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Alexandria land use attorney Cathy Puskar claps at the Chamber ALX Best In Business awards, October 27, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

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. 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

Medium Business of the Year

Large Business of the Year

Rising Star Business of the Year

Nonprofit & Association of the Year

Playing at the sprayground at Potomac Yard Park (Staff photo by James Cullum)

With heat index temperatures expected to reach upward of 107 degrees today, Alexandria is offering cooling centers at recreation centers and libraries.

The National Weather Service issued a a hazardous heat forecast today, in effect from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Temperatures are also expected to be more than 100 degrees through Saturday.

“Prolonged exposure to hot temperatures and high humidity can cause heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, cramps or, in extreme cases, heat stroke,” the city said in a release. “It is especially important for individuals with underlying health issues to take extra precautions and plan ahead for this and future excessive heat events.”

Cooling centers are scheduled at these locations:

  • Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe St.) — 9 9 p.m. during the week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday
  • Leonard “Chick” Armstrong Recreation Center (25 W. Reed Ave.) — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, closed on Sunday
  • Lee Center (1108 Jefferson St.) — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m during the week, closed on weekends
  • Mount Vernon Recreation Center (2701 Commonwealth Ave.) — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed on Sunday
  • Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center (1108 Jefferson St.) — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week, closed on weekends
  • Patrick Henry Recreation Center (4653 Taney Ave.) — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday
  • William Ramsay Recreation Center (5650 Sanger Ave.) — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, closed on Sunday


Alexandria is also advising residents to visit city pools on its heat safety webpage.

Additionally, the Potomac Yard Interactive Fountain at Potomac Yard Park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. until Labor Day.

The city issued the following tips to beat the heat:

  • Stay indoors and limit exposure to the sun.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drink more water than usual, and don’t wait to be thirsty to drink.
  • Wear loose, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
  • Do not leave infants, children, people with medical conditions, or pets in a parked car even if the windows are cracked or even for short periods of time.
  • Monitor people around you, including co-workers, neighbors, and friends, for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Learn what you can do if you are concerned about someone who is homeless.
Smokey conditions in Alexandria on 6/29 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandrians are being urged to stay indoors due to hazardous air qualityagain.

A Code Red Air Quality Health Advisory has been issued for the region today, warning of detrimental health impacts due to poor air quality, with outdoor pools and other activities impacted.

As per the issued advisory, the air quality today could pose a serious health risk, particularly to those with breathing and heart ailments, children, and older adults. Residents are encouraged to avoid strenuous outdoor activities, shorten their duration if necessary, or shift them indoors.

The Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA) has announced that all outdoor pools will be closed for the day. All summer camp activities have been moved indoors today.

In a release, the City of Alexandria urged locals to:

  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activities
  • Keep outdoor activities short
  • Consider moving physical activities indoors or rescheduling them

The release said tomorrow’s (Friday) air quality is projected to be Code Orange — meaning it may be unhealthy for sensitive groups.

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The region has hit air quality level Code Maroon and Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) has announced some new precautions for today to minimize exposure to hazardous conditions.

In a release, ACPS said that schools will continue normal operations, but all physical education classes and recess will be held inside. All outdoor field trips have also been rescheduled.

“This step is taken in accordance with the guidance from the National Weather Service to minimize exposure to potentially harmful air conditions,” ACPS said in the alert. “We urge all families and staff members to be cautious and follow the recommended guidelines for limited outdoor exposure on this code Maroon air quality day.”

According to ACPS:

We want to inform you that today we are under a code Maroon for air quality, as advised by the National Weather Advisory for northern Virginia. The well-being of our students and staff is our utmost priority, and we are taking necessary precautions to ensure their safety.

While all schools will continue normal operations at this time, as a precaution and in accordance with ACPS policy, all physical education classes and recess will be held indoors.

In light of the air quality alert, we have decided to reschedule all future outdoor field trips. This step is taken in accordance with the guidance from the National Weather Service to minimize exposure to potentially harmful air conditions.

We urge all families and staff members to be cautious and follow the recommended guidelines for limited outdoor exposure on this code Maroon air quality day.

Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.


Marcia Jackson, Ed.D.
Chief of Student Services and Equity

The City of Alexandria also reiterated an earlier warning for locals to keep outdoor activities brief and avoid strenuous activities.

The Alexandria Library also announced that outdoor events may be canceled or rescheduled due to the smokey conditions.

Thick smoke over Alexandria (staff photo by James Cullum)

If you haven’t noticed, it’s pretty hazy outside.

Smoke from wildfires in Canada has been working down the East Coast, spurring many localities to issue air quality alerts.

The City of Alexandria said the city’s air quality is currently at red or purple due to unhealthy air pollutants.

