Alexandria, VA

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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Morning Notes

Beyer Calls Breonna Taylor Ruling Unjust — “Breonna Taylor should still be alive. She did not deserve to die. This is not justice.” [Twitter]

Visit Alexandria Thanks Community With Video — “Here’s our tribute to Alexandria’s small businesses, hospitality workers, health department and city government, who are standing together in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. We thank you!” [Twitter]

You Can Put Your Likeness on Seats at the Little Theatre of Alexandria — “With social distancing in effect, we can fill only 46 of our 215 seats. A clever way of distancing our audiences while giving our performers the feeling of a sold-out event is to fill our unused seats with silhouettes sporting your face or that of a friend, family member, or pet.” [Facebook]

Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling Co. Wins Rammy Award — “Among the winners was Jamal Flowers of Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Co. in Alexandria for manager of the year. Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Co also won a 2020 Honorary Milestone RAMMY Awards for 30 years.” [Patch]

City Giving Away Free Flu Shots — “This Saturday, from 9 AM until 3 PM, the City will be hosting the first of two free flu shot clinics. Saturday’s event will be drive-up (max of 4 to a car) at @TCWTitans at 3330 King St. This year, it is even more important than ever to get a flu shot!” [Twitter]

Transcript Reveals Details About City’s Only Homicide This Year — “The homicide case of Karla Dominguez has left many disappointed with and upset by the city’s criminal justice procedures in the era of COVID-19.” [Alex Times]

Today’s Weather — “Overcast (during the day). High 77F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph. Cloudy skies at night. Low 59F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: ACPS Communications Specialist — “Responsible for researching, developing, implementing and evaluating communications for special projects to include capital projects, facilities projects, communication projects and projects that support schools, departments and the superintendent.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria’s consumption-based tax revenue took a 34% hit from February to July, according to a city monthly financial report.

Mayor Justin Wilson revealed the revenue loss on Facebook by posting a report showing the cumulative impact on consumer spending in calendar years 2019 and 2020.

“Last July, the City collected $2M (million) from our dining tax. This July, it was $1.2M,” Wilson wrote on Facebook. “Our hotel tax collected $200K (thousand) versus $1.1M last July. Together, the consumption-based tax revenue loss from Feb to July has been over $12M, the equivalent of 3 cents on our real estate tax rate.”

While sales taxes increased by 3% in June in a year-over-year comparison, meals sales taxes dipped 41% from $2.1 million to $1.2 million in July; transient lodging tax revenue fell 82% from $1.1 million to $202,681 in July; admissions tax revenue went down 98.5% from $63,655 to just $963 in July; and a 26% loss in recordation tax revenue.

Patricia Washington, president and CEO of the Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association, commented on Wilson’s post that the impact has been severe.

“The economic losses and the disproportionate impact on businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector have been devastating,” Washington wrote.

City Council will receive this and other information in its monthly financial report at a legislative meeting on Tuesday night (Sept. 22). Last spring, Council passed a drastically altered budget to contend with the pandemic.

“That significant… drop off means a lot of businesses are working below the profit line,” Elizabeth’s Counter owner Rob Krupicka commented. “It means the next year is going to be really challenging for retail and restaurants and hotels.”

The city is also now offering a second round of grants for small businesses.

For residents, personal property taxes are due on October 5, although there is a proposal on the table to delay the due date to December 15. Real Estate taxes are also due on November 15.

Council, on Tuesday night, will also discuss extending the city’s state of emergency declaration to March 31, 2021.

Last July, the City collected $2M from our dining tax. This July, it was $1.2M.Our hotel tax collected $200K versus…

Posted by Justin Wilson on Tuesday, September 22, 2020

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After some initial success, Visit Alexandria has announced the ongoing Restaurant Week deals will be extended for an additional week.

Currently, over 60 restaurants across the city are offering takeout, delivery, or curbside pickup meals-for-two at $49. A full list of participating restaurants is available online.

“The online menu book makes it easy to browse delicious selections from dozens of Alexandria eateries,” Visit Alexandria said in a press release. “No menu offering is the same — from appetizer, entrée and bottle of wine packages to three-course meals for two with mouth-watering desserts plus add-on options of cocktails to-go, there is undoubtedly a menu suited to everyone.”

Visit Alexandria said in the press release that the to-go model emphasized in this Restaurant Week is designed with a preference towards eating at home over dining in local restaurants while COVID-19 is still present in Alexandria.

The extension is also an effort to give some struggling local businesses a little boost.

“The success of Alexandria’s independent restaurant scene is critical to the city’s small business economy and essential to preserving a beloved experience of the city for residents and visitors alike as these local establishments weather the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Visit Alexandria said.

Posted by Visit Del Ray on Sunday, August 30, 2020

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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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As part of a series spotlighting local businesses, city-sponsored organization Visit Alexandria has put together a guide for Alexandrians trying to show more support for black-owned businesses in the city.

Restaurants spotlighted on the list are:

  • Cameron Café (4911 Brenman Park Drive) — a local coffee shop in Cameron Station that — just prior to the pandemic — reopened with a new wine and beer bar.
  • Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats (200 Commerce Street) — a popular frozen treats truck scheduled to make a permanent home in an old ’30s era ice house later this year. The Truck is located outside the shop every Saturday in the meantime.
  • Haute Dogs & Fries (610 Montgomery Street) — a hot dog and burger shop with a variety of unique options, including vegetarian variants.
  • Hen Quarter (801 King Street) — a southern cuisine restaurant in Old Town
  • The Rub (801 King Street) — a more casual fried chicken and beer eatery on the ground floor of Hen Quarter

The list also includes hair salons, retail, and a local tour company with a focus on the city’s black history.

The organization noted that black-owned companies wanting to be added to the list can contact [email protected] though the company must be focused around bringing in visitors and must be located in the City of Alexandria — sorry “Alexandria, Fairfax.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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As Alexandria moves toward the first phase of reopening its economy on May 29, the city’s health department is developing a new accreditation program to ensure compliance with enforced restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Alexandria Health Department initiative is currently labeled as the “ALX Promise,” and it’s a partnership with Visit Alexandria, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and business groups, according to AHD Environmental Health Manager Rachel Stradling.

The pandemic closed about half of the city’s 860 permitted food establishments, and many of them will not reopen, Stradling said.

Business owners who participate in a seminar and sign a pledge to adhere to the restrictions will get a decal to post in their front windows. They will have to commit to training their staffs on protocols, including wearing face masks, hand washing, disinfection and social distancing. Participating businesses will then be advertised on the Visit Alexandria website.

“You can have a decal in your window that says that you’ve gone above and beyond,” Stradling told ALXnow. “That’s hugely exciting news. It takes us a good six months to get an accreditation scheme in place and we’re basically doing this in a little over a week.”

Stradling added, “So there’ll be a training component, and then they’ll sign a pact at the end to say that they’ll maintain those standards in their business, that they will put their staff and their community first.”

In Alexandria, the first phase means that restaurants can have no indoor dining, but dining will be allowed at 50% capacity in outdoor areas.

Additionally, the department is now preparing for the second phase of reopening the economy. In the meantime, Stradling and her staff are continuing to do virtual inspections.

“Hopefully in phase two we’ll be able to get out there more in person,” she said.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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