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Black, indigenous and people of color-owned small businesses are about to get a small boost in Alexandria.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership just awarded $535,000 in grant funding for businesses, and to create two new groups — the Social Responsibility Group and the Alexandria Minority Business Association.

The funds were awarded to:

“We look forward to growing the energy in Old Town and Del Ray, increased prominence and participation for Eisenhower, Old Town North, and West End, and to better serving our minority businesses with the help of the Social Responsibility Group and the Alexandria Minority Business Association.” said Senay Gebremedhin, AEDP’s economic recovery manager.

Additionally, on Tuesday night (October 25), the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved releasing $500,000 in reserve funding for a new BIPOC incubator program.

The program will start in December, and award $5,000-to-$7,000 grants to businesses by this spring.

The legislation creating the program was brought forward by City Council Member Alyia Gaskins.

“This is a great start, but we’re going to need continued investment in these programs and in our businesses,” Gaskins told her colleagues on Council.

Gaskins and City staff agreed with the findings of a 2021 regional report, which shows that Northern Virginia’s 128,000 BIPOC businesses were severely impacted by the pandemic.

The Supporting Northern Virginia’s Minority-owned Businesses report said that minority-owned businesses experienced more devastation from the pandemic due to being “small in size, concentrating in high-risk industries, and experiencing difficulty securing capital.”

Businesses are eligible for the program if they:

  • Demonstrate they meet defined criteria around BIPOC- ownership
  • Are licensed to conduct business in the city
  • Are in good standing with City Hall with taxes and regulations
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Black-owned businesses in Alexandria (image via Visit Alexandria)

At an upcoming meeting, the City Council will consider releasing $500,000 in funding for a program to help incubate Black, indigenous and people of color-owned small businesses.

The funding is considered as part of the BIPOC-Owned Businesses Grant Program, which can then award a one-time grant of up to $7,000.

According to the docket:

Consideration of the release of $500,000 in FY 2023 Contingent Reserve Funding set aside for Minority Business Incubation for programs that support black, indigenous and people of color (“BIPOC”) owned small local businesses that enable the City to retain and grow existing businesses, recruit new business, and/or assist with start-up activities.

The summary of the program says that for businesses to be eligible, they must demonstrate they meet defined criteria around BIPOC ownership, license to conduct business in the City of Alexandria, and compliance with City fiscal and regulatory policies (“in good standing”).

The summary said that grants are awarded by tiers based on the business maturity — including factors like years in operation, brick-and-mortar presence, the number of employees — and the business’ needs. The average grant size is expected to be $5,000.

Businesses that did not receive funding as part of the various Covid recovery programs will be prioritized. According to the summary:

“It is anticipated that the number of eligible applicants may exceed the total funding currently available,” the summary said. “Businesses that did not receive prior Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES”)/American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) grants… through the City (business grant programs administered by AEDP/ACT for Alexandria) will be prioritized.”

The proposal is scheduled for review at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25. If approved, the program would launch in December with review and selection in January and grants awarded starting in March.

Image via Visit Alexandria

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Fully stocked bookshelf (image via Old Town Books/Facebook)

As Alexandria moves into fall, it’s likely locals will want to nurse a cup of hot coffee at their local shop or curl up at home on the couch with a good book. If you’re not sure what that book should be: Ally Kirkpatrick has a few ideas.

Kirkpatrick, owner of Old Town Books (130 S Royal Street), said in some ways Alexandria follows national trends on what’s popular, but there are other titles that catch on specifically with the local clientele.

“Something that’s a best-seller everywhere doesn’t always translate to local stores,” Kirkpatrick said.

While the assumption might be that political books are the hot commodities in a D.C.-area bookstore, Kirkpatrick said there’s a bit more nuance to what will take off. Readers got burned out on books about the Trump administration, for instance, but New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s book Confidence Man was released around the time of the Jan. 6 trials and proved to be a best seller.

