Arlington, VA

People are more interested in the news these days. Part of that is due to the political climate, but part of it is that there’s an abundance of news and news-like content online, which often makes it difficult for readers to know whom to trust.

“The political situation we’re in now has actually made people much more consciously aware of journalism, and what good journalism is and what it isn’t,” said David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance (NMA), a Ballston-based nonprofit that advocates for the news industry. “Journalism is much more central to people’s consciousness in public conversation than it was certainly three or four years ago, 10 years ago.”

The Trump presidency has certainly accelerated the public’s focus on journalism, according to Chavern, but more people are having a harder time knowing where their news is coming from.

“There’s always been conspiracy theories,” Chavern said. “They were usually delivered to you by a crazy uncle over the dining room table. And that was clearly different from what was on TV and what was in the newspaper and in the driveway. Those are three clearly different sources of information. In the internet blender, all that stuff is delivered exactly the same way and it puts a big burden on readers to pay attention to where things come from. And what stands behind them.”

NMA’s mission, along with its partner organization the American Press Institute (API), is to promote good journalism through advocacy, education and training.

“Journalism plays a central role in a democracy,” said Jeff Sonderman, API’s deputy executive director and executive vice president. “We want people to be informed of what’s happening both in their government and more broadly in their community. We want people, in any given place, to be able to have a shared conversation with each other about what’s happening here. What do we want to happen in this community? How are we making decisions together? And journalism is really the medium that facilitates that, that both creates a platform for it and also shapes it into a responsible platform.”

Before moving to its Ballston headquarters (4401 N. Fairfax Drive) in 2012, API hosted training seminars for journalists at a facility in Reston. As fewer and fewer newsrooms had the money to pay for these seminars, API shifted its business model toward online and in-person training, and research.

“We’re really interested in supporting changes in journalism that make it more innovative and use new technology and storytelling in data and science, but in the service of making those organizations sustainable financially and otherwise, so that they can continue to exist and do the work that’s really are the core of what we’re working on,” Sonderman said.

With accusations of “fake news” running rife through the industry, API has done a lot of research about mistrust of media in order to inform its newsroom training. It’s also partnered with the Trusting News organization to help newsrooms adopt practical, everyday strategies for instilling trust in readers.

“Trust is the foundation of the relationship that any journalist wants to have with an audience,” Sonderman said. “It’s difficult to do all these critical things about serving democracy and informing citizens if there isn’t a foundation of trust to build that on.”

“Newsrooms need to be more transparent about their process. Something as little as adding a sidebar to a story explaining why the news outlet thought it was important to cover the story and how the reporter researched it can go a long way toward establishing a trusting relationship with readers,” Sonderman said.

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Elections around Arlington may not attract the sort of expensive TV ads that have come to dominate local stations ahead of the midterm elections, but candidates around the county have shelled out thousands to bring their messages to Facebook.

An ARLnow analysis of the social media site’s political ad database shows that Arlington’s six candidates for Congress and local office on the ballot this fall have combined with the county’s party committees to buy 549 Facebook ads from Jan. 1 through today (Oct. 29).

Thomas Oh, the Republican mounting a longshot bid to unseat Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District), led the way among the county’s candidates, buying 100 ads on the site since launching his campaign in February. According to campaign finance reports, he shelled out about $2,100 to pay for those posts.

But Oh was far from the bigger user of Facebook ads in Arlington — that distinction belongs to the Arlington Young Democrats, who have purchased 270 ads on the platform over the course of the year. The Arlington County Democratic Committee wasn’t far behind, buying 91 ads.

The county’s candidates for local office have relied on social media advertising a bit less, but have still used Facebook to reach thousands of potential voters.

In the lone race for a County Board seat this year, pitting independent incumbent John Vihstadt against Democrat Matt de Ferranti, the challenger has run a bit more Facebook ads so far.

