Alexandria’s City Council recently approved guidelines for the creation of new Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), self-taxed commercial areas where a new organization could be dedicated to turning the area into a commercial destination.
BIDs have been up and running for years in nearby localities like Arlington and D.C. While BIDs organize activities and help provide amenities above what the city would ordinarily offer, many businesses along King Street said they were concerned about the additional taxes a BID would impose.
Now Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, said it’s possible that BIDs could be incorporated into new development around Landmark and the West End. The prospect also seems to have more support from the City Council this time around.
“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said at the meeting. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”
The topic of Business Improvement Districts (BID) is back at Alexandria’s City Council and five years after one proposal was crushed, there are signs BIDs could be seen more favorably by a new Council.
BIDs are self-taxing districts established by property owners that aim to boost the economic vitality of the commercial area. There are a handful of BIDs in Arlington in areas like Crystal City, Rosslyn and Ballston. The BIDs organize activities and events in those districts, as well as handle amenities above and beyond what the city (or county, in Arlington’s case) would typically provide. The possibility of a BID in Old Town proved unpopular among many local businesses, however, who were concerned about the additional tax.
After several heated public debates, the City Council ultimately voted against the creation of a BID in Old Town.
“For those who have been up here for a little while, some of us have some scars from this,” said Mayor Justin Wilson, “but it’s good to be back talking about it.”
The new guidelines aim to make the creation of a BID a more structured process.
“The goal for creating these guidelines [is that] during the previous effort it was realized by the community that the lack of guidelines in the city was problematic,” Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public-private partnerships, told the City Council at a meeting last night (Tuesday). “The idea behind adopting these guidelines is to create a framework first before any of these applications come in later on.”
The new guidelines include stipulations like requiring the support of at least 60% of businesses within the commercial district and an outline of ten steps from a letter of intent to final approval.
The goal for the new BIDs would be to turn commercial areas into hotspots of in-person commercial activity.
“Property owners might say: we want to have events for foot traffic here,” Gonsalves said. “Because of that foot traffic, it will be more beneficial for property owners to have restaurants or retails, it will make those more lucrative.
Gonsalves said the focus of a potential BID has shifted away from Old Town to parts of the West End that aren’t currently major attractions but are working through redevelopment plans.
“One of the examples being planned is Landmark or the West End,” Gonsalves said. “Right now there’s nothing there. In order to make sure that’s a hub for the city, they want to have a Business Improvement District so that you have foot traffic coming to a completely new hub that is competing with other districts around the region.”
City Manager James Parajon said BIDs can provide enhanced trash collection, enhanced amenities, and higher quality of lighting compared to what the city typically provides.
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said she wasn’t on the dais for the earlier BID debates, but said she was generally supportive of the idea.
“I know I don’t have the scars from the dais like a couple other council members do here, but some of us that were running to be up here at that time also heard a lot from community members; both pros and cons,” Jackson said. “I was always in the pro-bid section or a lot of reasons… I hope a lot of businesses around Alexandria will continue to follow this form. I know a lot in the playbook continues to be tweaked and structured.”
Wilson said there’s potential for a BID to do good for the city’s lagging commercial sector.
“I’ve long supported the kind of collectivism that a BID can enable,” Wilson said. “A BID is what members make of it. Ultimately it will be what the collective property owners proposing a BID decide what is beneficial to them… We will see how this plays out and where we get them. They’re in use all over this planet, and there’s a reason they’re in use all over this planet.”
Thinking about going into business in Alexandria?
It can sometimes be easier to buy an existing business, and the latest listings on BizBuySell show all kinds of companies in and around the city.
The website aggregates numerous business sale listings, and the names and locations are generally left out.
Reasons for selling, when provided, typically do not mention economic hardship, but more often involve the owner retiring or not having time to actively run the business.
