Alexandria, VA

Tourism in Alexandria isn’t what it used to be. With local economies devastated by the pandemic, First Lady of Virginia Pamela Northam visited Alexandria on Wednesday (July 22) to promote safe tourism and congratulate the city on winning a $10,000 grant for its Great Walks program.

“In 2018, Virginia tourists spent more than $26 billion here, and this put 235,000 people to work and contributed $1.8 billion in local and state tax revenue,” Northam told a small audience in the Torpedo Factory Art Center. “This year, however, our tourism and hospitality industries have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Northam was joined by State Senator Adam Ebbin, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, Councilwoman Del Pepper, Rita McClenny of the Virginia Tourism Corporation and Patricia Washington of Visit Alexandria. None of the speakers said they would be taking vacations this summer, but instead would be making small outings and being careful not to contract the virus.

“When you’re ordering out, think about local and how you can support our local stores and restaurants, because they may not be here if we don’t support them,” Northam said.

The officials also praised Visit Alexandria’s ALX Promise program, which they said was important for consumer confidence. More than 300 local businesses have participated in the accreditation system that ensures compliance with health regulations.

Chapman thanked city residents for stepping up to help local businesses and donating time and effort to the city’s nonprofits.

“They are generously donating time and money to our nonprofits, and they are looking out for each other by being smart about masks and social distancing,” Chapman said. “We have 271 years of meeting challenges and overcoming them, and COVID-19 is just the latest and we will overcome this, too.”

McClenny said that promoting safety and tourism is a delicate balancing act.

“We know a revived tourism economy can help spur new economic activity and critical funds back into our Virginia communities,” she said. “Here, we also know that we must proceed responsibly and encourage travel in a safe measured manner.”

Washington said that tourism is essential for the city’s economy.

“Visitors contribute $50 million in hotel, restaurant and retail taxes to our city to help fund for city services,” Washington said. “The tourism sector accounts for 7% of the workforce and it supports our large community of small businesses. Right now this sector is threatened by coronavirus, so I cannot emphasize enough our gratitude to our state and local leaders for recognizing that it is absolutely critical to stand by these businesses so that Virginia’s hospitality sector comes back strong.”

Staff photos by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Beyer Warns of Looming Economic Catastrophe — “For months we’ve propped up the economy with strong government stimulus, especially unemployment benefits. Those benefits will expire in 25 days amid dire state and local government shortfalls. McConnell and Trump remain opposed to extending them. Economic catastrophe looms.” [Twitter]

ACPS Asks for Community Input With Reopening Survey — “We are aware that the situation we are facing is unprecedented, constantly changing, and requires a degree of flexibility from all of us. You will be asked to make a decision about your commitment to return to school in late July. By that time you will have a clear idea of our anticipated reopening plans for the fall to assist you in your decision.” [ACPS]

Visit Alexandria Shifts Strategy — “In a complete shift from prior marketing plans, Visit Alexandria emphasized the need to focus much closer to home. They plan to target the drive market, beginning with the local DC area and moving out to a 3-hour drive radius. This is in direct response to trends in consumer comfort levels which show that many people are afraid to fly or travel great distances.” [Alexandria Living]

How An Old Town Book Shop Adapted to COVID-19 — “Inside, the shop went from cozy bookstore to book-packing assembly line, and the team was grateful to be able to keep working.” [Alexandria Living]

There’s Outdoor Yoga in Del Ray Wednesday — “This class is for all levels but is designed to be an easy and cooling flow class. Bring your mat. All spots will be socially distanced and it will be first come first serve. Masks are not required for outdoor activity but are encouraged. Refreshments to follow. We look forward to seeing you there!” [Facebook]

New Job: Interview Supervisor — “The Interviewer Supervisor, a public health professional, is responsible for managing a team of approximately ten (10) Contact Interviewers and/or Case Interviewers.” [Workforce Development Center]

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City Councilman John Taylor Chapman never learned Alexandria’s real African American history in school, and now he’s teaching everyone who will listen. After a coronavirus-related hiatus, his Manumission Tour Company is officially back on track with in-person tours of Alexandria’s Black historical sites.

“I did not feel that I knew some of the stories that I’m telling now when I was growing up,” Chapman told ALXnow.

Alexandria’s history is full of stories of heroism, adversity, tragedy, defeat and triumph, and for the last four years, Chapman has led tours teaching residents and visitors about the city’s African American experience.

