Alexandria, VA

Preeti Patel and her 7-Eleven at 2108 Mount Vernon Ave. have won the heart of Del Ray — literally.

Last week, members of the Del Ray Business Association presented Patel with the 2020 Heart of Del Ray award. The annual award was presented after Patel’s business received the most votes from the community, and the 7-Eleven overtook Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & TapRock of Ages Music, Stomping Ground and Studio Body Logic.

“I really didn’t expect to win the award because of all the other nominees,” Patel told ALXnow. “Even though I’m not from here, the neighborhood is very supportive.”

The award represents the business that not only received the most votes, but exemplifies the community’s spirit. The DRBA also presented Affordable Signs & Banners with the Forever Heart of Del Ray award for creating years worth of banners and signs for the community.

“Del Ray is known for its mom-and-pops, so this is why this year’s award is unusual, because it’s going to a 7-Eleven. But it means more than that for the Del Ray community,” Reuter said. “There’s never been a time when we have an event that she hasn’t asked, ‘How can we help?'”

Patel, a native of Gujarat, India, moved to the U.S. 20 years ago. She grew up working in her father’s pharmacy, and worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service before pulling up stakes in New Jersey and moving to Alexandria with her two young sons. She bought the 7-Eleven tens years ago, and it keeps her busy enough that she has no interest in owning another.

“After 10 years, it’s incredible to see customers and I’ll ask, ‘How is your son?’ and they say, ‘Oh, he’s in college now,’ and I remember when they were in here buying him a lollipop,” she said. “I’m very happy to be here in such a nice neighborhood.”

Photos via Visit Del Ray/Facebook

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Morning Notes

T.C. Football Coach Steps Down — “James Longerbeam stepped down as head coach of the T.C. Williams High School football team on Feb. 3. Longerbeam has served as head coach since 2016, when he moved from Panama City, Florida to Alexandria to take the position. He cited his father’s recent passing and his mother’s dementia as reasons for his decision in a Facebook post.” [Alexandria Times]

Local Doctor Helps the Homeless — “Dr. William Mazzella has a message for the homeless living on the streets of Alexandria, Virginia. ‘I have the medicines,’ Mazzella said. ‘I have the bandages, the training, and I’m here to help you if you will have me…’ He has formed a nonprofit called MedStreet, which is accepting donations and seeking volunteers to help continue his work and help more people.” [WTOP]

Old Town Chocolate Shop Reveals Shape Secrets — “The owners of a Northern Virginia chocolate shop are urging customers to be aware of what’s in a box of chocolates before making a purchase this Valentine’s Day. If the customer’s preference is chewy over gooey caramels, it might be wise to consider rectangular-shaped versus square candy from a heart-shaped holiday box… said Robert Ludlow, who co-owns Alexandria, Virginia, shop Fleurir Chocolates.” [WTOP]

Investigators Reveal Massive Fire’s Cause, Cost — The massive fire at the South Alex development along Route 1 “started in the second-floor trash chute of the residential portion of a multi-use complex. The cause of the fire was improperly discarded smoking materials. Damage figures include the total loss of the main buildings under construction, 14 townhouses, and one trailer. The amount also includes damage to five apartment buildings, 14 additional townhouses, four single family homes, 29 vehicles, and multiple pieces of construction equipment. Damage total as a result of the fire is $48,171,075.” [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue]

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Morning Notes

Sugar Shack to Be Replaced — “Alexandria’s Sugar Shack Donuts will change to Elizabeth’s Counter this spring, with a wider menu and new focus… The donut shop at 904 N. Henry St. will become a bakery, vegetarian-influenced café and coffee shop. While Elizabeth’s Counter will have donuts, sugary goodness will not be not the focus.” [Alexandria Living]

B&C Jewelers Closing — “B&C Jewelers, one of the oldest retailers in Alexandria, Virginia, is closing at the end of April. B&C Jewelers opened in 1953 as an original tenant at the Bradlee Shopping Center at 3660 King St. It is the last original tenant there. ‘I feel like it is time to go. It is the end of our lease,’ owner Vicki Forness told WTOP.” [WTOP]

Alexandria Housing Costs Fourth-Highest in Region — “The city of Falls Church zoomed past the District of Columbia to be the local jurisdiction where home-buyers spent more, per square foot, than anywhere else in January. The median per-square-foot cost of $453 for Falls Church property for the month was up 13 percent from a year before, while the $449 recorded in Washington was down 7.2 percent… Arlington placed third, up 9 percent to $399 per square foot, while the city of Alexandria was fourth, up 1.2 percent to $346.” [InsideNova]

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Feeling tired and achy? You might be wearing the wrong shoes.

