Alexandria, VA

With this week giving Alexandrians their first taste of warmer weather, locals are turning their attention to the upcoming cherry blossom season.

This cherry blossom season, generally running through March and April, is a regional celebration of the Japanese tree marred for the second year by the specter of COVID-19.

Local tourism group Visit Alexandria has compiled a list of activities that help locals celebrate the holiday while respecting COVID precautions — though some activities are higher risk than others.

In terms of viewing the cherry blossoms, Visit Alexandria said one of the best ways is via Potomac Riverboat Water Taxi. Water Taxi admission is $13 for one-way trips or $21 for round-trip tickets. The boats depart the Alexandria Marina (1 Cameron Street) and have limited capacity to allow for social distancing.

“Cruise from Old Town Alexandria to Washington, D.C., to enjoy the famous cherry blossoms from the water,” Visit Alexandria said in the events rundown. “Potomac Riverboat by Hornblower offers a 25-minute direct water taxi from Old Town to The Wharf development in D.C. From the dock at The Wharf, it is a 10-minute walk to the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin… Water taxis are operating at half capacity; masks and physical distancing are required.”

Another options is electrical bike tours along the Mount Vernon Trail starting at 210 N. Lee Street.

A few local restaurants are planning on offering specials to celebrate the festival. Captain Gregory’s at 804 N. Henry Street is planning to host a Cherry Blossom Celebration on March 26 from 5-10 p.m.

“Captain Gregory’s will host an outdoor patio celebration of the cherry blossoms in partnership with Beam Suntory,” Visit Alexandria said. “Enjoy a mobile highball cart, themed décor and more. Savor Captain Gregory’s ‘Winter in Tokyo’ menu in-person or celebrate the Japanese blossoms at home with takeout. The menu includes a selection of Japanese spirits such as Suntory whiskey, Roku gin, Haku vodka, sake, yuzu and other Japanese staples like sochu, alongside savory dishes such as edamame and crab hushpuppies. Cocktails to-go are available from sister shop Elizabeth’s Counter’s grocery section.”

Other restaurants offering cherry blossom specials include:

A free cherry blossom exhibition will also be on display at the Torpedo Factory Art Center (105 N. Union Street) from March 31 to May 2. All three floors will feature displays of floral-themed art. Admissions is free and the gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Photo courtesy L. Barnes/Visit Alexandria

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As Congress deliberates approval of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, Alexandria is trying to figure out how it will spend its share.

Alexandria is anticipating $26 million to $34 million, depending on the final plan. The $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal includes $350 billion for local governments.

“Our pleas for Washington to come to the table with some significant local government expenses have apparently nearly been answered,” Mayor Justin Wilson said at City Council’s legislative meeting on Tuesday. “

Last year, the city received $27.5 million in federal funds that were allocated to the state government. This time, the federal funds would go directly allocation to localities, and would be available in May at the earliest.

City Manager Mark Jinks presented a preliminary proposal to Council on how the funds should be spent. It resembled the city’s 2020 Coordinated Community Recovery Plan, which focused on food insecurity, rental eviction prevention and small business grants. Jinks said that the city has been waiting for federal funding since last May, when the U.S. Senate sat on Heroes Act funding after it passed through the House of Representatives.

“We want to get your feedback, let you know where we are, and we’ll come back in probably the beginning of April when we know what the appropriations are,” Jinks said. “What we don’t know is how long do we have to spend the money. If we have three or four years to spend
it, then that’d be a different spending strategy, then if like the last bill said, you had to spend it in 12 months, which we did.”

Alexandria’s consumption tax receipts, including sales, restaurant and lodging revenue generated about $65 million per year, according to Visit Alexandria CEO Patricia Washington.

“This year we’re forecasting to be down $13 million before recovering halfway back up to $58 million in FY22,” Washington said.

Kate Garvey, the director of the city’s Department of Community and Human Services, wants to continue the supporting eviction protection efforts, as well as the city’s food assistance program with ALIVE!.

“It depends a lot on the amount of money that comes to us,” City Councilwoman Del Pepper said.