Other popular books have more of a local connection.

“We sold so many copies of [Matthew Cappucci’s] book,” Kirkpatrick said. “I think that’s specific to our area. We did an event with him and he was so charming and wonderful and we sold out. We probably sold more copies than a Barnes and Noble a few states away would. When we get a connection like that, it’s more location specific.”

Another recent example was Uncultured by Daniella Mestyanek Young.

“Normally with a memoir, we’d buy a couple of copies, but she’s local so we bought two cartons,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick said Old Town Book stocks books across the political spectrum, though there’s some curation involved.

“The younger generation skews more liberal stuff, but I also know older dudes who like more middle-of-the-road conservative stuff,” Kirkpatrick said. “[There’s a] difference between censorship and curation. We sell anything, but we try to make it more [in line with] what our values are. We also listen to what anyone across the spectrum is listening to and buying. We had the new Henry Kissinger book out on the table for a week, but after that week it was like ‘alright, that’s all Henry gets.'”

Kirkpatrick said while visitors from outside of the region will stop by and buy a water bottle or t-shirt, most of the book sales are either to neighbors or to local tourism — visitors from D.C., Maryland or other parts of Northern Virginia.

“The local tourists, they’re cool,” Kirkpatrick said. “They buy six books at a time.”

One of the recent best-sellers was Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died.

“It’s a really powerful book,” Kirkpatrick said. “It really hit that zeitgeist moment, especially when there’s social media sharing about the book. You could tell when it blew up on TikTok because we’d get calls asking if we had it in stock.”

Predicting what will be popular with readers can be a gamble, had Kirkpatrick said there have been a few times where something she thought would be big didn’t take off.

“There was a novel called A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara,” Kirkpatrick said. “It was a huge literary sensation. It sold well because it got picked up on social media. It’s a brutal book, hard to put down. Her new book came out and we bought a lot, but people weren’t into it. It was too far apart from her first book and people forgot about it. It had a big section about a pandemic and I think people were over pandemic stuff. It’s too soon, it didn’t sell as much.”

That’s not to say pandemic topics are completely toxic to readers, Kirkpatrick said there are a few that have managed to stand out.

“I actually really loved the latest Michael Lewis, The Premonition, and we sold three cartons of that because I was like ‘no, it’s a good pandemic book, it’s about bureaucracy and the flaws in the public health system,'” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s fun because it’s sort of a chicken and the egg question: did we sell a lot because it’s popular or because we liked it?”

Kirkpatrick said she enjoys seeing parallels between what people are discussing online and what they’re buying in the store. With the release earlier this year of Dune, Kirkpatrick said the book has been flying off the shelves.

“We sell so much of Dune,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s amazing, we sell so many copies. We keep a stack of Dune upstairs because we know we’re going to sell it. There are like four different editions and we stock all of them because we love them and people by them. The movie came out too and that gave it a boost.”

Kirkpatrick said genre classics, like Dune or The Hobbit, always sell well and are frequently purchased as gifts. Read More

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After complaints of inescapable barking creeping into the neighborhood, Brewski’s Barkhaus might not go ahead with its special use permit (SUP) request to expand outdoor seating.

Barkhaus (529 E. Howell Avenue), the D.C. Metro area’s first-ever dog-friendly bar and restaurant with an off-leash indoor and outdoor dog park, opened two years ago. The business wants to add 20 seats to the outdoor seating area, which already has 20 outdoor seats.

The SUP states that the daily number of guests (around 150 people) won’t change because of the new seats, although business owners are wary of what they see as potentially restrictive restrictions by city staff.

Barkhaus co-founder Alex Benbassat said that the company is closing an hour earlier throughout the week and opening later due to neighbor complaints. He also says that the business has not received a single noise citation from the city.

“We reduced our operations by eight hours a week,” Benbassat said. “All we want is 20 seats. Retracting the SUP would just take away from the customer’s experience. Customers just be wouldn’t be hanging out as long, it wouldn’t be as comfortable.”