For those looking to help filter out the air in their homes, word on the street is there were air purifiers in stock at the Potomac Yard Target as of a couple hours ago.

(Left to right) Tony Washington, AFD’s deputy chief of health, safety and risk management, Dr. Asra Amin, AFD’s director of occupational health and wellness, firefighter Leslie Palucho, AFD Captain Warner Sherman and paramedic Jeff Woolsey outside Station 202 in Del Ray (staff photo by James Cullum)

Warner Sherman looked great, but his cholesterol was sky high.

Last year, the 62-year-old Alexandria Fire Department captain realized that he needed to take red meat out of his diet. The discovery might’ve just save his life, and was made after Sherman got blood work back from AFD’s health and wellness Station 202 at 212 E. Windsor Avenue in Del Ray. Since transitioning to chicken and turkey, Sherman’s lost 10 pounds and his cholesterol has been cut in half.

“A couple of months ago I had my bloodwork done, and they found my cholesterol was very high,” Sherman said. “Before my lab results, I was just eating steak and hamburgers. I love pork chops, but I had to cut them all out completely.”

For many AFD personnel, their only visit to the doctor is for mandatory work evaluations and physicals twice a year. Those visits allow AFD to track the healthy progress of 300 or so members, and additional offerings are now being included in the health screenings, like ultrasounds to detect cancer, blood testing and inoculations.

AFD started focusing on health and wellness in 2019, with the goal of curbing hypertension rates and improving the physical and mental health of these city employees who perform stressful jobs. But the pandemic in 2020 put the program on hold, as Station 202 became the epicenter for AFD’s covid tests and inoculations. Now with covid in the rearview mirror, the Department is picking up where it left off with its health and wellness program.

The most recently available data shows that there were 35 AFD personnel identified with stage 1 hypertension in 2020, and only 11 the following year, according to an AFD 2020-2021 annual report. The department also saw 13 employees with elevated hemoglobin in 2020, reduced to seven employees in 2021.

“The pandemic made us understand that we can do just about anything,” said Dr. Asra Amin, AFD’s director of occupational health and wellness. “It gave us time to reset, and now we’re back in full swing on how to focus on our members’ mental and physical fitness.”

Awareness is key to improving health outcomes, Amin said. The increased screenings ended up detecting a number of AFD employees with cancerous or precancerous tumors.

Amin said that AFD employees are working with her to develop workout, nutrition and health counseling plans.

“We’re also focusing on mental health,” she said. “We make referrals out to therapists and psychiatrists to help our members.”

Tony Washington, deputy chief of health, safety and risk management, said that every fire station is outfitted with gym and cardio equipment, and that AFD is now looking for personal trainers to work with employees at their respective stations and recruit school.

“You gotta remember back in the day, it was just a bunch of men, mainly men sitting around doing a manly job, and alcohol and smoking was accepted back then,” Washington said. “So there’s been incremental changes in the right direction. Now with the addition of our health and wellness specialists that we have, and the programs that we’re putting in place, we want to make sure that we keep the healthy firefighters healthy that come in, and that we increase the health of those that have been here.”


Alexandria teens at the city’s Sheltercare facility are hosting a car wash today where they’ll discuss the fentanyl issues that have devastated Alexandria.

The community car wash is scheduled to run from 3-5 p.m. today (Tuesday) at Sheltercare (200 S. Whiting Street), a program administered by the Juvenile Detention Commission of Northern Virginia to “provide services and stabilization for youth.”

The city has seen a spike in opioid overdoses in recent years. An Alexandria City High School (ACHS) student was hospitalized after a possible overdose in February and a Wakefield High School student died earlier this year. Another ACHS student died last week and while the cause remains under investigation, the Alexandria Times reported scanner traffic indicated first responders were administering Narcan.

An email from the City of Alexandria said there have been “two suspected fentanyl-related overdoses in school aged youth with one resulting in death.”

City of Alexandria will have free Narcan and fentanyl test strips available at the car wash.

According to the city:

Come out to a community car wash at Shelter Care on May 9 at 200 S. Whiting St. from 3-5 p.m., where youth working to promote recovery we will not only clean cars, but also provide information on the dangers of fentanyl. The City also makes available free Narcan and fentanyl test strips. Narcan is a nasal spray that can save the life of someone having an opioid overdose, and fentanyl test strips detect the presence of the synthetic opioid in a drug before using. Free Narcan will be available at the car wash.

Free Narcan is also available today from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 2355 Mill Road and Alexandria residents can have Narcan and/or fentanyl test strips mailed to them, by emailing [email protected].


Do you take your yoga with coffee or tea?