For the last 27 years, Comfort One Shoes has eased the pain of customers in locations throughout the region by offering more than 100 comfort brands like Mephisto, Beautifeel, Ecco and Dansko. The company’s 15 locations employ more than 100 employees, and it all started at 201 King Street.

The company’s Chairman of the Board Maurice Breton founded Comfort One when he was 39 years old. Back then, it was just an 800 square-foot storefront, and Breton left a cushy job as vice president of the Norfolk-based Hofheimer Shoes to start his own company.

The idea for the new company started when Breton received a gift from a colleague — a pair of unattractive Ecco dress shoes from Denmark.

“I opened the box, I looked at the shoes, I closed the box and I thanked him very much,” said Breton, who has about 60 shoes in his personal collection. “And at that time, we were experimenting with casual Fridays, and that day was a Thursday. The next day I put the shoes on and wore them all day. I wore them all weekend and said, ‘Wow! These are not like any of my other shoes.’ And, of course, they were European with European fittings, and they fit differently. They cushioned shock, which, in turn took off pressure on my ankles, knees and hips.”

Breton’s first lesson on the job was that he didn’t know as much as he thought about running a shoe store.

“I figured, geez, I’ve opened 50 stores in my time in retail,” Breton said. “Well, I never really opened them. I picked the location, bought the shoes, maybe, and everybody else did the work.”

Within five years the company, now headquartered in Manassas, had seven stores, including one of its most successful locations in Dupont Circle.

Breton’s youngest of two son’s, Garrett, was named the company’s president in November, taking over for his father. He now works in an office above the company’s second Old Town location at 200 King Street – directly across the street from its flagship store. Garrett Breton started working for the company when he was a teenager attending Bishop Ireton High School.

“Once I was in high school, I got a work permit and I started doing stock work and cleaning,” he said.

Garrett said that online business is dominating the marketplace and that it is slowing the growth of brick and mortars. That stagnation opens opportunities for Comfort One to absorb older shoe stores, he said, like in 2018 with the Shoe’s For Comfort at Leisure World Plaza in Silver Spring, Md.

“We bring unique shoes that no one else has from factories all over the world,” Breton said. “We’ve been approached by multiple people, as the baby boomers are kind of aging. They’re sort of at the end of their life cycle on their stores. It’s getting harder because the internet and other things are biting into their core businesses.”

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Morning Notes

Flood Watch Issued for Alexandria — “Multiple rounds of rainfall will occur through early Friday. The heaviest rainfall potential will begin Thursday afternoon and continue into Thursday night. Storm total rainfall amounts through Friday morning are expected to range between 2 and 3 inches.” [Twitter, Twitter]

New Facility Opens at Bishop Ireton HS — “After less than eighteen months since its groundbreaking, Bishop Ireton High School hosted hundreds on Monday, February 3 who were there to celebrate the ribbon cutting ceremony and opening of the school’s new 40,000 square foot academic center, which sits adjacent to the current school building at 201 Cambridge Road.” [Zebra]

Del Ray Awards Voting Starts — “It’s February — and that means it’s time for the Heart of Del Ray Awards! ‘Every February, the Del Ray Business Association presents the Heart of Del Ray Award to the business that serves as the heart and soul of Del Ray, as determined by a public vote of neighbors and customers,’ according to the Del Ray Business Association.” [Alexandria Living, Heart of Del Ray]

Library to End Movie Streaming Service — “Alexandria Library is set to end access to the Kanopy on-demand movie streaming service for members on April 30… The library began offering the streaming service for free to members in August 2018.” [Patch]

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After three years in business, Adriana Penachio-Sifakis is ready for growth, and that means franchising.

At just 700 square feet, her sub shop and market The Italian Place (621 Wythe Street) can get busy fast, but customers don’t wait too long. A new self-serving kiosk in the shop and online ordering have made for a quicker experience, she says, and those who choose to stick around for a few minutes might get carried away by the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra while perusing the market full of gourmet Italian products.

Now Penachio-Sifakis is working with the Alexandria-based Fransmart to offer franchising opportunities in the D.C. area. She is also looking on corporate expansion, and last week toured five locations in high-traffic urban areas in D.C.  Next week she will look at locations in Arlington and Tysons Corner.

