photo via City of Alexandria/Twitter

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Perk your ears up: Ease Yoga and Cafe is partnering with Tripple Springs Farm to bring Bunny Meditation to Del Ray on Sunday (Nov. 3).

From 12:30-1:15 p.m. at 3051 Mount Vernon Avenue, a “fluffle” of lionhead rabbits from Tripple Springs Farm in Maryland is scheduled to make an appearance and play around during a guided meditation.

The yoga session is scheduled to be followed with bunny snuggling and bunny selfies.

Space for the event is limited and $30 tickets can be bought in advance.

Attendees should bring their own yoga mat. Children over ten are welcome if accompanied by an adult.

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(Updated at 13:25 p.m.) The home at 209 S. Lee Street isn’t just another brick building in Old Town, it’s a building with a rich history dating back to ownership by Augistine Washington Jr., half-brother of George Washington, and a design that shows an evolution of Victorian styles.

It’s the example of the kind of local history real estate agents at McEnearney Associates, a real estate company that celebrated its 39th anniversary this year (and a sponsor of ALXnow), need to be intimately familiar with to work in Alexandria.

“Our agents are often historians, people who really understand the tempo and the culture of Old Town,” said Jeanne Choi, vice president of marketing and communications for McEnearney Associates. “They live and work in the community. We have people who live blocks from the office.”

In the same breath as describing the number of bathrooms and bedrooms, Choi describes how one home in McEnearney’s lineup has ties to the Female Stranger mystery and another housed Marquis de Lafayette.

Choi said Alexandria’s strong sense of community is one of its strongest selling points for the real estate company, from the Old Town farmers market to the local restaurants and retail in Del Ray.

“In Del Ray, community is the word,” Choi said. “[Jennifer Walker] could walk down the street and run into five or six people. That’s hard to find, that sense of community and that synergy that you find… She’ll do whatever it takes to support the people that live and work in the community.”

While McEnearney has 10 offices around the D.C. region, it is headquartered at 109 S. Pitt Street in Old Town.

Photo via McEnearney Associates/Facebook

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Old Town’s cobwebs are strung and Del Ray’s carved pumpkins are out, which means it’s Halloween time for Alexandria.

The city is playing host to an ample amount of spooky events this year, including family-friendly parades to a tour of mystery and murder.

The spooky Alexandria events include:

  • Rituals of the Occult on Saturday, October 19 from 7:30-8:30 p.m. offers exploration into “Ancient Druids and Wiccans to Modern Wedding Ceremonies” in the the Ivy Hill Cemetery Burial Vault (2823 King Street) from 7:30-8:30 p.m. exploring ” Ticket sell for $20 and can be ordered online via PayPal.
  • The Haunting of Hill House starting Wednesday, October 23 is a play to be performed at The Little Theater of Alexandria (600 Wolfe Street) based on the 1959 gothic novel by Shirley Jackson about three strangers invited into a haunted house (which also recently became a Netflix series). As of Friday the theater is selling tickets to multiple performances, including Wednesday, October 23, Thursday, October 24, and Friday, October 25. Tickets start at $21. 
  • HOWL-oween Canine Cruise, next Friday, October 25 from 6:30-8 p.m. boards at the Alexandria City Marina (105 North Union Street.) On this canine costume cruise, dogs ride for free, and humans can buy tickets online for $15.75 a piece.
  • Old Town Trick or Treat on Saturday, October 26 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. will welcome children to trick and treat at the shops and restaurants throughout Old Town. Those in need of costumes who can’t afford any can pick up free outfits from the city’s costume drive between 2-4 p.m that Saturday at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center (2701 Commonwealth Avenue.)
  • Halloween Pumpkin Hunt on Saturday, October 26 happens at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. and invites families to gather at the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden (614 Oronoco Street) to go on a scavenger hunt for treat-filled Halloween crafts, as well as make their own, visit a sticker station, listen to spooky stories, and participate in a costume parade. Tickets can be bought online and range from $5 for adults; $15 for children ages 1-18; and free for infants.
  • Halloween Rock Show at Port City on Saturday, October 26 from 6-10 p.m. at the Port City Brewing Company (3950 Wheeler Avenue) will host three local rock bands (Triadem, Surfin’ Satan and the Beach Demons, Rabid Flash MoB) for a free concert. Attendees are encouraged to wear a costume, and enter to win the best Halloween outfit.
  • Del Ray Halloween Parade on Sunday, October 27 from 2-4 p.m. will also throw a free parade, beginning on Mt. Vernon Avenue and continuing down to the fields at Mt. Vernon Recreation Center. Awards will be given the best costumes with best pet costume, best decorated home, and best decorated stroller, among other categories.
  • Halloween in Old Town on Sunday, October 27 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. will lead participants on a décor detour around Old Town before embarking on a “Ghost and Graveyard Tour” led in lantern light by an 18th century clad guide who will tell the city’s best ghost stories. The event is free but attendees are asked to RSVP on social media.
  • Special Halloween Ghost Tours on October 29, 30, and 31 go from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Alexandria Visitor’s Center (221 King Street.) Tickets can be ordered online and cost $15 for adults and $8 for children. Adults over the age of 65 or who have student or Military ID can buy discount tickets for $15.
  • Trick-or-Treating at Carlyle House on October 31 from 4-6 p.m. at the Carlyle House (121 N. Fairfax Street) offers one last chance to enjoy the holiday and welcomes children to trick or treat in the historic house.
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Del Ray Pizzeria (2218 Mount Vernon Avenue) is celebrating its nine-year anniversary with a pizza party this weekend.

