Combining the power of beauty and business

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When I tell people that I live in Old Town, Im usually met with very envious gazes and comments about how lucky I am. I love getting these responses because I take great pride in our city and its positive reputation.

Many of us living in Old Town have dogs and walk daily throughout our town.  Long walks with my Brittanys, Reda and Cassie, allow me to stay in touch with the community the businesses, residents and the pulse of the town itself.  

Whats become distressing to me on these walks is the state of our main business district and tourist center for Alexandria. Over the last couple of years, there has been a steady, gradual decline in the appearance of King Street from the waterfront to the Metro station.  

Tourism is a main driver for our economy. A beautiful image of a city is one of the most important requirements for tourism. Imagine you are a first-time visitor to Alexandria, just off a Potomac riverboat so to speak. What is the first impression you have walking off the pier alongside the Torpedo Factory buildings? Is it the historic buildings and the charming shops or are you welcomed by sidewalks and tree wells filled with cigarette butts and trash? 

Is that the impression we wish to give our visitors? And is that what we want to experience daily as business owners and residents? The fact is, people always remember something negative and they will talk about it, which affects our reputation and property values.  

We can blame the recession for the sad-looking state of our city or we can all chip in and make it better. And here is very good news to share on this note.  If youve strolled along King Street in last couple of weeks you probably noticed that an organization called Clean Beautiful Alexandria, founded by landowners, businesses and residents, adopted many of the blocks, mulching and planting the tree wells with flowers.

Our city government and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership are supporting this effort with sweat and later with financial support if the slim city budget permits. As City Manager Jim Hartmann, AEDP President/CEO Val Hawkins and I planted the 200 block of King Street a few Saturdays ago, many people stopped to ask us why we were doing this.

As the Chamber president and a resident of Alexandria, I can honestly say I did this for selfish reasons. A clean and beautiful community will have benefits in terms of increased business and economic development recruitment (i.e. expand our tax base to keep property taxes in check), as well as further instill a sense of pride for residents. This sends out a positive message about our neighborhood and business district.

But for an effort of this magnitude to succeed it takes the work of the entire community. We must ignite community participation on a large-scale. 

For businesses and landowners along King Street, we need you to enhance your curb appeal and frankly, thats good for your business, too. Wash your windows regularly, maintain your faade, sweep up in front of your shops and deposit the trash into a trash receptacle; this is especially important for our beloved restaurants and bars on Saturday and Sunday mornings (Most restaurants established in the last 20 years along King Street are actually required to do this under their special use permits.). Also, inspire and encourage your fellow businesses to do the same whether they are required to or not.  

For residents, dont sit on the sidelines get involved and help. You can start by setting an example. Dont litter and dont allow others to do so. Also, you can thank and patronize those businesses that are setting an example.  And finally, you can support these efforts to keep Alexandria beautiful by volunteering your time and your expertise.

A little success on King Street can spread to other business areas of Alexandria, such as Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray but dont wait for it!  Success will start with each one of us.

For information or help in finding out what CBA or the city can do to improve the beauty of the street near your business, please contact Marilyn Essex of CBA at [email protected] or 301-904-0359. To contact the city, visit www.alexandriava.gov/tes or call 703-746-4025.

The writer is president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.

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