According to Facebook’s database, de Ferranti has run 34 ads on the platform since launching his campaign in January. Records show he’s spent nearly $1,900 on Facebook ads in all, though campaign finance documents only detail spending through end of September — candidates will release their final reports of the campaign later this week.

Of the Democrat’s ads, 19 ran in the run-up to his primary victory over Chanda Choun in June, with 15 reserved for the general election contest with Vihstadt. In general, de Ferranti’s ad buys have each been less than $100 each, with only seven falling in the range of $100 to $500 — Facebook only provides ranges, not specific numbers, for spending and traffic figures.

Two of de Ferranti’s ads picked up between 50,000 and 100,000 impressions, while two others range between 10,000 and 50,000.

By contrast, Vihstadt has only run 10 ads on Facebook so far. His current campaign finance reports only show him spending about $100 on the posts, but he’s ramped up his activity on Facebook in October, meaning his spending will be reflected in the next set of reports.

However, Facebook’s database shows that the incumbent has recorded four ad buys of $100 or more, and one of more than $500, in all. He’s also had two ads reach between 50,000 and 100,000 impressions and two more range between 10,000 and 50,000.

Notably, Vihstadt has also turned to television advertising, and recently started running a single ad on local cable stations.

In the contest for the only School Board seat on the ballot, independent (and frequent candidate) Audrey Clement has outpaced incumbent Barbara Kanninen, who has the endorsement of local Democrats in the nominally nonpartisan race.

Clement has run 32 ads this year, spending about $1,520, according to campaign finance reports. She’s only spent more than $100 on three separate ad buys, but she’s still managed to reach plenty of people. Eight of her ads have secured between 5,000 and 10,000 and impressions, while two have managed between 10,000 and 50,000.

Kanninen has run just 12 ads, by comparison, sending about $241 to Facebook in all. Her ads have been viewed a bit less, with three ranging between 1,000 and 5,000 impressions and one making it to the 5,000 to 10,000 range.

Beyer appears not to have a run single ad on Facebook, despite raising more than $1.9 million over the course of his bid for a third term in Congress. However, he has benefitted from plenty of ads touting his candidacy from the local Democratic committee and the Young Democrats.

Oh faces quite the uphill battle to best Beyer, considering that the 8th (covering all of Arlington and parts of Alexandria) is among the safest districts for Democrats in the country. But the first-time candidate has managed to attract some attention to his Facebook ads at least, with four attracting between 10,000 and 50,000 impressions and seven attracting between 5,000 and 10,000. He’s spent more than $100 on seven different ad buys, which has surely helped boost those traffic numbers.

Facebook’s records don’t show any evidence of any ad spending from the county’s Republican committee, or its Green Party.

Disclosure: both Clement and Vihstadt have purchased ads on ARLnow.com. Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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Morning Notes

Overnight House Fire in Rock Spring — The Arlington County Fire Department battled a blaze in the basement of a home in the Rock Spring neighborhood early this morning. One occupant of the home was brought to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. [Twitter]

ACFD Battles Falls Church Fire — Arlington and Fairfax County firefighters battled a two-alarm house fire in Falls Church early Sunday morning. The home’s occupant was able to get out but was transported to the hospital. The house, which had “hazardous hoarding conditions” inside, it believed to be a total loss. [City of Falls Church, Falls Church News-Press]

Warner Blasts ‘Dark Underbelly of Social Media’ — Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) went on NBC’s Meet the Press over the weekend and addressed the topic of Facebook’s privacy issues and alleged Russian election interference. “I think the whole industry has been reluctant to accept the fact that we’re seeing the dark underbelly of social media, and how it can be manipulated,” Warner said, adding: “frankly, Mr. Zuckerberg needs to come and testify.” [YouTube]

Arlington on ‘Healthiest Communities’ Rankings — Arlington County ranked No. 31 on U.S. News and World Report’s new Healthiest Communities rankings. Neighboring Falls Church ranked No. 1 while the City of Fairfax ranked No. 6 and Loudoun County ranked No. 10. [WTOPU.S. News]

County Recognizes Businesses for Transportation Programs — “The Arlington County Board honored 19 local businesses and properties for their dedication to providing sustainable transportation to employees and tenants, as part of the Champions program. The program… motivates businesses, multi-family residential communities, commercial properties and schools to recognize the impact they can make on reducing traffic congestion in Arlington County.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Facebook announced earlier this month that it will begin to prioritize content from friends and family over news publishers in its News Feed.

