It seems as if every day the public is bombarded by TV, radio, internet and newspapers with doom and gloom stories about how rough things are going with the economy. Certainly, these are volatile economic times, but Alexandrias business outlook is not as dark as one might be led to believe.
Even in these uncertain times, new businesses are opening on Alexandrias central shopping thoroughfare, King Street, and the side streets off King Street are working together to stay afloat as well.
An informal survey of King Street vacancies or businesses for sale was not as bleak as many may have predicted. An unofficial assessment of open ground floor storefronts discovered that only about 5 percent of the shops are for sale or lease between the Potomac River and the King Street Metro Station. Not unexpectedly, the side streets have more vacancies because there is less traffic and not all have retail space available.
Even blocks with vacant store fronts on King Street are not necessarily as depressing as someone walking by might first think. Several new businesses will be opening their doors or have recently opened.
Two weeks ago, Mary Tavel and her husband Sebastian, who is originally from France, opened La Fromagerie at 1222 King Street. Together they sell more than 60 cheeses, wine and local farm products such as fresh yogurt and milk. Formerly one of the chefs at the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C., Sebastian says, I am hopeful about the future, and I am so happy that I have this opportunity to work with my wife. We believe things will get better and we are excited about our business. His friend, Rafael Botbol, also French and the owner of Tradition de France furniture store at 1113 King Street, echoed Tavels sentiments when he said that, We are optimistic that things will get better. Businesses are finding things tough all up and down King Street, but we hope the stimulus packages will help.
Victoria Vergason, owner of The Hour, a business due to open on King Street in April, said that, I believe that in these difficult economic times, customers are looking to purchase unique goods and services at good values, with a growing desire to buy local. Old Town Alexandria businesses, especially its boutique businesses, continue to offer a great selection of goods at all price points. In addition, for local customers and visitors to this area, whether walking around Old Town or taking the trolley to various stops along the King Street corridor, there are a great variety of shops and restaurants that you simply just dont find anywhere else. Living locally, I decided now was the time to start my new venture and add to this unique character which makes Old Town Alexandria so special. Vergasons shop will offer a wide range of items and accessories and dresses for the cocktail hour.
Vergason continued, saying how pleased she is to be opening her store now because, From a business point of view, Im also finding that there is a great synergy among businesses here. Store owners are helpful to one another and are delighted to promote other local stores. Further, with its proximity to Washington, D.C., and the King Street metro stop, I truly believe more new businesses will be entering this market, and with them a new spirit of Old Town Alexandria will evolve. Im truly anxious to become part of this business community.
Some of the side streets have not fared as well as King Street but business owners are striving to be tough and resilient. Olsons Bookstore, a favorite Old Town local chain, is now gone and the building sits empty. Lily Pulitzer, also on a side street, has closed despite a very loyal following. Bella Boutique on South Royal Street is about to close and the Mail Boxes shop has already shut its doors.
Still, the sense of unity is strong and can be found on the streets off of King Street. Alicia McCaslin, manager of Hysteria at 125 South Fairfax Street, explained that, Although we are off King Street, we have a community of businesses that are all pulling for each other. Through efforts such as the Boutique District, we have a better opportunity to push through a bad economy by educating ourselves and our clients as to what Old Town has to offer.
The retail situation is perhaps going as well as can be expected for King Street businesses despite the fragile economic climate. If Alexandrias citizens support their local businesses, it is more likely that all will survive this economic turbulence.
In compiling information for this story, attempts were made to obtain information on the number of new business licenses taken out this year compared to last year and over the previous five years. The city responded that the information will not be available until next month.