Barkhaus is located at the busy corner of E. Howell Avenue and Richmond Highway, and across the street from the full-service dog daycare Your Dog’s Best Friends.

John Kit Wannen lives across the street from the business, and says that his family can’t escape the noise of dogs barking at all hours of the day. Warren has sent letters to city staff, and testified before City Council at last Saturday’s (October 15) meeting.

“It penetrates our home, with all the doors and windows closed,” Wannen said. “They have a right to operate their property as they see fit, but that right ends when they penetrate our homes, and we can not escape that noise.”

Via Barkhaus/Facebook

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Alexandria Hyundai‘s special use permit has been extended to 2045 — with conditions.

After nearly three hours of deliberation on Saturday (October 15), City Council approved three special use permit requests to allow the dealership to continue operating until 2045, with the caveat that Council will take another look in 2040 at the permit for a service and storage parking lot.

Kevin Reilly has run Alexandria Hyundai on two acres of land between the 1600 and 1800 blocks of Mount Vernon Avenue for more than 20 years. With Hyundai converting to electric vehicles, Reilly is forced to upgrade his dealership and get an extension to his SUPs, which previously expired in 2025.

Council voted 4-2 (with Council Members Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre voting no) approving the SUP for the 22,000-square-foot lot.

Last week, the Planning Commission approved the plan for Alexandria Hyundai to keep operating, but denied the SUP to extend the life of the lot, which Reilly says he needs to keep operating. The parking lot is prime real estate on Mount Vernon Avenue, and the Commission agreed with City staff in finding that it does not comply with the city’s master plan, which outlines more active and pedestrian uses for that stretch of the Mount Vernon Avenue.

Reilly said that he needs the parking lot to stay in business.

“You can’t run a dealership unless you are facility compliant,” Reilly said. “It’s really economically unviable, and if you don’t meet the manufacturer’s customer satisfaction scores. Part of that is if your vehicle is in there (in the dealership), we need to have your vehicle to you immediately. If there’s no there’s no customer satisfaction, I just can’t operate.”

Reilly, a former president of the Del Ray Business Association, was praised for being a good neighbor by Council, and his proposal had the backing of the DRBA, the Del Ray Citizens Association and the Del Ray Land Use Committee.

“When I first moved to Del Ray there were literally just a handful of businesses on the Avenue,” said DRBA’s Gayle Reuter. “We are so thankful that over 20 years ago Kevin Reilly made the decision to move to Del Ray… Many of the events the community loves so much — the Del Ray Halloween Parade, the farmer’s market, Art On The Avenue — wouldn’t have happened without his early support in getting them going.”

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson praised Reilly and thanked him for running his business in Alexandria.

“We do appreciate what you do for the community and in Del Ray,” Jackson said.

The project includes a new service drive-thru lane, service reception areas and the installation of four electric vehicle chargers for community use. The chargers will be installed by this time next year, Reilly said.

The plan also includes a 770-square-foot canopy for a new 1,730-square-foot service reception addition, as well as a 1,500 square foot service reception area.

Praveen Kathpal told Council that the property should be converted to housing or open space, and that keeping the dealership until 2045 on Mount Vernon Avenue is a long time.

“Our current mayor will turn 66 years old in the year 2045,” Kathpal said. “This year’s high school seniors will be unavailable for any 40-under-40 lists. Taylor Swift will be older than Kurt Cobain would be if he were alive today. We’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Coolio’s hit, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ So, do we really want to be storing cars along Mount Vernon Avenue when all of that happens? I don’t think so.”

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After a two-and-half year hiatus, The Tasting Room (1602 King Street) has reopened in Old Town.

The 2,500-square-foot restaurant is owned by Lorien Hotel & Spa, which also owns BRABO (1602 King Street) next door. Both restaurants are run by Executive Chef Fredy Garciaguirre, who was promoted from executive sous chef over the summer.

