Newsletter

Nicole Burlimann now has a completely different life. Exactly two years ago, she was the food and beverage manager at the Hilton Garden Inn — facing a busy spring full of events. Then COVID hit, her position was terminated and she collected unemployment for months while watching and waiting for restrictions to be lifted and normalcy to resume.

After four months, Burlimann started working part-time at Piece Out Del Ray (2419 Mount Vernon Avenue) when it opened in the summer of 2020. The restaurant is owned by the Ponzi family, and they later promoted Burlimann as general manager at their St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub and Market 2 Market locations in Del Ray.

“I wake up every day feeling very fortunate and thankful to live where I live, to have the support system that I have,” Burlimann said. “Now I just go with the flow. And that’s knowing that it’s so much worse for so many other people… I didn’t think we’d have that second wave that we had. But I am really looking forward to the spring as things are loosening up and an uptick in business.”

Today (Friday, March 11) marks two years since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization, and the first case in the city was reported at Virginia Theological Seminary. That two-year period saw Alexandria tread through dramatic social waters with the Alexandria City Public Schools system’s conversion to online learning and eventual return to in-person instruction, local businesses experiencing dramatic closures, demonstrations against police brutality and much more.

To date, there have been 184 reported deaths and 29,809 cases reported in Alexandria. The worst month of the pandemic was just two months ago, as January saw more than 12,000 cases. The numbers of new cases have dropped considerably since then, and restrictions have been loosened to a point of normalcy not seen since March 2020.

Starting this month, face mask mandates were lifted in City government buildings and within Alexandria City Public Schools, and the Alexandria will soon start charging businesses rent for their use of parklets — parking spaces in front of businesses converted to dining areas.

The decision was made after guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave Alexandria and its neighboring jurisdictions a “Low” community level of transmission. Inova Alexandria Hospital has even lifted its visitation requirements.

No pandemic playbook

Mayor Justin Wilson, who celebrates a birthday on March 11, told ALXnow that the city is entering into a new phase of the pandemic.

“We’re heading into a different phase that’s a lot closer to normal,” he said. “We’re not going to shut things down anymore because we have vaccines, and we can we can protect those who are vulnerable and make sure everyone else can continue living their lives. But I also think there’s gonna be a lot that will probably never return to normal. And some of that’s okay.”

Wilson says the city was faced with a managing a catastrophic emergency situation without a playbook.

“There was no playbook, there were no rules,’ Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “In the beginning our big ask was going to all of the utilities like Dominion, Verizon, Comcast, and asking if they could give forbearance and not cut off their customers, and they all agreed, which was great. All of our utilities agreed and actually held to that for a long, long time — a year in-plus. Yeah. Then we sent a letter to landlords asking them to not not evict tenants. Early on, there was so much pain and tumult and everything that you were just trying to address and it was like triaging patients.”

The city extended services made possible through emergency federal funds, millions of pounds of free food was distributed by ALIVE!,

and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership helped businesses receive millions in federal grants.

Wilson, who contracted the virus in Spain in December, has posted COVID-19 updates on social media every day of the pandemic. That practice that ends today, he tweeted.

Back to business

Like many businesses, Bill Blackburn and his partner Mike Anderson of the Homegrown Restaurant Group had to furlough employees, get Paycheck Protection Program loans, and figure out how to keep their six restaurants afloat in Carlyle and Del Ray. While his staff are longer required to wear face masks, a number of changes to his businesses are permanent.

“In regard to the last two years, it feels in some ways like it’s been two decades,” Blackburn said. “In some ways, it feels like two weeks. We’ve gone through so many transformations, we’ve had so many false starts. It just seems like that we we’ve constantly been changing. Staff has turned over, styles of service have changed and we have outdoor service tents, outdoor dining, to-go windows, ordering with QR codes, a new point-of-sale system, adding DoorDash and Uber Eats — all these things have just become such a main part of business.”

The mask rule has also been lifted by Alexandria Restaurant Partners, according to partner Scott Shaw. ARP owns owns Mia’s Italian KitchenVola’s Dockside GrillTheismann’s Restaurant and BarLena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & TapPalette 22 in Shirlington, The Majestic, and opened BARCA Pier & Wine Bar a year ago.

“We’re back to running restaurants again without the complication of the complications of COVID,” Shaw said. “We feel very fortunate to have survived. It was an enormous amount of work by our team. It was just hard work. It was hard work to close the restaurants, and hard work to partially reopen. It was hard work at every stage of the game. We’ve developed a resiliency and, and adaptability that we didn’t know we had.”