“It’s important to be in the right location, in a high-traffic area with lots of people who want to get something to eat quickly, who want something fresh,” Penachio-Sifakis told ALXnow. “Since the beginning, people fell in love with the place and it continued to grow, from locals to people visiting from out of town, and they’d tell me, ‘I want an Italian Place on my street corner, in my neighborhood.'”

In order to franchise, Penachio-Sifakis had to disclose financial statements that show The Italian Place has room for growth. She said that it has been challenging for her as a first-time business owner and the mother of three children. Still, she is encouraging female entrepreneurs to pursue franchising with her company.

“Being a woman and a mom and balancing life and a business is something that I pushed myself to do to show my children that anyone can do what they want to do if they have a passion,” she said. “Just because I’m a woman also makes a big difference. It might be more challenging, but it adds a friendly and lovely essence to The Italian Place.”

Lunch at The Italian Place averages between $10 to $13 with chips and a drink. The Eva sub, which is made from mortadella sausage, salami, provolone cheese, tomatoes, onions, banana peppers, lettuce, olive oil and seasonings, is one of the most popular items on the menu.

Penachio-Sifakis said that Italian food — and culture — is her passion.

“I love watching people dance to Louis Prima or Sinatra while they wait for their sandwich at the register,” she said. “Growing up Italian and being in a family that is in hospitality-mode hosting parties and events and cooking fresh meals all the time, it’s not unusual for me to run a small gourmet market that’s extremely popular. People come in and know it’s real and authentic.”

Photo via The Italian Place/Facebook

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(Updated 11:30 a.m.) Whether you’re a child reading through the Harry Potter books for the first time or a reporter in your late 20s still waiting on a letter from Hogwarts, you’re invited to the Hooray for Books Harry Potter night.

The event is scheduled for 6:30-8 p.m. at Hooray for Books (1555 King Street) tomorrow (Thursday).

“The theme this year is the Triwizard Tournament, to celebrate the illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the store said on its Facebook page. “This event will include a costume contest (Durmstrang and Beauxbatons characters welcome), trivia, crafting owl origami bookmarks in honor of Hedwig, and more fun activities.”

The event page said it will also feature host knitter Tanis Gray, author of official knitting-companion book Harry Potter: Knitting Magic.

“The event is open to all Potterheads, young and old,” the page said.

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Morning Notes

Pedestrian Struck on Patrick Street — APD responded yesterday around 4 p.m. to a pedestrian reportedly struck on N. Patrick Street at Madison Street. The road was blocked temporarily. The pedestrian was taken to a local hospital; the nature of his or her injuries is not currently known. [Twitter]

Remembering a Local Legend — “Many African Americans in Alexandria, Virginia, fondly remember Phillip Bell by his nickname ‘Chick.’ He owned Lewis Funeral Home at 311 North Patrick Street. Phillip ran a professional funeral business for many years on Wolfe and Patrick Streets.” [Gazette Packet]

T.C. Student Attends SOTU — “Nicole Rosario-Flores, a Junior ROTC member at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, was invited by Sen. Tim Kaine to be a guest at the State of the Union. News4’s Drew Wilder spoke to Rosario-Flores about the honor.” [NBC 4, Patch]

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A deal to take change hands at a longtime Old Town tobacconist and Scottish gift shop has hit a snag.

Last fall, plans were being set for Old Virginia Tobacco Co. to take over The Scottish Merchant/John Crouch Tobacconist at 215 King Street. Merchandise was marked down half-price and the new owner even planned to keep on veteran staffers and keep the shop open while undertaking renovations in January and February.

But no changes have been made since.

“We hit a snag, so we’re still working through it,” Old Virginia Tobacco’s General Manager Brian Ceres told ALXnow without going into finer detail. “It’s by no means dead in the water. We still love those guys and making something happen there.”

The shop, which has been on King Street under the same ownership for more than 30 years, serves a dual purpose. As The Scottish Merchant, it sells Scottish tartans, kilts, hats, jewelry and accessories. As John Crouch Tobacconist, it carries a wide range of cigars, pipes, tobacco and other accessories.

Old Virginia Tobacco, which has locations in Arlington’s Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall and in Seven Corners, is known for its lounge atmosphere, leather couches and big screen televisions. The company has six locations around the region, and its president said last fall that his company was excited to make the move.

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The annual Alexandria Warehouse Sale is set to return next Saturday, Feb. 8 in Carlyle.