The Tasting Room softly reopened on October 5, and there will be a grand opening later this month, although a definite date has not been set.

On the menu, expect to find hearth-baked goat cheese with spicy tomato-pesto and a warm baguette, skillet cornbread with jalapeno honey butter, and other French staples. The signature cocktail menu features Sweet Old Town, a concoction of Blanco rum, pineapple juice, vanilla syrup and lime juice.

Hotel General Manager Phillip Blane says that the restaurant has a fresh vibe.

“We are so thrilled to bring this restaurant back for the Alexandria community and area visitors to enjoy again,” Blaine said. “It will be a destination perfect for pre-dinner tipples, grabbing a beer with a neighbor, or enjoying a nightcap. A great addition to Alexandria’s thriving culinary scene.”

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Halloween pop-up bar ‘Nightmare On The Avenue’ is back in Del Ray.

The pop-up bar at 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue is decorated for the occasion, and offers spooky cocktails and snacks in the space previously home to the Tiki Bar Del Ray pop-up.

Customers can snack on light fare, like nightmare nachos, while drinking Harry Potter-themed butter beer, a Vampire’s Kiss (Tito’s vodka, pumpkin pie syrup, pumpkin puree, heavy cream and sugar) and the Insane Clown Painkiller (Pusser’s Rum, Coco Lopez, pineapple juice, orange juice and nutmeg).

Owner Bill Blackburn of the Homegrown Restaurant Group told ALXnow that customers are in for a spirited time.

“It’s a great spot to get into the Halloween spirit,” Blackburn said. “We wanted to create a fun place with a Halloween theme, and I think we succeeded with that.”

The pop-up is located between HRG’s other Del Ray restaurants Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow Del Ray on Mount Vernon Avenue.

After Halloween, the bar will be transformed into the Christmas-themed “Joy On The Avenue.”

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Former National Tire and Batter (image via Google Maps)

A former National Tire and Battery (NTB) in the West End could be transformed into a used car dealership if the repair shop next door can get approval.

Koons of Alexandria has filed an application for a special use permit to establish a used car dealership at the former NTB building at 5800 Edsall Road, just off S. Van Dorn Street.

Koons of Alexandria also operates the repair center and car rental agency next door, which will remain there under the new proposal.

The application said the project would come with extensive interior and exterior renovations to the NTB building. The dealership would have around 50-100 cars at any given time, with some light repairs ongoing inside the building.

“With this proposal, the Applicant proposes interior and exterior renovations of the existing building to upgrade the building’s appearance, as shown in the enclosed plans,” the application said. “A total of 359 parking spaces are located on the Property and the neighboring 5800 Edsall Road site and are shared between the two buildings. The provided parking is more than sufficient to meet the needs of both buildings.”

The NTB building was built in 1995 and mostly stayed as a tire sale facility until December 2020, when NTB relocated elsewhere in the West End. In 2017 there were plans to turn it into a Land Rover/Jaguar dealership, but those ultimately fell through.

The project is scheduled for review at the Nov. 1 Planning Commission meeting.

Image via Google Maps

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The sequel to one of the highest-grossing films of all time is coming early to Alexandria.

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman’s Manumission Tour Company and Griffin Vision Media have once again teamed with other local businesses for a private screening of Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at AMC Hoffman Center 22 (206 Hoffman Street).

The film will be shown on five screens on Thursday, Nov. 10, from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost $34.99 for general admission and $49.99 for VIP admission. The movie otherwise opens to the general public on Friday, Nov. 11.

The event includes a “Best-Dressed Wakandan” contest, as well as a red carpet experience with cosplayers. General admission moviegoers will get a large popcorn and drink, in addition to a swag bag and open seating. VIPS will get reserved seats and invitation to an after party.