Visit Alexandria also predicts that tourism will rebound, but that the hotel industry will continue to struggle.

As for nonprofits, ACT For Alexandria made impressive strides during the last two years breaking records raising millions in their annual one-day Spring2ACTion fundraiser. This year, ACT is asking for $2.5 million for the fundraiser, which is on April 27.

“We have a very generous community, and nonprofits that have been doing incredible work all year,” said ACT for Alexandria’s Brandi Yee. “It’s another chance for community members to support the nonprofits who are still on the front lines helping people who have been affected by Covid.”

Natalie Talis, a population health manager with the Alexandria Health Department, says staff are tired and a little burned out.

“The Alexandria Health Department is still here, whether or not COVID is,” Talis said. ” We will always be that important resource for helping to provide guidance to businesses, to nonprofits, to faith-based entities, as well as to residents, in terms and what are those best ways that you can protect yourself and the people around you.”

Alexandria remains in a state of emergency until June 30.

2 Comments

Local businesses will have until the summer to enjoy the fruits of a temporary program that has allowed restaurants to provide curbside pickups, suspend regular operating hours and sell alcohol to-go.

City Council, on Saturday, will consider extending the temporary relief program to local businesses from April 1 to June 30, and expire along with the city’s state of emergency that same day.

The proposed extension would “provide restaurants and retailers the benefit of more time to submit applications for commercial parklets and construct the necessary decking for those who choose to continue use of on-street parking spaces,” city staff said in a report.

Additionally, on Tuesday, City Council approved a staff proposal to start charging annual rent to business owners for their use of parklets.

The following measures are now permanent, and would not be impacted by the new deadline:

Local gyms wouldn’t be able to provide their services in parklets anymore. The city said fitness-related businesses “did not actively participate in the temporary outdoor business expansion program,” and that the parklet program only allows for restaurants and retailers to provide services.

Alexandria’s state of emergency has been extended five times since it was first declared by Council in March 2020.

0 Comments

After nearly two years of dining and shopping in parking spaces outside of local businesses, Alexandria wants to start charging rent.

City Council will review a staff proposal on Tuesday (March 8) to start charging annual rent to business owners for their use of parklets — converted parking spaces that have been used for outdoor dining, fitness classes and retail.

Council officially approved the parklet program in October 2021, but previously approved a temporary program in May 2020. The city was experiencing pandemic shutdowns at the time, and restrictions were eased on outdoor dining, curbside pickups, and selling to-go alcoholic drinks.

The City is proposing:

  • $150 per linear foot for businesses along King Street, or $3,000 per space
  • $50 per linear foot in Arlandria and the West End, or $1,000 per space
  • $100 per linear foot for all other area, or $2,000 per space
  • Short-term fees would be $100 application fee  and $30/$40 per day for reserved parking
  • Businesses would pay half of the proposed fees for the first year
  • If approved, fees would start July 1

While appreciative of the program overall, some business owners say that the proposed fees are too high.

Mike Anderson has four parking spaces in Carlyle — two in front of Sweet Fire Donna’s and two in front of Tequila & Taco. Every parking space is about 40 linear feet, which will end up costing Anderson about $8,000 a year.

“We are really appreciative of the fact that we’re allowed to have parklets,” Anderson said. “Pre-Covid, if we had gotten the city and said, ‘We want a couple parking spaces on the front to serve customers,’ we’d get laughed out of Hall.”

Anderson isn’t opposed to paying a fee, but said that restaurants are already paying a 5% meals tax, which he says more than makes up for the city’s lost revenue from spaces that would otherwise collect parking fees.

Charlotte Hall, managing director of Old Town Business, is working with the city and businesses on the project.

“It’s going to help us clean up or make our places look better,” Hall said. “And make them look more inviting, and that’s what we want, right? The money we put into those parking spaces, we want to make good money out of that. In order to do that, we have to make those spaces look sharp. No droopy plants, but a clean, crisp look.”

29 Comments

Bethesda-based Fresh Baguette is opening in Old Town on Tuesday (March 1). The first 20 customers in the door will also get free croissants for a year.

The bakery at 1101 King Street joins the companies locations in Maryland and Georgetown — all part of an expansion plan that will see a number of the bakeries popping up around the region.

“We need to pass inspections, but we’re confident that we will open at the end of January or beginning of February, Fresh Baguette’s Retail Manager Jérémy Touchard told ALXnow. “We want to open more locations. In 2022, we will open in Alexandria and we are looking for another location to open in Northern Virginia. We also plan to open a few more locations in 2023.”