Here are some that are currently listed:
- High Profit Restaurant & Bar in Prime Location MRB VA 1150 — “Large restaurant and bar for sale in Alexandria VA with outdoor seating. This restaurant is approximately 10,000 square feet with 2 large dining rooms, a private event room, 2 large full service bars, storage room as well as a massive kitchen including top of line line equipment and 3 walk in coolers/freezers. Seating for 268 people as well as room to expand to accommodate large crowds and private events. Menu can be kept the same or converted to fit most concepts. The current owner is hands on part time and profiting an average of $500,000 per year. This restaurant still has plenty of opportunity for growth and increased profits. Great opportunity to take over this highly profitable restaurant and take it to the next level. Must show proof of funds to be qualified.”
- Prime Location Full Service Restaurant & Bar MRB VA 1141 — “Full service restaurant & bar located in the heart of Alexandria. This restaurant is in a prime location on a main road surrounded by residential, retail and office buildings with high walking traffic. Highly sought after area in Alexandria. This large restaurant seats 250 people inside with outdoor seating as well. High end furniture & fixtures along with a full service bar surrounded by TVs. Large kitchen with top of the line equipment ready for any menu. This restaurant can be converted to fit most menus & concepts. Great opportunity for anyone looking to expand a current restaurant to the next level.”
- Dog Boutique Accessories and Food — “Incredible dog boutique store in charming and wealthy Old Town Alexandria. The business has been growing since inception in 2010.The high visibility location draws in hundreds of customers each week. This business does NOT sell or re-home dogs.”
- Former hair salon in Fairlington — “Formerly a hair salon by the name of Primary Colors, a hair salon that was in business for twenty years. Now the space is open, and is still built out to be a hair salon, but the space can also be altered to become a different business.”
- Deli with R.E. property — The owner is retiring after 30 years in business. The restaurant is open five days a week for breakfast and lunch.
- Well-established laundromat — “All Washer and Driers in Excellent condition. NO Coin! Card only! Owner stops by the store once a week. 50 washers, 52 Driers.”
- Profitable restaurant for sale — “Great location, great visibility, long lease term, plenty of parking spaces, in a busy shopping center with many other businesses that crowded with customers on the daily basic, this restaurant is built up from the cold cell condition with new kitchen equipment, freezer, cooler, HVAC….., that’s clean and presenting a long useful life for new owner to do business in years to come without any major upgrading. This restaurant can be converting to other cuisine given there is no other restaurant of that cuisine is currently operated within the shopping center.”
- Profitable High Volume Bakery & Cafe MRB VA 1107 — “By purchasing this Bakery, Café, and Catering Company that is for sale in a very busy shopping center in Fairfax County, Virginia and you will be ready for business your first day! This well-known operation produces $1.8 million from its multiple foodservice revenue streams. It is Fully Equipped and gives you the opportunity to serve up a full restaurant menu, special occasion cakes, sweet treat pastries, and baked goods, including gluten-free items, sugar-free treats, and food for allergy-sensitive patrons.”
- Dog waste removal company — “Currently have 500 active customers and growing quickly! Fully staffed and great reviews. Owner is looking to relocate and invest in a new venture.”
Bauer’s Optical at 4680 King Street is permanently closed.
The shop was broken into in January — one of many eyewear sellers that have been broken into this year across the region. About $17,000 in glasses was stolen from the store, which is located in the Shoppes at Summit Centre, a shopping center in the northwest corner of Alexandria.
Rappaport Co. is managing the Alexandria property, although the shop is still full of merchandise.
The phone number for Bauer’s Optical is now unlisted and the website has been taken down.
Five years after the City Council struck down a plan to get a Business Improvement District (BID) up and running in Old Town, a discussion of BID frameworks is coming back to the city.
While the city earlier rejected the idea of a BID in Old Town, BID advocates managed to get the concept approved as part of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding.
“Earlier this year, City Council adopted their calendar year 2022 priorities, which included COVID-19 pandemic recovery: Identifying policies, practices and resources needed to ensure a resilient and equitable recovery for all residents and businesses,” staff wrote in the city docket. “Aligned with that priority, staff has created guidelines for City Council’s adoption that outlines how interested business communities, or proponent groups, can propose the formation of a Business Improvement District (BID).”