“The word Manumission means to be freed by a piece of paper,” Chapman said. “For us to name the company as such opens up a conversation when we chat with people about what we do. It’s an opportunity to talk about the struggle freedom in Alexandria, which was one of the biggest slave ports in the country.”

The next tour, which is limited to nine people for social distancing, will be held outside the Barrett Library on Friday, June 27, to talk about abolitionists, runaway slaves and free Blacks in the city before the end of the Civil War.

One of the people who received such a piece of paper was Moses Hepburn. The Alexandrian was born as a slave in 1809 to one of the owners of a plantation on Shooters Hill, which is now home to the George Washington Masonic Memorial.

“His aunt ended up purchasing his freedom when he was a young boy, and he was sent to school in Pennsylvania,” Chapman said. “When his father died, he left him a great bit of money. Moses became quite wealthy and became a big developer in the city and helped build some of the initial African American churches in the city.”

Other stories include Dominic Bearcroft’s popular tavern — known for its juicy crabs — in a building right across from City Hall. Bearcroft was one of the first African Americans to get a business license in the city.

“One of the things you figure out very quickly about these individuals is that their lives were very complex,” Chapman said. “The things that they had to deal with, the hoops they had to jump through is all very humbling.”

Alexandria’s slave trade peaked between 1820 and the start of the Civil War, Chapman said.

“Prior to that we were a colonial town,” he said. “There was slave trading as early as the 1700s, but the peak of it was when Franklin and Armfield put down roots here, establishing the slave trade and really blowing up their business. During the 1800s they were one of the top slave traders in the nation.”

The Freedom House Museum now occupies the former Franklin and Armfield headquarters.

“Alexandria became a haven for African Americans to escape the south, and we had an influx of African Americans toward the back end of the Civil War,” Chapman said. “After the Civil War, Alexandria had segregated areas of town and segregated schools.”

Fraternal organizations grew and prospered over the years, including Universal Lodge 1, and so did church groups and later the Departmental Progressive Club.

“We’re not a perfect community,” Chapman said. “We still have folks that are still struggling in school, particularly certain racial and ethnic classes. There are certain groups that are still struggling a little bit more with a lower standard of living, and it’s frankly reflective of what we’re seeing across the nation. We still have a ways to go, even though we want to be a progressive and inclusive community.”

Photo via Manumission Tour Company/Facebook

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Deliver, carryout or curbside pickup? Alexandria is one of dozens of Virginia localities now participating in the Virginia is the Restaurant Lovers Takeout Week.

The March 30-April 5 effort to help out local restaurants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic was organized by the Virginia Tourism Corporation and Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association.

“Virginia’s restaurant industry has been hit especially hard during this time,” Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association said in a statement. “Restaurants are so vital to our economy and we encourage those who can afford to do so, to continue to help out these establishments that have helped to put Virginia on the map.”

“Virginia is for Restaurant Lovers” t-shirts are also being sold, and a portion of the proceeds go toward providing relief for food service workers. Participants this week are encouraged to share their experience on social media with #VirginiaEatsLocal.

Visit Alexandria has compiled a list of eateries at ALX at Home.

Photo via Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker/Facebook

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One week after Lee-Jackson Day was nixed, the Union is preparing for its latest show of force at Alexandria’s Fort Ward.

The Fort Ward Museum — which covers the history of one of the best-preserved Union forts that formed the defenses of Washington, D.C. during the Civil War — is scheduling its annual “outfitting the men” program for next Saturday, Feb. 22, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“Museum interpreters in Union uniform will present ongoing talks about the clothing, military accessories and equipment typical of the Federal units who were stationed at Fort Ward throughout the Civil War,” the museum said in a press release. “Hands-on reproduction items, intricately detailed model soldiers, and original objects on exhibit will be featured.”

Museum director Susan Cumbey said the display of Union uniforms on model soldiers are popular among children that come to the tour.

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Gadsby’s Tavern is one of Alexandria’s most notable historic landmarks, famous for hosting guests like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but a new tour looks at the lives of slaves forced to work at the tavern.

A Complicated Hospitality Tour looks into the stories, experiences and archival records of the men and women enslaved by proprietor John Gadsby, according to an event description. While many depictions of slavery focus on the plantation system, this tour looks at the nuances of urban slavery and aims to explore how slaves lived in early Alexandria.

The tour is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 22, from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person.

There are several events throughout Black History Month in Alexandria, including a screening of a movie about an African American woman in Alabama who spoke out against the white men who raped her, and a meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 11) of the Equal Justice Initiative — a group currently working to investigate two lynchings in Alexandria’s history.

