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Storefront of The Old Town Shop (photo via The Old Town Shop/Facebook)

The busy holiday season is coming to a close, but there are ways locals can both get good deals for merchandise in Alexandria and support local businesses moving into a slow season.

Retail shopping tends to hit a fever pitch just before Christmas, but some local business owners said post-holiday shopping can still be a rewarding experience in a very different way.

“You’re going to get the best sales,” said Chris Ouellette from The Old Town Shop (104 S Union Street). “If you’re looking to restock for the next year, this is the time to come and buy holiday merchandise for next year because everything is 50% off and we’re trying to minimize inventory before the new year.”

Alexandria has a fair number of people who go all-out on their holiday decorations, and Ouellette said this is the best time for them to get ahead on next year’s decorations.

“A lot of people are big decorators who want to upgrade for the next year,” Ouellette said. “This is the time to shop.”

Shopping early for holiday decorations is also a boon for local businesses with leftover material on their shelves.

“That’s just merchandise that sits around for another year that isn’t going to sell,” Ouellette said. “Unless you’re The Christmas Attic, Christmas stuff doesn’t usually sell in May or June.”

Frank Kozuch, owner of Whistle Stop Toy & Hobby (1719 Centre Plaza) said sleds are the big seller in the post-Christmas holiday season. Alexandria hasn’t seen substantial snowfall yet this winter, but traditionally sees at least a light dusting in January.

Whistle Stop Toy & Hobby also sells items with a year-round appeal, like board games, Lego sets, and toy rockets. Kozuch said he mixes some newer games in with classics like Monopoly and Clue, but said keeping up with the latest gaming zeitgeist can be time-consuming.

“The problem with games is there are a lot of individual people that create games, so there are hundreds of those types of games and you have to search to buy them individually,” Kozuch. “There are really hundreds, some just produced from someone’s basement.”

The owner of a store in Old Town told ALXnow anonymously that they reached out to other local business owners and compiled a list of things local shoppers should keep in mind:

We talked to locally owned retailers this week about the week after Christmas – a week known for returns and long lines at the register as people use their time off to “correct” gifts that may not have been quite right. Here are some words of advice that our small business community gave:

  • Shop! The best way to support us this week is to get out and shop with us.
  • Be patient with us if the shop is busy. We have small teams, and they are stretched thin during and after the holidays. Hiring “seasonal” help is usually not possible for a small business whose teams have to have extensive knowledge of the merchandise and are not just capable of standing at a cash register.
  • If you loved your gift, spread the word on social media. Tag the small business that it came from!
  • Consider doing an exchange rather than a return!
  • Do your returns within a week but be sure to check the return policy of the store. Many are unable to return items purchased on sale or only allow exchanges or store credit. One boutique reported that they are unable to take a return on any product that has been opened, as their vendors will not take the item back from them so they would take the full hit on any return of opened product. Remember that the employees working are unable to break return policies (or in some cases their point of sale won’t even allow it).
  • If something doesn’t work properly, check first with the manufacturer. There is a difference between a warranty and a return. Some businesses are able to do warranty replacements for some of their brands. Others are told by their suppliers to send the customer directly to them. It really depends on the item and the shop it was purchased from. Don’t expect every retailer to be able to hand you a new item to replace the broken one.
  • Small retailers don’t have communications or service departments. When you contact a business via text, chat, google, facebook, Instagram, etc there is likely one person that answers all of those apps. They don’t work 24/7. It could take some time to get a response that.
  • Understand that the people behind the business and those in the store are also human. Try to be empathetic. If we have an off day, don’t go immediately to Yelp to leave a bad review. Reach out to us with your experience so that we have a chance to correct it.
  • If using one of those visa or amex gift cards to pay, please know how much is available on it before you get to the register. Waiting for you to check an app or call the number on the back of the card will hold up the line, and the card will be declined if we attempt to charge more than what is available on it.
  • Please do not ask for price adjustments at a locally owned business.
  • Hello and how are you can go a long way.
  • Don’t want that thing in your hand? Give it to an employee rather than trying to put it back or leaving it in a random spot in the store.
  • Don’t make it a family affair. Small boutiques are… small. Coming in to do business with a trail of five family members will possiblyh fill a small shop and those loved ones spend that time looking uncomfortable and in the way.
  • Impact – employee morale. After working during COVID, retail employees are more stressed than ever. Angry and bullying customers impact their stress levels and their desire to work in this industry.

James Cullum contributed to this story

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If you typically leave your trash out on Monday, you might want to leave it inside another day.

While New Year’s Day is on Sunday, the holiday is also observed on Monday. As such, recycling, trash, and yard collection next week will “slide” back one day.

Mondays collection will be on Tuesday, Tuesday’s collection on Wednesday, and so on.