Back in 2017, some local business leaders and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) spearheaded an effort to get a BID approved for Old Town, but they struggled to gain traction with business owners along King Street who balked at the idea of an additional tax for already struggling businesses.
The upcoming City Council meeting won’t be to approve the creation of any such BID, but will entail looking again at the guidelines for how a businesses in a commercial area can petition to create one.
“Groups of businesses in the City have expressed interest in exploring this tool as part of recovery efforts, and in recent years, the City has encouraged or required the formation of BIDs in new development areas,” the docket said. “The guidelines provide the framework and instructions for these groups to request BID formation — with the ultimate decision on formation determined by City Council on an application-by-application basis.”
The guidelines include a ten-step process, from informing the City that a BID is being considered through to tax ordinances and BID operations.
The item is scheduled just before “2022 City Council Priorities, Housing and COVID-19 Recovery Business Plans” on the docket, which at time of writing consist of blank placeholder pages.
For Alexandria, Juneteenth is a day for rejoicing and reflection.
June 19 recognizes the emancipation of slaves in the United States, and the country’s second Independence Day is now a federal holiday. All City government offices will be closed on Monday (June 21) in observance of Juneteenth.
Alexandria’s roots with slavery run deep, and the city is hosting a number of events throughout the weekend.
Visit Alexandria also recommends 30 Black-owned businesses in Alexandria.
The City is hosting the following Juneteenth events:
Story Time with the Black History Museum
Saturday, June 18, from 11 to 11:30 a.m.
Charles Beatley Jr. Central Library (5005 Duke Street)
Juneteenth Jubilee, featuring Grammy nominee Culture Queen
Saturday, June 18, 12 to 1 p.m.
Charles Beatley Jr. Central Library (5005 Duke Street)
Jubilee Voices, “Juneteenth: Singing the Journey“
Sunday June 19, from 3 to 4 p.m.
Market Square (301 King Street)
With performances by the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices ensemble
Juneteenth at the Torpedo Factory Art Center
Sunday, June 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Guests and artists will create Juneteenth-related messages to their loved ones
Freedom House grand opening
On Monday, June 20, the City will celebrate the grand reopening of the Freedom House Museum with a 6 p.m. event at Shiloh Baptist Worship Center (1401 Jamieson Avenue).
During the 19th century, the museum (1315 Duke Street) was home to the Franklin and Armfield Office, where thousands of Black men, women and children were trafficked as slaves.
“As part of the City’s Juneteenth events, the grand opening marks the official debut of this National Historic Landmark in Alexandria and its notable story and transition,” the City said. “Slavery, race-based laws, and racial terror erased and diminished African American history and contributions from the national narrative. This Museum seeks to reframe white supremacist history.”
There’s a new reason to go to the Hyatt Centric Old Town.
Indo-Chinese restaurant Indochen is now open at the hotel (1625 King Street) serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is the second Indochen in Alexandria, after its location at 4906 Brenman Park Drive in Cameron Station.
The menu has been curated by Chef Ram Thapa, who is bringing his hometown food of Nepal to the restaurant’s tables. Diners can enjoy a traditional American breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner menus that include items like chop suey, chow mein, and Indian dishes like butter chicken, samosas and palak paneer.
“Along with the excitement of leading one of Alexandria’s newest hotels, I am thrilled to work alongside Chef Ram Thapa and bring a new energy to the lobby to create a refreshing experience for every guest,” says General Manager Sam Selvi. “With easy access to breakfast, lunch and dinner options, Indonchen enables visitors to discover cuisine that encompasses the best of Indian and Chinese culture.”
The space was previously home to French & Southern.
The new restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Alexandria Restaurant Partners is expanding their operations to D.C.’s Union Market. The company has bought the property at 400 Morse Street and plans to open its second Palette 22 location in late 2023.
ARP opened its first Palette 22 location in Shirlington in 2017, and the new restaurant at 400 Morse Street NE will be a reimagining of the concept. It will still serve small plates and global street food.
