By Kassidy McDonald │[email protected]
Get your shopping bags ready, as one of the most popular summer shopping events in the city returns this weekend. Alexandria’s 13th annual Summer Sidewalk Sale will feature more than 40 independent boutiques this year, selling items from clothing to home decor to books.
On Saturday, each participating boutique will offer its own items at significant discounts for the event, which typically draws people from throughout the Washington, D.C. metro area. The sale includes shops in Old Town and Del Ray.
In previous years, the sidewalk sale has taken place over the course of two days, on both Saturday and Sunday. This year, the event will only happen on Saturday to focus shopping on the biggest day of sales while alleviating some of the staffing challenges these small businesses may face, Senior VP of Communications for Visit Alexandria Claire Mouledoux said.
Visitors can check out early discounts and special offers on Friday, the day before the event at The Late Shift: Sidewalk Art Party at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. Select studios will be participating from 7 to 10 p.m., according to the Visit Alexandria website. The event will also include a large sidewalk chalk mural party that spans along the Union Street side of Torpedo Factory.
Live music activations will also take place during the sidewalk sale on King Street, according to Visit Alexandria. Visit Alexandria’s website includes a map of participating boutiques that will be helpful for visitors navigating through the sales happening in Old Town.
Alexandria’s Visitor Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to offer discounts on city souvenirs and to help vis- itors navigate their shopping routes. John Wasowicz, author of the Old Town Mystery Series, will be holding a book signing at the visitor center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Times spoke with two stores participating in the sidewalk sale to dis- cuss how they are preparing and get a preview into their special offers.
Old Town Books, a bookstore in the heart of Old Town, is one of the independent boutiques participating in the 13th annual sidewalk sale. The store has been involved with the event since 2018.
Owner Ally Kirkpatrick opened Old Town Books, a general interest bookstore located at the intersection of South Royal and Prince streets, in November 2018.
“I heard about the sidewalk sale by word of mouth just from other small businesses. I was part of the Old Town Boutique District so I heard about it from there. I wanted to par- ticipate because it seemed like so much fun,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s kind of a quiet time of year, tourism is a little slower and people are on vacation…so it is a nice way to clear out some inventory before we start getting everything in for the holidays.”
Kirkpatrick said that last year’s sidewalk sale was successful because they were “twice as busy as [they] normally were.” The store was able to have double the staff working so it wasn’t too stress- ful, and had the team spread out inside the store as well as in the two tents set up outside.
She said that the first day of the sale was always better because there is more merchandise available for shoppers to choose from.
“People definitely have to come out early if they want to get all the good stuff,” Kirkpatrick explained.
As for sales and specials, Old Town Books will discount staff picks and past book club selections by 20%. After listening to feedback from their customers, they’ll also have book bins with discounted books sold for $1 or $5 each. Many gift items like stationery and toys will also be included in the $1 and $5 bins.
One of Old Town Books’ most popular draws is selling their “imperfect books” for $5. These books might be sunbleached, dinged on the sales floor or generally not in perfect condition.
“Our customers love that. You can get, like, a brand new hardcover that just happens to have like a tear in it,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s probably our most popular thing.”
Old Town Books will be open for the sidewalk sale during their normal hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
AR Workshop Alexandria is another participating boutique. The DIY crafting studio and gift boutique is located on King Street and opened in February 2017.
The store has participated in the sidewalk sale since they opened, and like Old Town Books, heard about participating from the Old Town Boutique District.
Owner Katie Nguyen Wells said they joined the sale because of the added exposure small businesses like hers receive.
“We have been on King Street for three years. I don’t think a lot of people know we have a gift boutique associated with the workshop. There’s a lot of people that will come in and say ‘Oh I didn’t even realize you guys had a retail shop,’” Wells said.
The retail shop located inside the crafting studio will have sidewalk sale deals that aim to draw the attention of visitors.
Shoppers can take an additional 50% off select items from AR Workshop’s Gift Boutique featuring seasonal home decor, accessories, pillows, candles, kids arts & crafts, activities, games and puzzles; and an additional 50 to 75% off pre-made sample signs such as framed wood signs, porch signs and pillows.
All AR Workshop Alexandria Shoppers will also receive a $10 gift voucher to use toward a future class at AR Workshop with any purchase, no minimum purchase required. The store will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Like Kirkpatrick, Wells said summer is relatively slow in the Old Town area. Small business owners agreed that the sidewalk sale has given them a much-needed boost during a slower period business-wise.
“This is a great opportunity to see what we have to offer,” Wells said.
For Wells, busy season doesn’t start until September, so the sale is an opportunity for her to build clientele and clear out some inventory before prepping for the holiday season.
“We love it because it brings a lot of foot traffic … and the city comes alive again,” Wells said.