By the end of the year, little will be left of Alexandria’s Trophy Room in the 200 block of King Street, Old Town’s Orvis outlet aimed at outfitting the serious sportsman.
On Tuesday, the store announced it was closing, leaving behind only zen-like memories for area hunters and a ghost named “Edna.” The phantasmic spirit has haunted the 200-year-old structure at 210 King Street for years, reportedly sitting in the upstairs window, holding a candle and staring listlessly out at the waterfront.
Trophy Room partner Gary Rothrock recalls opening up one morning and finding that Edna had moved some items about. Jean Hsu Lupo, who once operated her Paint This! studio out of the second-floor room, reported that items moved about and tools disappeared.
The shop’s owner, Michael W. Zarlenga, said he’s never seen the spirit, even working late at night. But soon, Edna will be alone, as Zarlenga sells the building and shutters the store by Dec. 31. “If we don’t find a buyer, we’ll shut it down,” Zarlenga said Tuesday.
Zarlenga started The Trophy Room in 2001 with high hopes, leaving a flourishing downtown law practice to chase his dream of Old Town entrepreneurship. Once a corporate securities attorney with the high-powered firm of Manatt Phelps and Phillips, Zarlenga married his law school sweetheart Lisa Hebenstreit and settled here in 1994.
Just days before 9/11, Zarlenga, a lifelong hunting enthusiast, opened the doors of the Trophy Room, stocking its shelves with fly fishing gear and hunting apparel. Racks and racks of everything from Barbour jackets to cactus juice outdoor repellant line the walls, with canoes hanging from the ceiling. Multiple types of wildfowl calls are sold, from duck to goose, crow, owl and turkey calls. It was the only Orvis shop on the East Coast which sold apparel and firearms, he said.
“We’d get the occasional high-end tourist in here,” Zarlenga said. “But about 85 percent of our customer base is from Alexandria.”
Business was often brisk. On days when the World Bank was meeting downtown, Lincoln Town Cars would idle outside, and envoys from Europe, Africa and the Middle East would swarm the place, snapping up as much camo clothing and accessories as they could haul home.
In January, 2006, Zarlenga paid $2.4 million for the building he had leased. He then spent another $325,000 buying out leases and hiring architects, lawyers and historic consultants to gain the necessary city permits for a needed facelift. The old brick building was constructed in 1805 by John Ramsey, an importer of fabrics, spices and other goods arriving by vessels on Old Town’s waterfront and the last renovations had taken place in 1980. “The building needed serious structural improvements,” Zarlenga said.
Zarlenga’s team came up with concept drawings of the renovations and met with staffers from the city’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) and Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), giving them wide latitude for any changes needed to gain approval. In May, the BZA approved Zarlenga’s variances, but in June the BAR denied his permit to demolish or encapsulate 25 feet of material, which included removing old shutters, restoring the building’s facade, raising the roof and back of the building by seven feet, adding an elevator and replacing old electrical and plumbing systems.
“We just wanted to modernize a 200 year-old building while fully maintaining its historical aspects,” Zarlenga said.
Zarlenga said he also reached out to the Historic Alexandria Foundation and the Old Town Civic Association, and met individually with the mayor and City Council members. “No one expressed reservations at the time,” he said.
On Sept. 15, City Council voted to deny Zarlenga’s request. Historic preservationists argued that the building’s “flounder” style was characteristic of the city’s rich history and that changing it would damage the historic streetscape. It’s called flounder-style because it looks like the profile of a fish, but Zarlenga said historians he hired failed to identify the design in the historic flounder style. “We just wanted to raise the roof and we pledged to use all of the old materials,” he said.
But opponents said the back of the building, with its angled roof and one window, would be irreparably harmed if altered. Zarlenga asked Council to reconsider the BAR’s June denial, but members voted 6-1 against it.
In the place where George and Martha danced the minuet at their inaugural dinner in 1789, the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau hosted a lively dinner and dance Oct. 17 at Gadsby’s Tavern.
About 150 of the city’s top givers and luminaries attended “An Evening in the Heart of Alexandria,” raising $125,000 for the non-profit. Attendees included Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), Mayor Bill Euille, Vice Mayor Del Pepper, Sen. Patsy Ticer and Council Members Tim Lovain and Rob Krupicka, the evening’s honorary chair. This year’s Joan White Grassroots Volunteer Award went to Bill Kehoe, nominated by Rebuilding Together Alexandria, and the Marian Van Landingham Volunteer of the Year Award went to Pat Miller, a Del Ray business and citizen activist.