The household Hazardous Waste Electronic Collection Drop-off Center (3224 Colvin Street) will be open on Saturday, Dec. 31, but will be closed on Monday, Jan. 2.

Given that it’s the week after Christmas, some locals are still probably figuring out what to do with their trees.

Natural Christmas trees can be set out for collection between Tuesday, Jan. 3, through Tuesday, Jan. 31.

According to the city website, to prepare trees for collection:

  • Remove all ornaments, tinsel, lights and stands.
  • Do not place in plastic bags.
  • Place the tree at your regular yard waste collection point by 6:00 a.m. on your trash collection day.

Artificial trees can be set out next to trash containers on collection day.

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It’s a holiday weekend and you aren’t sure where to take your friends and family.

If they’ve visited you before, you’ve probably already taken them to Old Town, and there’s a hint of disappointment in their eyes when you suggest revisiting the waterfront or Captain’s Row.

One local asked where to take some friends and family visiting from out of town: here were some responses from other Alexandrians.

Look, it’s Friday before a holiday weekend: nobody is winning any Pulitzers here.

Indoors

Assuming the bitter cold keeps up over the weekend, your friends and family might prefer not to explore the great outdoors around Alexandria this weekend. In that case, here are a few indoor activities:

  • Port City Brewing (3950 Wheeler Avenue): The brewery has special extended hours around the holiday. It’s open from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 24. It’s closed on Sunday, but is open from noon to 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 26.
  • Lost Boy Cider (317 Hooffs Run Drive): The cidery is open from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday but, like Port City, is closed on Sunday.
  • The Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Avenue): No shows are scheduled for Saturday or Sunday, but actor and musician Charles Esten has a show tonight at 7:30 p.m.
  • Local Museums: From the new Freedom House museum to the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, there are several museums around the city (granted, most of them are in Old Town) continuing to host tours over the holiday weekend.

Outside

Provided the temperature unexpectedly warms up or your family is more resilient to the cold, there are several outdoor activities around the city.

  • Fort Ward (4301 W Braddock Road): The most commonly suggested response to the original query was Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site. The former Union Army bastion during the Civil War later became a home for those who came to Alexandria to escape slavery — before being forced out by the city in the 1960s.
  • Mount Vernon (3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway): While not in the City of Alexandria, it’s a major nearby attraction with extensive tours both indoors and outdoors. The grounds will close today at 3 p.m. due to weather, but will open at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday).
  • Gravelly Point: Also not in Alexandria, but a great nearby spot for watching planes take off and land at National Airport.
  • Manumission Tour: The local company offers tours of Alexandria with a look at the city’s history through the lens of its Black residents, both enslaved and freemen.
  • Mount Vernon Avenue: If your friends or family are tired of Old Town, take them to Del Ray to explore the variety of drinks, dinners and desserts on offer along the avenue.
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A snow plow drives down Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria, Jan. 3, 2022 (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) says drivers heading out for the holidays should consider starting a little early, with heavy storms likely to affect travel over the next few days.

In an alert, VDOT said today is the best day to travel, given the forecast.

“Drivers should expect roads to be impacted Thursday and Friday,” VDOT said. “Today will be the best day for holiday travel. Adjust travel plans and avoid all nonessential travel during the height of the storm. This helps to avoid deteriorating conditions and to allow crews room to work.”

VDOT said crews are already pretreating and brining roads, with trucks deployed early Thursday morning to treat roads as needed.

According to the release:

Please continue to monitor forecasts closely as forecasts can improve or worsen quickly. The National Weather Service forecast shows winter weather will impact the region from overnight Wednesday through Friday. The forecast shows the potential for periods of freezing rain and sleet, as well as below-freezing temperatures, heavy rain, and high winds. A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued for western Loudoun County starting at 4 a.m. Thursday.

Additionally, the National Weather Service has issued an areal flood watch for Alexandria, advising locals not to drive through water on roadways and to avoid small streams.

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Alexandria Symphony presents ‘The Nutcracker’ (courtesy photo)

The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra’s holiday program promises to bring an eclectic selection this weekend.

ASO will take the stage on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center, followed by a 3 p.m. performance at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.

The program includes selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” Duke Ellington’s “The Nutcracker Suite” and Mariah Carey’s version of “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

“Our special guests include both BalletNova creating some Nutcracker magic on the lip of our stage on Saturday, and the fabulous non-binary soprano of Salvadoran heritage, Helena Colindres, a recent graduate of the Peabody Institute and a rising superstar,” said ASO Music Director James Ross.

Dancers with the BalletNOVA Center For Dance will perform pieces from The Nutcracker suit and soprano Helena Colindres will sing a Swedish carol, a selection from Handel’s Messiah and more.