All proceeds from the opening will go to Carpenter’s Shelter.

“Come by and get a Free Baguette and purchase a Fresh Baguette Sampler for $3 and all proceeds go to Carpenter’s Shelter,” Fresh Baguette said on social media. ” We are very excited to bring our modern French Bakery to Old Town.”

The first 20 customers in the door will get free croissants for a year (one a week for 52 weeks), and eligible customers will need to be 18. There can only be one winner per household.

Via Fresh Baguette/Facebook

0 Comments

Noelie Rickey and Markos Panas have been busier than bees lately, and on Thursday (Feb. 24) their Beeliner Diner officially opened in the Bradlee Shopping Center.

The new family restaurant at 3648 King Street is the former longtime home to Atlantis Pizzeria & Restaurant, which closed early last year. Rickey, Panas and partner Dagmawi Abedje also own the Bread & Water Company bakery in the Belle View Shopping Center. They opened a Bun Papa pop-up at the King Street location in November, and the space has been expanded to include the BeeStreet Virtual Food Hall, which is a collection of pop-up concepts ALX Pizza, Boom Chicky (fried chicken) and Bun Papa.

Rickey was raised in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, where there was the original Beeliner Diner.

“It was one of those places where you could go where they were very accepting and tolerant of everybody,” Rickey said. “I just grew up loving the place because it was pure diner food. They closed years and years ago, and I just always loved the name and I loved the vibe of the place, which was so welcoming.”

The 5,000-square-foot restaurant holds 130 seats, including 38 at the milkshake bar.

Panas said that the multiple concepts for the restaurant were the result of the pandemic, as they were forced to shut down a location at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and stop selling wholesale baked goods to local businesses. Their Bun Papa concept also expanded with a location in Capital One Arena.

“Things are moving along incredibly, and we had to scale back a lot,” Panas said. “We’re no longer doing wholesale, we’re no longer doing any farmer’s markets, and those were huge components of our business.”

Panas and Rickey opened Bread & Water Company  in 2013 in the Belle View Shopping Center, and had a serious shakeup after a six-alarm fire destroyed neighboring businesses in October 2019.

“The fire and the pandemic completely changed how we were going to do business moving forward,” Rickey said. “And now we have a full house. Everybody looks really happy, and I’m thinking maybe we’re just ready for this sort of thing at this point. Obviously the staff are wearing masks, but I think this is what people are ready for. People are ready to be together again.”

Courtesy photos

3 Comments

Del Ray boutique Kiskadee will be closing its doors when its lease expires on April 30, shop owner Celeste Crutchfield recently announced.

Crutchfield said she felt zapped on energy and full of dread when facing another two-year renewal on her lease.

“I don’t want to do it anymore, at least not at this point in my life,” Crutchfield wrote in a blog post. “I knew I didn’t want to stay in Kiskadee’s current building for a variety of reasons. I started looking for a new location, but I wasn’t feeling inspired by other spaces I looked at or the prospect of continuing as a small business owner.”

Kiskadee will close on April 3, and all full-priced merchandise is 20% to 30% off. If necessary, the store will reopen on April 18 to sell any remaining merchandise and fixtures.

Darby Rush and Neil Hall opened the women’s clothing and accessory boutique at 2205 Mount Vernon Avenue in 2007, and sold it to Crutchfield in 2017.

“The last two years, running a business in a pandemic has zapped me,” Crutchfield wrote. “What a doozy of a curveball for someone who had just started to know what she was doing. I’m proud that I was able to weather the storm and survive. However, it took everything I had. I have nothing more to give.”

This is not the end for the business, Crutchfield wrote.

“I just need a break and may reopen another brick-and-mortar store sometime in the future,” she wrote. “For now, I’m going to focus on the online segment of the business. The website will stay active, and I will add new products regularly. I also hope to do pop-ups and holiday shows. Please keep an eye out for these, which will be updated on our Instagram and Facebook accounts.”

Via Kiskadee/Facebook

0 Comments
Photo via Bob and Edith’s Diner/Facebook

Bob and Edith’s Diner, a hyper-local chain of five diners spread across Arlington and Fairfax, is planning to its sixth location in Old Town Alexandria early next week.

The new location at 1743 King Street — formerly Ernie’s Original Crab House — is planned to open on Monday, February 28 at 7 a.m.

