Alexandria, VA

With the approach of the yuletide season, the Lee-Fendall House (614 Oronoco Street) in Alexandria has decked out the home in full 19th century regalia for candlelight tours.

“Celebrate the holiday season with evening candlelight tours of the Lee-Fendall House decked out in Victorian splendor,” the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden said on Facebook. “Our antique toy exhibit will also be on view.”

The home was originally built in 1785 on land purchased by Major General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee.

The tours are offered every half hour starting at 5 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m. The museum warned that space is limited and reservations will be required. Face masks and social distancing will also be required for tours.

Tickets for the holiday tours are $8 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-13.

Photo via Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden

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Morning Notes

Beyer Calls Trump Most Corrupt President in History — “Congress has worked to stop their misconduct; I requested some of these Hatch Act investigations myself. But this administration’s abuses are so widespread that it’s hard to keep track of it all (hence this thread). Trump is the most openly corrupt President in history.” [Twitter]

Are You Eligible for the Grocery Store Gift Card Program? — “Individuals and families whose household incomes have been impacted by the pandemic may be eligible to receive grocery store gift cards in amounts ranging from $100-$400.” [Twitter]

African American Change-Makers Highlighted in New Alexandria Tours — “Alexandria is offering new tours, markers and more to lead residents and visitors through sites and stories highlighting African American change-makers that have shaped the history of Alexandria and the United States.” [Alexandria Living]

Former Delegate and Lawyer Bernie Cohen Dies — “Cohen, along with co-counsel Philip Hirschkop, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in April 1967 that bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional in the famous case ‘Loving v. Virginia.’ Two months later, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Mildred and Richard Loving, striking down laws in 15 states that banned interracial marriage.” [Alex Times]

VeloCity Bike Co-op Celebrates 10th Anniversary —  “John Patterson and Christian Myers co-founded the community-based, volunteer-run bicycle shop in May 2010. The co-op is known for its community services including its Bicycle Scholarship Program, which helps low-income families obtain bicycles, and its “do it yourself” operations.” [Alex Times]

Today’s Weather— “Mostly cloudy skies early, then partly cloudy in the afternoon. Areas of patchy fog. High 76F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. Mostly clear skies (in the evening). Low around 60F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Case Manager — “We are looking for a Case Manager to join our team working at a COVID-19 Isolation & Quarantine Shelter Site at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites! This is a a temporary position with the end date to be determined. The individual will work with clients who are quarantined or have the virus, though there will not be a lot of in person contact. This person will also spend some time at our shelter near Pentagon City Mall!” [Indeed]

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Alexandria will release a draft action plan for revitalizing the Torpedo Factory Art Center today (October 16), and the proposal on the table includes a front entrance on the waterfront and a more interactive experience for families.

The city took over operations of the Torpedo Factory in 2016, and the art center traditionally sees more than a half a million visitors every year. But Diane Ruggiero, the city’s deputy director for recreation, parks and cultural activities, says that it doesn’t have a family-friendly atmosphere.

“A lot of the focus of the plan is about activating the first floor, kind of changing that initial experience that people have when they come into the art center,” Ruggiero told ALXnow. “We do know that folks want a more engaging and interactive experience from an arts perspective.”

There are more than 80 studios in the building, and artist studios take up 70% of the building. The largest tenant, The Art League school, art supply store, gallery and offices takes up 12% of occupancy. Its next largest occupant is The Alexandria Archeology Museum.

“I think the liveliness of the Art Center has always been something that has come back as a criticism of the Art Center, even pre-COVID,” Ruggiero said. “Some of the feedback that we had from the community is that there’s not a lot going on there that’s family friendly.”

The draft plan was developed by two consultants and Ruggiero says it will be on the city’s website later today.

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The 2020 holiday season is before us, but the Alexandria Health Department is advising residents to stay home.

For thousands of residents, the annual fall and winter celebrations are heartwarming chances for friends and family to reconnect, however this year has been all about limited gatherings.

“The safest way to enjoy the holidays while COVID-19 remains in the community is to find ways to celebrate at home,” the city said in a release.

Last year, an estimated 1.34 million travelers in the D.C. area traveled 50 miles or more from their homes for the Thanksgiving holiday.

For unavoidable get togethers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • Participating in outdoor activities, which are are safer than indoor activities
  • Checking with the event hostabout any COVID-19 safety guidelines
  • Bringing extra masks (do not share or swap with others), hand sanitizer and tissues
  • Avoiding contact with people outside of your household for 14 days before the gathering

What do you think? Are you planning on traveling this holiday season?