Wilson said that the city should use the funds to make structural investments for lasting changes.

“Instead of funding childcare, let’s get a childcare facility,” he said, and asked that city boards and commissions fill out a survey on how they think the funds should be spent. “Let’s build capacity that is our going to outlast just recovery of this year, and help us in the future.”

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Morning Notes

Virginia Rolls Back Some Restrictions on Dining, Outdoor Gatherings — Effective Mar. 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries, and wineries until they are required to close at midnight. The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).” [Reston Now]

Alexandria Black History Museum Launches Online Exhibition — “Following George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM) requested that Alexandria residents share their thoughts, artwork, and more. ABHM wanted to document the Alexandria community’s response of this tragic event and preserve it for future generations. An online exhibition featuring the items received so far launched recently on the Historic Alexandria Online portal. The items collectively are called the Black Lives Remembered Collection.” [Zebra]

Leaders Predict What Alexandria Will Look Like in the Year 2050 — “You pop into the Torpedo Factory and delve into the immersive beauty of art and technology combined, then get your caffeine fix with ease as a retinal scan captures your regular favorite brew — fair trade of course, because all coffee is these days. With a coffee in hand, you board one of the free electric trolleys that departs every 10 minutes from King Street to any of the city’s neighborhoods — Potomac Yard, Inova West, Carlyle, Arlandria, Del Ray and more.[Alexandria Living]

Council Approves Newport Village Development — “UDR Newport Village LLC, has received approval for a development special use permit to tear down two garden-style apartments and build a multifamily residential building with 383 units near Northern Virginia Community College. According to the plans, 24 units would be studios, 255 would be one-bedroom units, and 104 would be two-bedroom units. At least a dozen of the units would be affordable, and the developer is making a contribution to the affordable housing fund.” [Alexandria Living]

City Environmental Award Nominations Open — “Know someone who is committed to protecting the environment and sustaining Alexandria’s natural resources? Nominate them for the Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award by March 25.” [Twitter]

George Washington Reenactor Conducting Community Conversations — “Join George Washington every Friday in February as he discusses his life during various periods of his life and engages the audience. The first week will be about his youth, the second week will delve into the American War for Independence, the third week will cover his post-war retirement at Mount Vernon and his time presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and the last installment will cover his Presidency and final retirement years.” [Visit Alexandria]

Today’s Weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High 52F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… Partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 31F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Pastry Chef/Baker — “Seeking a full time pastry and/or bread baker for high quality artisan bread and pastry company. We are looking for a creative self starter who has attention to detail and a variety of skills from cookies and brownies to cakes, ice cream, mousses, desserts and pies- laminating skills a plus but not necessary. Creativity, drive and a strong work ethic are critical. This position comes with a lot of freedom to develop new items and grow the business. You will be producing a menu of set items according to our recipes but we are looking for someone who can creatively and efficiently develop and add more items- this is a growth position.” [Indeed]

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It might take years for Alexandria’s economy to recover from the impact of the pandemic, but there are plenty of developments down the road.

Micro weddings, new businesses and tourism expectations this year were just a few of the topics covered by Visit Alexandria in its annual membership meeting last week. While offset by positive news of business developments along the waterfront, the meeting was full of sobering statistics on drastically reduced revenues in nearly all sectors of the local economy.

“This turn of a new year, and especially the launch of the vaccine process provides new reasons to be hopeful,” said Visit Alexandria CEO Patricia Washington.They (vaccines) recharge our batteries for the important work ahead.”

Alexandria is a popular spot for weddings, but the pandemic has forced Visit Alexandria to embrace the micro wedding trend.

“While some couples have decided to postpone our wedding, others are embracing the opportunity to have an intimate ultra romantic day,” said Claire Mouledoux, Visit Alexandria’s vice president of communications. “Alexandria is full of fantastic spots which we are promoting… like secret gardens, like the ones you see here at Carlyle House and Rectory on Princess Street… and the steps of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.”