“We are a family owned business that has been serving the locals for over 50 years,” said Alexander Bolton, director of marketing for Bob and Edith’s Diner, in an email. “We are opening up a new location in Old Town on Monday February 28th at 7 a.m.”

Bob and Edith’s offers the archetypal diner fare, like eggs and french toast for breakfast with burgers, soups and pies for lunch, with nearly everything on the menu at around $10 or less.

Photo via Bob and Edith’s Diner/Facebook

2 Comments

The cherry blossoms are an annual regional highlight, and Visit Alexandria has announced a suite of new and returning events around the city to experience the season.

Guidance on exploring during cherry blossom season was a little more tepid last year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, but such concerns were notably absent from the this year’s announcement and downward-trending case counts.

Visit Alexandria recommends biking or boating for seeing the cherry blossoms.

Unlimited Biking at 421 King Street has cherry blossom packages running from March 20 to April 12, with options for $15 rentals or to join a $44 guided tour.

“Pedal from Unlimited Biking: Old Town Alexandria along the Potomac River to the famous cherry blossoms of Washington DC with Unlimited Biking’s bike rental package that provides you with all that you need for your journey — maps, helmets, bike bags and locks. Hybrid bikes, road bikes, eBikes, kids bikes and kids attachments are available,” Visit Alexandria said.

The guided tours start and end at 998 Maine Avenue SW. Visit Alexandria said the tours are two hours long and run multiple times during the day.

Alternatively, Pedego Electric Bikes (210 North Lee Street) has tours from Old Town up into D.C.

The tour season runs from March 19-April 17, with tours leaving at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on weekends and tours only availably by appointment on weekdays. Tickets are $69 per bike.

“Join a three-hour guided tour from Old Town Alexandria to the cherry blossoms, including a ride through the blossoms around East Potomac Park,” Visit Alexandria said. The views of the blossoms from a Pedego are fantastic, and you don’t have to fight traffic or find a place to park downtown. Tours will run as long as there are blooms on the cherry blossom trees.”

The release said tours can be booked by calling 571-312-5168 or emailing [email protected]

By boat, Visit Alexandria said the best options are the Water Taxi or a monuments cruise.

The Water Taxi runs from the Wharf to Old Town — with other stops at National Harbor and Georgetown — with departures starting at noon and running about 25 minutes. Trips are $23 one-way or $39 round-trip. Trips depart from the Alexandria Marina at 1 Cameron Street.

“From the dock at The Wharf, it is a 10-minute walk to the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin,” the release said. “The water taxi docks at the Transit Pier, 950 Wharf Street SW, near the Tidal Basin, the National Mall, Hains Point and a Capital Bikeshare station.”

There is also the Washington Monuments Cruise to the Cherry Blossoms, which starts March 19. It also departs from the Alexandria Marina, with $26 one-way tickets and $42 round-trip tickets. The cruise is 45 minutes and ends in Georgetown.

The release also included information on some local food and drink offerings themed around cherry blossoms:

  • Common Plate Hospitality’s Cherry Blossom Cocktails and Murals at Augie’s Beer Garden (1106 King Street) and Mason Social (728 N. Henry Street) — Both restaurants have custom cherry blossom-themed items on the menu: a black cherry Bellini with gold glitter and a cherry pie old fashioned. Items are available through March 31.
  • Special cherry blossom blend at Turkish Coffee Lady (1001 King Street) — local coffee shop Turkish Coffee Lady has a special cherry blossom-themed coffee presentation available through April 30.
  • Winter in Tokyo menu at Captain Gregory’s (804 N. Henry Street) — The speakeasy will have Japanese gin, whiskey and vodka along with sake cocktails and menu items featuring Japanese-inspired dishes. The Winter in Tokyo menu is available through March 31.
  • “The Blossom” cocktail at Lena’s Wood-fired Pizza & Tap (401 E. Braddock Road) — The pizza restaurant will have a new cherry blossom themed cocktail that’s a mix of Rhum Barbancourt, plum-rose syrup, Luxardo, lemon juice and a floating edible blossom. The cocktail will be available from March 1 through April 17.
  • Cherry blossom cider from Lost Boy Cider (317 Hooffs Run Drive) — Starting March 2, Lost Boy Cider will be producing a cherry blossom cider available in-house or from a few local grocery chains like Whole Foods.
  • Cherry blossom sangria from Alexandria Restaurant Partners — From March 15-April 15, various Alexandria Restaurant Partners’ locations will have a seasonal sangria with brut rosé, Blanc Vermouth, cherry juice and orange flower water.
  • Cherry blossom gelato at Dolci Gelati (107 N. Fairfax Street) — Dolci Gelati is bringing back a cherry blossom gelato in limited supply from March 20-April 20. The gelato is available in-person, for pickup and delivery.