Feel free to expand on your thoughts in the comments section.

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Even after an unforgettable year stricken by a pandemic, Alexandria has been named one of the best small cities in the United States.

Alexandria took the fifth spot in the Condé Nast Traveler’s 33rd annual Readers’ Choice Awards. The city placed third last year and fourth the year before that.

Here’s the top five small cities in the U.S. this year, according to the magazine:

  1. Charleston, South Carolina
  2. Santa Fe, New Mexico
  3. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
  4. Laguna Beach, California
  5. Alexandria, Virginia

According to Condé Nast:

Washingtonians are all in on the secret, but it’s no surprise the rest of the world is catching up: Alexandria, Virginia, the charming, historic city just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital, draws travelers and would-be residents alike. Most folks start to imagine moving there just after setting foot in Old Town, once they’ve strolled the red brick sidewalks, clocking street after street of perfectly preserved rowhouses from the 18th and 19th centuries. When you visit, scope out King Street, packed with boutiques, restaurants, and specialty shops; then land at the waterfront, where you can watch the boats bobbing on the water before touring the Torpedo Factory Art Center, a collective of galleries and artists’ studios. End the day at Gadsby’s Tavern, where some of our founding fathers used to drink–don’t mind the actors in colonial garb.

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Alexandria’s tourism bureau is participating in a COVID Relief Food Drive starting today and ending on October 15.

Visit Alexandria says that the food will benefit individuals in the hospitality industry who have been impacted by COVID-19.

Drop-off donations can be made at the Alexandria Visitor Center from October 1-11, and drive-by donations can be made at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Alexandria Old Town (1900 Diagonal Road) from October 12-13.

The following food is acceptable:

  • Canned meat
  • Canned soups
  • Shelf stable and powdered milk
  • Cereal, granola bars and grains
  • Pasta and pasta sauce
  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Cooking oils
  • Peanut butter
  • Pet food
  • Rice

The food drive is being organized by the Washington Area Convention Bureau Satellite Offices (CVBReps), a membership-based destination marketing organization with 60 members around the country.

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If you’re staying in tonight, Visit Alexandria has launched a new virtual tour and experiences page.

Tourism has taken a substantial hit during the pandemic, and the effort allows visitors to virtually stroll down King Street, take a virtual ghost tour and get in a yoga workout.

“Visit Alexandria is bringing our city experience to you,” the tourism bureau said on its website. “While we wish you were here, we know these virtual experiences will make you and your attendees feel Alexandria’s small town charm from home.”

The virtual tours allow visitors to look into a number of hotels, including the Morrison House and the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center.

Visit Alexandria also offers ALX At Home allowing visitors to “experience Alexandria’s restaurants, shops and attractions from the comfort of your own home.”

The initiative is not part of Visit Alexandria 360, which launched in 2017 and showcases 360-degree tours of 20 locations around the city.

Incidentally, in-person ghost tours are back starting in October.

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It has been a year full of challenges, and on Wednesday night Visit Alexandria’s annual report was different than years past. The event was virtual and this year the city’s tourism bureau and city leaders thanked and congratulated business owners and the community for making it this far through the pandemic.

“I’ve been inspired over the last six months to see the businesses in our community bravely fight through the worst year they have ever seen, mustering their incredible creativity, their flexibility and their partnership.,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, adding that the city lost $12 million in consumption-based taxes that have not been collected.

Visit Alexandria President and CEO Patricia Washington said that the bottom dropped out of hotel occupancy in April, which is historically the strongest month for visitation.

“The D.C. region lost 125,000 of 275,000 hospitality jobs in March and April, almost half of the sector’s employment,” Washington said. “We have since recovered about 40,000 of those jobs, but we still have a long way to go.”

Washington said that Visit Alexandria’s ALX at Home portal has gotten 4.9 million paid marketing impressions, and that more than 400 businesses are participating in the Health Department’s voluntary ALX Promise accreditation program.

Washington thanked Alexandria businesses for adapting to the times.

“Ultimately, I believe Alexandria will rise to the moment,” Washington said. “Our  ability to be nimble, our character as a small city, our entrepreneurs and our genuine care for each other are the hallmarks of a great place, and people want to visit great places. Whatever these days may throw at us, we are clearly united in our love for our city and in the privilege of advancing its future.”

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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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