Necessity is the mother of invention. Never has that old saying been truer than this year.
The coronavirus pandemic had been brewing for two months, but it struck suddenly in this region in March. People began getting sick, first a few, gradually many. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered a shutdown of all non-essential businesses, including restaurants and bars, on St. Patrick’s Day. The economy quickly cratered, both in the commonwealth and nationwide.
While Alexandria Times reporter Cody Mello-Klein has been writing a series of profiles of city artists, titled “City Creatives” – check out his latest piece on page 11 – the label of “City Creatives” is also fitting for the city’s business community, which has used ingenuity to survive in 2020.
Creativity has abounded as Alexandria’s local government partnered with Visit Alexandria, the Small Business Development Center, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses on numerous initiatives.
Three words have formed the trinity of Alexandria’s economic survival: takeout, virtual and outdoors.
Everything that could be sold without patrons having to go inside a business has been. Grocery and retail stores and farmer’s markets have taken online or phone orders and carried products out to cars. Restaurants immediately launched into takeout-only mode, with some adding new offerings such as family sized meals and retail products.
Organizers of several big annual events, such as Art on the Avenue in Del Ray and the Alexandria Film Festival, have engineered appealing online offerings. Meetings of the city’s various boards and commissions went virtual, but have continued. Classes and worship services have been offered online.
And everything that possibly could be held outdoors has been. The city partnered with restaurants to allow expanded outdoor seating on sidewalks and even into the street. Worship services have been held on lawns and in cemeteries. Exercise classes have moved outside.
Many of these creative changes appear to be here to stay. Certainly, more virtual working seems to be a given moving forward in many industries. Expanded outdoor dining has been delightful during spring, summer and fall – though it will be less so this winter.
The version of the pedestrian plaza that was created in the 100 block of King Street may be here to stay – though residents should have a say at a public hearing.
We were opposed to an expanded version of the pedestrian plaza that was proposed pre-COVID-19, which would have closed cross streets and stretched from the waterfront through the 200 block of King Street. But what’s been implemented to date is terrific: expanded dining on sidewalks and into the street in just one block, with no cross streets closed and room for emergency vehicles in the middle of the closed street.
During tough times, imaginative people innovate. On top of many other positive features, Alexandria is blessed to be a city of creatives.