Vito Fiore, Visit Alexandria’s vice president of marketing and research, said that Alexandria’s hotels took a 72% loss in revenue per available room for the last six months of 2020. He said that while only 5% of the U.S. population plan to travel this month, 60% have a high degree of excitement about traveling later in the year, according to a study by Destination Analysts.

“The Deloitte Industry Outlook said that six-to-10 retail executives expect recovery in the next one to two years, but a quarter see a longer timeline of two to five years,” Fiore said.

While the recovery from the pandemic might take years, Mouledoux said that there are more than 30 restaurants that recently opened and are in development this year, including Ada’s On The River, Vía Volcán Coffee and Emmy Squared Pizza.

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For the next two weeks, restaurants across Alexandria will offer takeout specials to celebrate a spotlight on local dining establishments.

Restaurant week, a seasonal event run by Visit Alexandria, features 60 restaurants offering $49 takeout dinners for two or, at half those restaurants, $25 takeout dinners for one.

Some of the meal packages include appetizers and a bottle of wine, with the option to add to-go cocktails.

The full list of restaurants is available online — along with links to order from.

Most of the restaurants are located in Old Town and Del Ray, but outliers across the city include Aldo’s Italian Kitchen (2850 Eisenhower Avenue) in the Eisenhower Valley, Hops N Shine (2410 Mount Vernon Avenue) in Arlandria and Cafe Pizzaiolo (1623 Fern Street) near North Ridge.

In the West End, Restaurant Week participants include:

Photo via Hops N Shine/Facebook

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Morning Notes

City’s Guidance for Students Returning Home — “Students and staff should minimize their interactions with others as much as possible in the 14 days before leaving the IHE. Students and staff should also minimize the risk of exposure during travel home. Traveling alone in a private vehicle is the safest option. Students and staff who are unable to limit interactions with others at the IHE may consider quarantining themselves for 14 days after they arrive home.” [City of Alexandria]

Killer ESP Owner Denies Allegations by Quitting Staff — “Presented with some of the specific accusations against him regarding sexual harassment and the shop’s cleanliness, Shelton said, ‘This is outrageous. These lies are more absurd than the first go around.’ He said he would follow up with call, but later texted, ‘I’ve been advised by my attorneys to keep quiet.'” [Washingtonian]

City Urges Shelter During Cold for People Experiencing Homelessness — “The temperatures are dropping into the 20s tonight. The City’s Winter Shelter for individuals and families experiencing homelessness is open in two locations.” [Department of Community and Human Services]

Visit Alexandria Receives Grant to Expand Marketing of City’s Black History — “With the grant, Visit Alexandria will be able to produce videos and other media, including web content about Black-owned businesses and African American heritage sites. The plan is to highlight areas such as those that can be  seen during the Courageous Journey: Alexandria’s Black History Driving Tour and Duke Street Black History Trail.” [Zebra]

Staff photo by James Cullum

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With events canceled throughout the region this year due to the pandemic, Visit Alexandria will conduct a virtual conversation on Wednesday (October 21) on its marketing strategy for this holiday season.

The holidays are traditionally a busy time in Alexandria, but this year’s Scottish Christmas Walk is among the events that has been canceled. In fact, the city’s holiday events page has no listings.

There are a few modified events, like the annual Turkey Trot Challenge, which will be held virtually this year between Nov. 1 and Dec. 12.

The upcoming meeting will be held Wednesday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Zoom and include “adapted holiday plans for business associations, major event organizers, attractions and more,” according to Visit Alexandria.

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There are few sweeter traditions in Old town than trick-or-treating on Halloween night, but this year’s celebration will undoubtedly be unlike any other.

The pandemic has threatened the health and safety of residents, which has us wondering: Are you going to hand out Halloween candy this year?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list traditional trick-or treating as a “higher risk” activity, along with having a haunted house. The CDC recommends virtual costume contests, home and pumpkin decorating and maybe having a Halloween-themed movie night instead.

Incidentally, the Carlyle House in Old Town will be handing out candy in individual bags. Check out all that is available in the city for Halloween Night on Visit Alexandria’s website.

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

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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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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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