Black history in Alexandria has had a prominent focus early in 2020, with the city purchasing the Freedom House museum at 1315 Duke Street, a new art installation on the waterfront focusing on the role of black Americans in the city’s industrial and agricultural origins, and the Manumission Tour Company spotlighting the city’s history with the Underground Railroad.

Photo via Gadsby’s Tavern Museum/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Dog Featured in Puppy Bowl — “The Puppy Bowl features dogs from shelters and rescue groups like Alexandria-based dog rescue Operation Paws for Homes. The rescue group is holding a watch party Sunday, Feb. 2 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Wag & Brew, 614 S Pickett Street, Alexandria.” [Patch]

Crash Snarls Rush Hour Traffic — Just before 5:30 p.m. last night a crash, reportedly involving a car and a motorcycle, shut down portions of Sanger Avenue and Beauregard Street, snarling rush hour traffic. [Twitter]

Apartment Building Purchase Complete — “The purchase of an Alexandria apartment building that will provide affordable housing units is complete, the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation announced Thursday. Avana Apartments, a 326-unit apartment complex at 3001 Park Center Drive in the West End, will have some units available at lower costs for households that meet income requirements. It will be renamed Parkstone Alexandria.” [Patch]

Waterfront is Highlight for Local Visitors — “Another standout in the data was attraction to the waterfront. In a portion of the survey where respondents were shown photos of scenes around Alexandria – which included shops along King Street, cobblestone roads and historic sites like Mount Vernon – the photos that performed the best were those with water. ‘Our historic character is really important but showing a place that’s on the water is very inspirational to people as a place that they want to visit,’ Vito Fiore, director of marketing and research for Visit Alexandria.” [Alexandria Times]

No Anniversary Beer for Port City — “Each year for our anniversary we craft a unique style of beer. Sadly, after monitoring the brewing process we have decided COLOSSAL IX does not represent our dedication to great quality beer, and we will not be releasing an anniversary beer in 2020.” [Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Best Local Valentine’s Day Options — “We asked readers what they thought was the most romantic dining spot in the city. A few of the suggestions were Vermilion, Fontaine and The Wharf. Some suggested following up dinner with desserts from places like Alexandria Pastry Shop, Alexandria Cupcake and Blüprint Chocolatiers.” [Patch]

New Alexandria Tourism Campaign — “Tourism in Alexandria continues to be a major economic driver, and Visit Alexandria is launching a new marketing campaign to encourage even more visitors to come experience Alexandria’s charm. The campaign is targeted at overnight travelers who live outside the D.C. region.” [Alexandria Living]

Big Scholarship for Two T.C. Students — “The pair stood on stage in front of friends and family at a D.C. theater, where they were formally awarded Posse Foundation scholarships worth $250,000. Now, Wilmer Carranza and Madeleine Allen will head off to college this fall without having to give a second thought to tuition costs. They were two of six T.C. students to make the final round out of tens of thousands of applicants from across the United States.” [Gazette Packet]

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Morning Notes

New Senior Care Center Set to Open in 2021 — “Construction is progressing quickly on a new senior care community in Old Town. Sunrise Senior Living broke ground on its new facility at the intersection of North Washington and Princess streets early this year. The McLean-based company is building a 93-room assisted living community.” [Alexandria Living]

Waterfront Construction Projects Well Underway — “Anyone living on Union Street in Old Town 10 years ago might not recognize it now… During the week, the street is crowded with construction vehicles, and there are several places where the sidewalk is temporarily blocked or under a protective awning because of the construction. Hardly the setting for tourists taking selfies.” [Gazette-Packet]

Alexandria Tourism Sets Record — “Like to hang out in Alexandria? You’re definitely not alone! Visit Alexandria announced all-time high revenue at its annual meeting on Sept. 23. Visitor spending increased $33 million dollars to a record $859 million, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation.” [Zebra]

Alexandria Holding Anti-Bullying Events — “In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month in October, Alexandria is hosting activities through the Mayor’s Campaign to End Bullying. This Campaign raises awareness about what bullying is, what to do about it, and how to prevent it.” [City of Alexandria]

Joe Sestak Not Dropping Out of Presidential Race — “Joe Sestak is far from counting himself out of the 2020 presidential race. Sestak, 67, a longtime Alexandria resident and former Pennsylvania congressman… failed to meet the polling and donor thresholds for the fourth debate in October. While Sestak is far from a frontrunner in the race, he said he’s also far from dropping out.” [Alexandria Times]

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