By this summer, the Harold family of Alexandria want to add a third business in Old Town — Connect & Sip Cafe at 1320 Prince Street. The proposed cafe would be located next door to their PIES Fitness & Yoga Studio at 1322 Prince Street. If all goes well with the permitting process, they’d like to open up by mid-summer.

“The building is completely gutted right now,” owner Marsha D. Banks-Harold told ALXnow. “Our yoga studio is very unique and that we’re a community, so people come here, they sit before class and each other, check in on how everyone’s family is doing. We’re really about connecting and that’s where the wellness piece comes in. Especially post pandemic where people have been so isolated, it’s really an opportunity for people to come together sit down sip on a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee and really get to know their neighbors.”

The property is located on the corner of Prince Street and N. West Street, directly across the street from popular knitting shop fibre space (1319 Prince Street).

The cafe would sell coffee, tea, small plates of food, pastries and CBD products. The 2,100-square-foot property is envisioned to seat 50 people inside and 12 outside on a 600-square-foot area in the rear of the property. Their proposed operating hours during the week would be from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Public comments on their special use permit application expire on May 4.

Last October, Banks-Harold, her husband Jefferey and son Gabriel reopened PIES Fitness & Yoga in Old Town. The move came after the family lost the least to their studio at 33 S. Pickett Street, which first opened in 2008. Also last year, the family launched a CBD business, Daydreamers Oasis, and started selling those products in the studio.

The problem with the new Old Town space, Marsha said, is that it lacked a waiting area for people to hang out before and after workouts, crushing the vibe fostered in the previous West End location.

“With the cafe, they’ll have a place to continue those conversations,” she said. “It gets a little crowded in the studio.”

Incidentally, Marsha and Jefferey are both full-time patent supervisors at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. They got married in 1992 in Shiloh Baptist Church, which is about a block away from the building they now own in Old Town.

“This whole part of town has gone through gentrification,” Jefferey said. “Just for us to be able to get back into town and have a place here is special.”

A drug take back event sponsored by the Department of Community and Human Services (image via DCHS/Facebook)

The Alexandria Community Services Board (CSB) is hosting a public meeting next month to receive feedback on how to help Alexandrians with mental illness, substance use dependency and more.

The meeting comes as the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) aims to get funding for programs related to helping with Alexandrians with mental illness, developmental and intellectual disabilities or a substance use dependency.

“This contract provides for the funding of services offered directly or contractually by the CSB in a manner that ensures accountability and quality of care for clients participating in services and implements the mission of supporting individuals by promoting recovery, self-determination and wellness in all aspects of life,” the release said.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 11, at 6:30 in the DCHS new headquarters at 4850 Mark Center Drive.

Photo via DCHS/Facebook

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Eyelash extensions at Amazing Lash Studio (via Facebook)

Need an eyelash extension? A new studio just opened up in Alexandria’s West End that will keep your lashes lush for weeks on end.

April Nickens opened her first Amazing Lash Studio franchise in the West End Village shopping center at 374 S. Pickett Street on March 24.

“I always say super heroes don’t always wear capes,” Nickens told ALXnow. “We wear lashes, too.”

Customers pay between $112 and $140 for membership for two eyelash extension refills every month. It takes about two hours to attach the extensions to individual lashes with a strong adhesive. The lashes stay on for about two weeks. Starting next month, the studio will also offer lash and brow tinting, brow eliminations and brow waxing.

Nickens has eight employees and 12 lash rooms, and says that she has room to grow in the space.

“I wake up every morning feeling beautiful and confident,” Nickens said. “The business part is good. I have a good group of young ladies who work with me, who started with me from the beginning.”

The Alexandria shop is located the former home of PIES Fitness Yoga Studio, (now at 1322 Prince Street). This the first of two franchises that Nickens has opened, and she’s currently shopping around for another location in D.C. and southern Maryland.

“We’re not shopping too aggressively now because we’re getting the Alexandria location up and running,” Nickens said. “We’ll hopefully be opening another studio within the next year.”

Nickens is also the director of operations for a political polling strategy company in D.C. She was drawn to eyelash extensions two years ago after her two daughters gave them as a gift for her 25th wedding anniversary.

“My daughters thought to dress me up with lashes,” she said. “I loved the way it made me feel. Afterwards, when we were looking at a number of franchises, I always came back to the lashes, mainly because of my daughters.”

Amazing Lash was founded in 2010, and is part of WellBiz Brands Inc., a franchise portfolio company operating Amazing Lash StudioFitness Together, and Elements Massage. There are more than 250 Amazing Lash franchises around the country, including locations in Ashburn, Woodbridge, Burke, Manassas, Forest and Gainesville.

The store is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. A grand opening will be held on Monday, May 1, at noon.

Via Amazing Lash/Facebook

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