They say things come in threes, such as hiccups and celebrity deaths. So perhaps it is no surprise that Alexandria is losing not one or two, but three iconic businesses in late 2015: Mancini’s Cafe and Bakery, Monroe’s and Joe’s Bradlee Shoe Repair.
The establishments have been open for a combined total of 70 years. Each has its own story of how it became a beloved piece of Alexandria, but their closings all contain a similar refrain: owners Barbara Mancini, Mark and Laura Abraham, and Joe Johnson, of Mancini’s, Monroe’s and Bradlee Shoe Repair, respectively, are retiring and closing their businesses.
Joe Johnson was the first of the three to do business in Alexandria. Originally from Charlotte, N.C., he started out as a shoeshine boy on the streets there. He later got a job shining shoes in a repair shop, and there learned how to not just polish but work on shoes.
Johnson began repairing shoes at Bradlee Shopping Center 60 years ago at Blue Ribbon Cleaners, and opened his own shop 27 years ago with his late wife Yvonne. In a 2010 story, Johnson told the Times, “My daughter is amazed that I know exactly where everything is at all times. But that’s what helps to keep your mind sharp.” His shop closes for good Dec. 31.
Mark Abraham of Monroe’s is an Alexandria native and lifelong Del Ray resident who is a second-generation restaurateur. Abraham’s parents owned and operated the Vienna Inn in Vienna, Va., known for its chilidogs and the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Hail to the Redskins” at closing time, for more than 40 years.
Abraham’s wife Laura, who greets Monroe’s customers most nights at the hostess station, opened the restaurant with him in 1996 when the space became available. The restaurant bills itself as “An American Trattoria” and became a neighborhood favorite by offering good food at reasonable prices. The Abrahams plan to close their doors at the end of the year.
Barbara Mancini opened her first Alexandria restaurant on Eisenhower Avenue in 1992. According to her website, Mancini said she was motivated because “I just couldn’t find a place where you could get good lunch food every day.” She bought the building at 1508 Mount Vernon Ave. and opened Mancini’s Cafe and Bakery nearly 20 years ago.
Mancini’s was known for its New York style breakfast sandwiches and hearty dinner staples. It was also a gathering place for many Del Ray groups and local political figures. In a September interview with Patch, Mancini said hip surgery earlier this year and the deaths of two brothers convinced her it was time to move on. She shuttered Mancini’s in October and is leasing the building to a new estaurant group.
One of the things that makes Alexandria special is that, despite its proximity to our nation’s capital, it has a small-town feel generated by places like Mancini’s, Monroe’s and Bradlee Shoe Repair. The old “Cheers” song was right: it is nice to patronize establishments “where everybody knows your name.”
We send best wishes and thanks to Mancini, Johnson and the Abrahams in their retirements.