“Helena can, does, and will sing anything! Beloved Lester Green will be our narrator for The Night Before Christmas in a new mashup with a theme from Harry Potter,” Ross said.

Tickets run $5 for kids 18 and under and up to $90 for adults.

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Christmas tree (via Sapan Patel/Unsplash)

(Updated 1:45 p.m.) Toy donations are still needed for residents living in Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority properties.

The 13th Annual Santa’s Winter Wonderland event will provide gifts for hundreds of children 17 years old and under.

This year’s  will be drive-thru and held over the course of three days (Dec. 16, 17 and 18) in the parking lot of Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe Street).

Anyone interested in donating items to the toy drive should contact Rose Boyd at [email protected]ARHA.us 

The toy drive is open only to ARHA residents. Participants must register online by December 12. Accommodations can be made for ARHA residents who have challenges participating in the on-site event by calling 703-549-7115.

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Christmas tree (via Sapan Patel/Unsplash)

Friends of Guest House needs pajamas and cozy socks for their female residents who are transitioning back to the community from prison.

Realtor Maureen Clyne is leading the annual effort, and it’s her third time collecting the pajamas and socks. Last year, she ran past her goal of 100 pairs by raising 130 pairs. This year’s goal is also 100 pairs.

“These women are coming out of prison and they don’t have anything,” Clyne told ALXnow. “They probably aren’t going to go out and buy themselves a new pair of pajamas for Christmas morning. It’s just one of those sort of self pampering things that probably they didn’t get a lot of for years.”

Donations of cozy socks and L-3XL pajamas can be dropped off at Coldwell Banker Realty, 310 King Street. Pickups can also be arranged by calling or texting 703-967-8884.

“What an incredible gift that will impact many, many women and make them not only feel warm, but very welcome,” former Friends of Guest House Executive Director Kari Galloway said.

Friends of Guest House serves 60 women every year in its residential program, and has helped more than 4,000 women transition from incarceration since it was founded in 1974.

Via Sapan Patel/Unsplash

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The Del Ray Christmas tree and menorah lighting, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

In case you missed it, the lighting of the Del Ray Christmas and menorah was packed on Sunday.

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

NBC$ Washington reporter Pat Collins made the countdown to light the 30-foot-tall tree at Pat Miller Neighborhood Square, along with Santa Claus, Kate Moran of the Rainbow Rock Band and members of the City Council. Santa Claus was escorted to the event by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office.

“Who wants snow for Christmas? Collins said, and started to chant, “We want snow, we want snow!”

Collins said he’d see what he could do, and brought along the official Pat Collins Snow Measuring Stick for publicity photos.

“Who wants snow for Christmas? Collins said, and started to chant, “We want snow, we want snow!”

Collins said he’d see what he could do, and brought along the official Pat Collins Snow Measuring Stick for publicity photos.

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Alexandria Police Foundation Christmas tree sale (via Alexandria Police/Twitter)

If you’re still looking for a Christmas tree, buying at one spot in Old Town could also help send kids to a local youth camp run by the Alexandria Police Department.

Proceeds from an ongoing Christmas Tree sale at 110 Callahan Drive — just outside Alexandria’s Union Station and the King Street Metro station — will help send kids to the Alexandria Police Youth Camp.

The camp, sponsored by the Alexandria Police Foundation, includes activities like water skiing, kayaking, sailing and fishing out in Kilmarnock, Virginia.

The sale runs every weekday from 4-8 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

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Negative Covid tests (photo courtesy Aimee Miller)

With the holiday season approaching, a prerequisite for some family gatherings could be a negative Covid test. With Curative shutting down its testing kiosks throughout the region that might get slightly harder, but there are other resources.

The kiosks have provided around 195,000 Covid tests, the City of Alexandria said in a release, but demand for kiosk testing has dropped off dramatically since 2021.

“As of December 26, 2022, the private company Curative has chosen to close its Alexandria COVID-19 testing kiosks city-wide,” the City of Alexandria said. “Curative is closing all testing sites throughout the region before the end of the year.”

The postal service had previously offered free rapid home antigen tests, but those were suspended in September.

Several medical facilities offer testing, but require seeing a doctor for testing and can cost between $50 up to $300.

The most affordable way to get testing kits in Alexandria is from the library. Alexandria libraries carry rapid COVID-19 test kits available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a limit of seven kits per person, and the city advised locals to call the library branch to check availability.

Those phone numbers and addresses are:

  • Beatley Central Library (5005 Duke Street): 703-746-1702
    Barrett Branch Library (717 Queen Street): 703-746-1703
    Burke Branch Library (4701 Seminary Road): 703-746-1704
    Duncan Branch Library (2501 Commonwealth Avenue): 703-746-1705

Scheduled Covid tests are also available for public school students and staff through Alexandria City Public Schools.

A full list of testing options is available on the city’s website.

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