“We want to create an interactive experience for our guests,” said ARP Partner Dave Nicholas. “Our vision is ‘Palette 2.0’ – with the design, layout of the two-story space, and menu – the customer experience will be taken to the next level. We will be featuring interactive elements like a variety of cooking stations where patrons can see and watch the culinary ‘exhibition’. Here, we’re interested in redefining what an open kitchen can be.”
Alexandria Restaurant Partners also owns Mia’s Italian Kitchen, Vola’s Dockside Grill, Riverside Taco Company, Joe Theismann’s Restaurant, The Majestic, Ada’s on the River and Barca Pier and Wine Bar. The company also owns a Mia’s Italian Kitchen and Café Tu Tu Tango in Orlando, Florida.
“We’ve been watching Union Market develop, and we love the energy and sense of community,” said ARP Partner Scott Shaw. “We are deeply involved in the other communities we currently operate in and look forward to doing the same here. In terms of the concept, we think the Palette 22 – small plates, global street food, and local artists onsite – fit perfectly into the neighborhood and complements the nearby Union Market food hall. We also think Palette 22 fills a gap in the market, offering a high energy, approachable concept for a younger audience.”
Music, local food and beer is on tap this weekend for the Portside in Old Town Summer Festival at Waterfront Park.
This year, the event is merging with the 44th Annual Alexandria Jazz Fest, and the free events will be held on Friday (June 17) from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 9 p.m.
The Portside Festival is organized by Visit Alexandria and the City’s Office of the Arts.
“New this year, the event merges with the on Friday evening to showcase jazz performances and readings by Alexandria poets,” Visit Alexandria said on its website. “Saturday the festival continues with an eclectic musical lineup, local food, hands-on art and history activities and more.”
Additionally, Port City Brewing Company will provide these beers:
- Optimal Wit (Belgian-style white ale, 4.9%)
- Beach Drive (Golden ale, 4%)
- Downright Pilsner (Bohemian style pilsner)
- 4.8%; Monumental (IPA, India pale ale, 6.7%)
- 6 to 6:15 p.m. — Opening remarks
- 6:15 to 7 p.m. — Cubano Groove
- 7:15 to 8 p.m. — VERONNEAU
- 8:15 to 9 p.m. — Eric Byrd Trio
There will be poetry read between sets by:
- Zeina Azzam, Alexandria’s Poet Laureate
- KaNikki Jakarta, Alexandria’s former Poet Laureate
- An up-and-coming Alexandria youth poet
- 1 to 1:15 p.m. — Opening remarks
- 1:15 to 2 p.m. — Eli Lev (folk rock)
- 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. — La Unica (Irish Latin rock)
- 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. — ilyAIMY (folk rock)
- 5 to 5:45 p.m. — Rob Curto’s Forró for All (Brazilian forró)
- 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. — Ras Band (Ethiopian reggae, jazz and funk)
- 7:45 to 9:00 p.m. — Pablo Antonio y La Firma (salsa, merengue and bachata)
Victoria Lopez, operations manager at Best Foot Forward and daughter of the shop’s founder Wilfred Lopez, said they are planning on moving to the new Bradlee location sometime in early July.
“We’ve been at Pentagon Row for about twenty years now, ever since the shopping center opened,” Victoria said. “My dad started it as a one-man business. Now we’re looking to expand and Bradlee would be twice as big. That will give us more of a chance to find more services and present more retail stuff.”
Shoe repair businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, but Victoria said Best Foot Forward has held out by pivoting to more generalized leather repair.
“Through COVID saw about 70% of all shoe repair shops die down,” Victoria said. “We had people come in and bring office shoes, but now they’re bringing different types of jobs.”
What was once mainly office shoes has grown to include more repairs to things like repairing sneakers or leather bags. The change wasn’t without precedent at the story, and Victoria said over the last twenty years the shop has worked on a wide array of unusual items.
“Throughout twenty years we’ve restored a lot of weird stuff,” Victoria said. “We had an elephant shoe for the National Zoo. We’ve done a knight’s helmet — the leather part inside.”
Victoria said Best Foot Forward will be moving in near the Fresh Market.
Image via Best Foot Forward/Facebook