The restaurant, which has previously hosted the Obamas and courted controversy with its “Grab Her By the Pizza” pie a couple years ago, is celebrating this Sunday (Oct. 20) from 2-8 p.m. in the lot behind the restaurant.

According to an employee at the store, the party will have face painting, pumpkin painting, cornhole and other games. They also plan on having a moon bounce that the employee assured ALXnow will fit adults.

The employee noted that in addition to soft drinks, the party will have craft beers available.

“We’ll have our cheese and pepperoni pizza, but also a few specialty favorites,” the employee said.

These specialties include Butcher’s Block — a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, bacon, ham and prosciutto — and Tropic Thunder — sausage, pepperoni, jalapenos, and pineapple.

Photo via Del Ray Pizza

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Alexandria fire engine (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

First responders can eat for free at an upcoming event in Del Ray.

Southern cuisine destination Live Oak (1603 Commonwealth Ave) is hosting a free breakfast and coffee for firefighters, police officers, and EMTs on Monday, October 21 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The meal includes free pancakes, bacon, sausage, and coffee, per a restaurant spokeswoman.

“Jeremy and I host the First Responders Brunch every year at Live Oak because we want to show our gratitude to all the folks that put their lives on the line daily for us,” said Justus Frank, Executive Chef and co-owner of Live Oak.

“They work in relatively thankless jobs, and even a small gesture such as free eggs and coffee can help them to feel appreciated,” said Frank.

Officials expected to attend the event include Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley and Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter.

The restaurant is asking that people interested in attending register online.

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(Updated on 10/16/19) Some Alexandria Library patrons are browsing more than just books: these days they’re also checking out discussions about death.

Hannah Risley, the librarian at Duncan Library, is in charge of adult programs from dance workshops to movie nights to book clubs. But last year, she wanted to try something different.

“Essentially what a Death Cafe is you come and you discuss death,” said Risley. She told ALXnow she got the idea from the D.C. Public Library, which also runs a version of nationwide discussion group, as does Arlington Public Library.

Attendees to the library program sit and discuss anything related to death while Risley provides “light moderation.” Over the past year, she said groups of nurses and EMTs have talked about end of life care, while others have come in to chat about estate planning and the afterlife.

The next meeting will take place on Saturday, November 23 from 3-4 p.m. People interested in attending the free event are encouraged to register online.

With an average of 25 people joining each month, Risley says attendance is “bonkers” and that the Death Cafe has become her most popular program. Most people are “curiosity” walk-ins, drawn by the name and the Dia de los Muertos skull on the library flyer. Others have been referred there by a local therapist handing out flyers.

Risley emphasized the Del Ray library program is not a therapy group, but said talking about all things death can help “release nervous energy” about the taboo topics.

It’s also inspired another Death Cafe program at the Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library.

Beatley librarian Andrea Castillo hosted her first death discussion in January after attending one of Risley’s and one in D.C.

“I was very curious about attending that first one, but I was also afraid to tell people about it because I thought people would think I was strange or morbid or obsessed with death,” she told ALXnow.

Since then, she’s organized half a dozen of the group discussions where she says attendance has been “widely variable” with as many as 15 adults, and as few as four. Her most recent meeting in August attracted 10 death-discussers. Over the past year members have talked about confronting the reality of losing loved ones, green burials, and what end-of-life doulas can do to help.

Back at Duncan, the library provides Risley the event space for free, and guest speakers volunteer their time so the program’s cost is low. Risley uses the kettle from her wedding shower to make tea and pays $30 a month out of her own pocket to bake cakes for the attendees.

“Nothing speaks to a gathering of the living more than the sharing of food and drink,” she quipped.

At Beatley, Castillo says she spends about $10-$15 per session with the funds covered by the Friends of the Beatley Central Library, and occasionally her colleague librarians, Stacy Arth has volunteered to bake cake.

The discussions at Duncan prompted Risley to start compiling the information into a hand-out for patrons. The document contains resources from how to talk about end of life plans to defining do-not-resuscitate orders, to free and low-cost services to make wills. In the future she hopes to expand and post the document online.

“Next year I will try something new and try a death-themed book club,” added Castillo. “Before my August death cafe I read Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal‘ and several of the attendees had also read and enjoyed the book.”

Castillo’s next Death Cafe sessions are from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 23 from 7-8 p.m. and December 18.

Both librarians told ALXnow that holding the group has also helped them personally.

Castillo completed a graduate certificate in applied thanology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore this year, and said between her studies and the group she’s found it’s not so weird to be interested in death after all.

“Trying to imagine the dying process and life going on without me is still hard for me to wrap my head around. However, as I’ve gotten more open to talking about it, I find that others are in the same boat,” she said. “I want to help make death less taboo to talk about. It’s going to happen to all of us one day. Let’s talk about that! Let’s explore it! Let’s face our anxieties and fears together!

Risley’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with advanced cancer last year before later going into a full remission.

“I feel like I was probably the most prepared daughter on the face of the planet to tackle that,” said Risley, adding that “the goal as laid out by Death Cafe is the more you ask about it, the less you worry about it.”

Image courtesy of Andrea Castillo 

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