The sale brings boutiques from across the region to the Westin Hotel (400 Courthouse Square). It’s free to attend and is scheduled to run from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

In addition to the boutiques, several promotional activities are scheduled throughout the morning. A complimentary pilates class is scheduled to run from 8-9 a.m., while a workshop letting attendees make their own mini wooden sign will run from 8-10 a.m. Additionally, Salon DeZen will offer a complimentary glitter and mini braid bar from 8-10 a.m.

Deals on items at the boutique are expected to go up to 80 percent off retail prices, according to a press release.

Street parking is available and there is $5 parking at garages around the hotel. A shuttle to the King Street Metro is scheduled to start at 7 a.m.

According to the press release, participating stores include:

Clothing

Jewelry/Accessories/Beauty

Home

Kids

Shoes

Photo courtesy Old Town Boutique District

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As Virginia starts making progress towards the decriminalization of marijuana, one local business is working to make it easier to connect people to medical marijuana licenses.

Veriheal, based in Old Town, educates clients about medical cannabis and connects them to doctors who can get them approved for a medical marijuana license. The company works in 23 states with its structure changing based on state laws. Anthony Dutcher, marketing director for Veriheal, said they’re working to get started in Virginia.

For $200, Veriheal will book an appointment with a licensed marijuana doctor. The cost includes the consultation fee, physician copay, medical evaluation and approval recommendation. If approved, the client will receive a medical marijuana card that can get them access to dispensaries. The company’s website says they offer a full refund if the client is not approved for medical marijuana treatment.

The company also charges an annual $200 fee for wellness appointments and follow up medical appointments necessary in places where medical marijuana cards must be renewed annually.

In Virginia, Dutcher said that the process is a little more tricky. While some medical marijuana use is approved with heavy limitations, possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor charge, and even those approved could still be arrested. The law currently only allows those with epilepsy to use medical marijuana.

“There’s a lot we can’t do in Virginia… there are not a lot of dispensaries, but we’re expecting them to open soon,” Dutcher said.

So far, Dutcher said the main work of Veriheal in Virginia has been laying the groundwork, like getting patients pre-registered to be able to legally use marijuana as soon as its legalized. Dutcher said that in many areas of Virginia, having a medical marijuana card could open up a little leeway with law enforcement if they are found to be in possession. In Alexandria, Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter has been taking steps to offer alternatives to prosecuting marijuana cases, though Porter has also acknowledged that his powers there are limited until the state legislature decriminalizes marijuana possession.

Simultaneously, state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) has been leading an effort to decriminalize marijuana use — though some say those efforts don’t go far enough.

Dutcher says Veriheal also pushes for Virginia to open up telemedicine — accessing doctors via phone or computer rather than in-person visits — to help people in areas of the state without immediate access to doctors who can grant medical marijuana licenses.

“We really push that telemedicine helps open that up,” Dutcher said. “Virginia doesn’t have that yet.”

As marijuana laws continue to change, Veriheal also walks a line of tenuous relevance. In some states that are starting to open up to medical marijuana, full legalization is already on the horizon, which would eliminate the need for a medical marijuana card.

“That’s something we think about every day,” Dutcher said. “We’re diversifying, which is why we’re taking the wellness approach as well. So even if it does go recreational we can still help those people with a wellness plan.”

Photo via Veriheal/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Whole Foods Donating to Local Nonprofit — “Now through the June 1, 2020, you can support The Child & Family Network Centers (CFNC) in Alexandria when you bring your own bag at Whole Foods at 1700 Duke Street. By bringing your own bag, you’ll save on the five-cent bag fee, which will automatically be donated to CFNC.” [Zebra]

Art Program for Residents in Recovery — “This fall, the Alexandria Residential Treatment Center (ARTC) partnered with Heard, a local nonprofit, to offer art workshops for individuals in recovery. An Alexandria-based creative arts initiative, Heard partners with nonprofits and local governments to provide marginalized and at-risk adults the opportunity to be heard through art and creativity with workshops in creative writing, visual arts, poetry, dance, etiquette and improvisation.” [City of Alexandria]

Interview With Alexandria’s Celebrity Salon Owner — “Picture this: Monte Durham, the debonair fashion director of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, strolls through Old Town Alexandria, his adopted home. Folks pass him on the street, and his keen eye for a chic coiffure assesses every ‘do. Finally, he spots his subject. ‘You need to come into my shop,’ he says in his charming drawl.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Reminder: MLK Commemoration Tonight — “The City of Alexandria planning to host a commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. [on] Wednesday, Jan. 15. The ceremony is scheduled for 7:30-9:30 p.m. at Beth El Hebrew Congregation (3850 Seminary Road).” [ALXnow]

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