A full list of local cherry blossom experiences is available at the Visit Alexandria website.

0 Comments

(Updated 3 p.m.) Alexandria’s been a little more laisse fair about zoning restrictions in some ways for local businesses since the pandemic started, and a new amendment put forward by city staff could see that extend until the end of June.

Not long into the pandemic, the city approved a temporary relaxation of handful of ordinances to help make life a little easier for local businesses going through the worst throes of the pandemic’s economic impact.

Every few months those have had to get extended, and with the easing of restrictions currently scheduled to end on April 1, city staff are proposing to continue that through June 30.

“As the April 1 temporary program expiration drew near, staff learned from the business community that it could use more time to transition from the temporary business programs to the permanent ones, especially as it expended added effort and financial resources to stay viable during the onset of the Omicron variant,” a report on the amendment said. “The proposed extension in this ordinance to June 30 aligns with the recently extended date of the City’s declaration of local emergency and would provide restaurants and retailers the benefit of more time to submit applications for commercial parklets and construct the necessary decking for those who choose to continue use of on-street parking spaces.”

Under the ordinance:

  • All restaurants are allowed to provide delivery service and pick-up service. Delivery vehicles and customer pick-ups may use on-street parking subject to posted parking requirements
  • Hours-of-operation regulations have been suspended for restaurants, convenience stores, catering operations and automobile service stations (gasoline stations)
  • Restaurants and retail establishments can vend on adjacent sidewalks or parking lots
  • There are suspensions of local restrictions on alcohol sales, including off-premises alcohol sales and delivery restrictions
  • Participants can to set up outdoor dining in parking spaces outside of their businesses
  • In all other areas of the City, outdoor dining is permitted on restaurant property and in the public right-of-way (sidewalks, parking spaces, parking lots)
  • Restaurant operators may use off-street spaces located on the same property for outdoor dining where it will not detrimentally impact adjacent uses
  • Retail businesses may request the use of sidewalks, on-street parking spaces, and privately-owned parking lots and spaces to display their products and conduct sales
  • Health and fitness business operators may use sidewalks, privately-owned parking lots and spaces and on-street parking spaces to offer classes and provide access to fitness
    equipment, where it will not detrimentally impact adjacent uses

The proposal is scheduled for review at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 1.

12 Comments
Del Ray Business Association Board Members and past Heart of Del Ray award winners present the 2022 Heart of Del Ray to Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap. Joey Civali of the Yates family represented Lena’s in accepting the award. (Via Bill Blackburn)

The thoughtful dining experiences have paid off. Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap was awarded the Heart of Del Ray award on Friday (Feb. 11), beating out four other local businesses.

More than 1,000 voters cast ballots for the spot that captured the heart of the community. The Del Ray Business Association presented the restaurant with a large heart-shaped award on Friday morning — just in time for Valentine’s Day on Monday, Feb. 14.

“It’s a great anchor for Del Ray and reinforces what we’re all about — the small, locally owned family business,” said DRBA board member Gayle Reuter. “They know their customers, and we know them. It’s what we look for in a community — a place where we all know and care about each other.”

Lena’s has been widely recognized for transforming the restaurant into creative and Covid-conscious dining spaces with Haiku fans to kill airborne pathogens. The second floor was converted into The Loft at Lena’s, a seasonal pop-up with new concepts and menus, and the top of their parking deck was made into the tropical retreat Lena’s Oasis.

“Lena’s didn’t just put up a tent with tables outside,” wrote one nominator. “They recognized people needed an escape during COVID, so they created an elevated dining experience — and it changes with the seasons!”

Lena’s is owned and operated by Alexandria Living Legends Jason and Loran Yates. It opened in 2015 at “Yates Corner” at Braddock Road and Mount Vernon Avenue, and is next door to Yates Dry Cleaning and across the street from the Yates Automotive Service Center.

The award was presented to Dolce & Bean last year, and Preeti Patel’s 7-Eleven on Mount Vernon Avenue in 2020.

“The past year has been hard on all of us,” Lena’s said on its website. “We created Lena’s Oasis to say ‘thank you’ and to give back to this wonderful community that has supported us through thick and thin for more than 57 years. An oasis is something calm in the midst of chaos. So, come to our safe space and relax for a while. You deserve it. We will get through this together.”

The other nominees:

Courtesy photo

7 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list