OK Cleaners to leave Commonwealth Avenue

OK Cleaners to leave Commonwealth Avenue
The Commonwealth Avenue shopping strip, a local hub where businesses face an uncertain future amid lease renewal concerns. (Photo/Wafir Salih)

By Wafir Salih | wsalih@alextimes.com

OK Cleaners, a woman-owned dry cleaner on Commonwealth Avenue, is closing its doors on December 17 after more than a decade of service following notification from the landlord that their lease will not be renewed.

The sudden shutdown has sparked concerns among residents, with some questioning if the recent “Zoning for Housing/Housing for All” initiative is a contributing factor.

A note displayed prominently in the front window of OK Cleaners foreshadows the closure.

“Moving! After [the] middle of December,” the sign reads. “Please text me with your last name. I will send you a new address. Thank you.”

The shopping strip – home to a mix of businesses including OK Cleaners, Dos Hermanos Fine Tex Mex, Sugar Scrub Nail Spa, Colonial Market and Yang’s Taekwondo Academy – is facing an uncertain future, leaving both business owners and patrons in limbo.

Elmer Cruz, owner of Dos Hermanos Fine Tex Mex has been approached by customers in the past few weeks asking if his restaurant will remain open amid the news.

“One customer came in and she was trying to show me what she read on Nextdoor,” Cruz said. “Another guy came in asking the same thing.”

Despite the rumors, Cruz has assured customers that he hasn’t received any formal notice to vacate. He said he plans to remain in the area for the foreseeable future. The restaurant opened in Alexandria earlier this year on May 15 after relocating from Springfield.

However, Cruz said he’s observed an uptick in individuals surveying the property lately, a sign that developers could be engaging in site inspection, which is usually done to assess the feasibility of a potential future project.

“We see a lot of people walking around the building, pointing [and] measuring the ground,” Cruz said. “When that happens, usually they want to build something new.”

Cruz believes the landlord not wanting to renew the contract for OK Cleaners is strange, as it’s somewhat unusual for them not to renew.

“They’re always looking to renew, unless something’s going to happen,” Cruz said. “You just sign it again, [it] auto-renews.”

While Cruz is not worried now – given that he just signed for a 10-year lease – he does acknowledge these types of arrangements are not set in stone and deals can always be made to buy the business owner out if the offer is good enough.

“We can say ‘No,’ but sometimes if they come with a good offer … that happened to us al- ready in Springfield,” Cruz said. “Costco wanted to buy [our] building, so they bought the whole building and bought us out of our lease.”

Cruz urged, however, that the plan in coming to Alexandria was to stay long term.

“We said to the landlord that we wanted to get 10 years to start, and then we can extend it for another 10 years,” Cruz said. “The plan is to be here for a long time, but it seems to be different now.”

Another business owner in the area who spoke with the Times on a condition of anonymity, echoed similar sentiments.

“We’ve been here for more than a decade,” the owner said. “Clients are already hearing about [the news] and they’re devastated. This is a good location for us. I [have] family I [have] to deal with. I can’t relocate. Where would I take my business?”

The business owner spoke in detail about what made this area different compared to the other, more dense shopping districts in Alexandria.

“This is a hidden gem. The customers, they don’t have to deal with Mount Vernon Avenue, because it’s so crowded over there,” the owner said. “There’s parking on the street, it’s convenient for people, they don’t have to drive 10 miles to find a parking space.”

The Times has reached out to the property manager, Mark Stofko, for the property owned by Alperstein-Asner Partnership, with a series of questions but has yet to receive a response. These are the questions that were asked:

  1. Could you provide specific reasons behind the decision not to renew the leases for the business on Commonwealth Avenue? Is this decision specific to OK Cleaners or will the other businesses be affected when their contracts are up?
  2. Are these decisions influenced by recent changes in zoning laws or other regulatory factors?
  3. Are there any plans for redevelopment or repurposing of the properties currently occupied by these businesses? If so, could you share the nature of these plans and the expected impact on the local community?