In 2018, Chapman and his partners held a similar event for Black Panther at the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater. The event sold out, and was attended by more than 700 people, prompting Chapman to later host viewing parties for the films Green Book and Harriet.

“Honestly, back in 2018, I just wanted to have a bunch of people watch the first time we were gonna have an African American superhero in the Marvel Universe,” Chapman said. “It was great. I think we want to have that same atmosphere, and there are a lot of people and groups out there that definitely want to do that.”

The event is sponsored by National Capital Bank of Washington, fibre space, the Debra Deneise Smith Foundation, The Rub and Hen Quarter, Black upStart, kweliTV, SpottedMP, Beverly Tatum, Realtor, Virginia Black Lifestyle Magazine and Dyvine BBQ.

“I am excited to once again take Alexandria back to Wakanda,” said Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr., of Griffin Vision Media. “We had such a great time gathering together in celebrating black culture and I can’t wait to do it again. Due to the death of Chadwick Bozeman, we wanted this to be more than just a movie premiere. We wanted to use this as an opportunity to bring more awareness to prevention of colon cancer, which is something very personal to me because my mother died from this very disease back in 2017.”

The event has also partnered with DC-based national non-profit the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to raise awareness about the disease that took the life of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played Black Panther, in 2020.

Via Google Maps

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Hungry? The fine dining experience continues at 1799 Prime Steak & Seafood, which opened last month in the old Restaurant Eve location at 110 S. Pitt Street in Old Town.

Founders Jahmond Quander and Chef Sonny Tena say that their menu is straightforward — fine American steakhouse fare with some French and Asian fusions. Lunch costs about $50 for two, and dinner can cost upward of $100 without drinks.

“Eighty percent of the customers who come in order the steak,” Tena said. “The menu is straightforward and the quality is top-of-the-line.”

Quander bought the building, which is also home to the Alexandria Times newspaper, for $4.4 million in February. A native of the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, He’s worked his way up in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years, working his way up from his first job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Springfield Mall.

Quander can trace his family roots back 350 years, and to where his ancestors were once slaves at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The year 1799 is the year that Washington died and freed his slaves in his will. Quander was also the former director of food and beverage operations at George Washington’s Mount Vernon from 2013 to 2016.

“The proximity of 1799 to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the ports of Alexandria, where my ancestors arrived as slaves right here, it was only fitting that the flagship location, the first location that we open up is here in Old Town, and that the name be 1799,” Quander said. “We don’t consider ourselves fine dining. I say we’re polished casual, because we’re not pretentious. We value people, and we value the business that comes in here. This is a incredible community that has embraced us from day one when we opened up. We are incredibly appreciative of that.”

After an interior renovation, the restaurant opened in August, and now features the muted landscape paintings of Del Ray artist Jim Halloran in the Peacock Lounge, the George Washington room, the Charles room (named after Quander’s grandfather) and the Elizabeth room (named after his wife and daughter).

Before buying the building, Quander was the general manager at Blackwall Hitch on the waterfront. That’s where he met Tena, who was the executive chef at the restaurant for five years.

The pair say that their brand can go places, and that their 85 staffers have been trained intensely to perform consistently.

“This brand has legs,” Quander said. “We plan to grow the concept. We want to go into the right market, and want to make sure that the opportunity is right. One of the markets we’re looking at right now is the University of Maryland’s Prince George’s Hospital Center. We’re also considering Richmond, possibly Loudoun County, and at some point possibly Charlotte, North Carolina or even Florida. I told chef we’re gonna be retiring in Florida.”

Tena, a native of the Philippines, has been in the industry for the 25 years. He started work on cruise lines and then moved to the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks and anthrax attacks crushed the cruise industry.

Quander says he wants to get better signage to attract customers on King Street, and to make inroads with nearby hoteliers.

“It’s all about relationship building,” he said. “And making sure you know that when these lovely folks with checking in, the hotels are saying, ‘There’s a great restaurant right on our backyard. Check it out.'”

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