The announcement will come as a surprise to some, since 67 percent of Americans receive their news via Facebook. Pages like ours will stay in the News Feed but the you’ll likely see less of our content.

Want to make sure that doesn’t happen? Here’s how you can still follow the latest Arlington stories via your Facebook feed:

  • First go to settings.
  • Then select “News Feed Preferences.”
  • Next, select “Prioritize who to see first.”
  • Finally you can select or “star” profiles that you want to prioritize on your news feed (like ARLnow) by scrolling through or searching profiles you already follow. If you can’t find “Arlington Now,” you can press “sort” and filter by all.

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A Fairlington woman was attacked by a raccoon last week, causing a loss of blood, requiring 87 stitches and prompting a neighborhood-wide debate about Fairlington’s trash policies.

The attack happened Wednesday night as the woman was on her patio with her dog. A neighbor described the woman “screaming and flailing around,” then “spraying down the blood stains on her patio” the next day, with a bandaged foot and arm.

This latest incident follows two other bloody raccoon attacks last year, which set a Facebook page for Fairlington residents abuzz. Now, residents are calling Fairlington’s trash policies into question.

Rather than using trash cans, condo association rules call for Fairlington residents to put trash bags out in front of their buildings in the mornings, for pick up 6 days a week. The trash is picked up later in the morning, but often after birds, squirrels and other critters (rarely raccoons, which are nocturnal) start clawing at the food inside the bags, spreading the contents on the ground. And that’s not to mention the times when residents heading out of town or simply flaunting condo rules will put trash out at night, an almost sure-fire way to ensure wildlife gets to it before the trash collectors.

“The Arlington Animal Welfare League says they will not attempt to remove the raccoon because there is an underlying problem in our neighborhood related to the trash,” said a neighbor of the woman who was attacked last week, in a widely-discussed Facebook post. “No other part of Arlington has as many raccoons as our lovely Fairlington. To address the problem, the Head of Animal Control suggested closed trash cans that could still be picked up daily, and could be tasteful and wooden and raccoon proof.”

“I think this is something we should advocate for,” the neighbor continued. “Until the trash situation is sorted out, the raccoon population will remain high, most likely leading to more attacks.”

In a letter from the Fairlington Villages condominium association, one of several in the larger Fairlington neighborhood, general manager Colin Horner blamed habitat loss and said residents should not feed birds nor feed their pets outside.

“Wild animals are very bold these days. This is because their territories are shrinking,” Horner wrote. “Wooded areas where wildlife resides are being destroyed to make way for human expansion. As a result, animals are being forced out into the open to search for food and lodging.”

Horner urged residents to only put out trash between 6-9 a.m., saying that “the availability of food from trash left out overnight has been singled out as a primary cause for the increase in the raccoon population,” but added that “a review of the trash policy is a current item on the Board agenda.”

The Animal Welfare League of Arlington, meanwhile, said it is “actively managing this case.”

“Animal control officers were unable to the locate the suspect raccoon,” said Chief Animal Control Officer Jennifer Toussaint. “We are actively managing this case and ask that anyone with direct knowledge relating to this incident or anyone who sees a raccoon acting abnormally or coming close to residences in this area contact animal control immediately at 703-931-9241.”

Photo (top) courtesy Lilia Ward via Facebook

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From politicians to fashion bloggers, Arlington is home to a variety of social media influencers. One common thread among them? Many run their social media feeds like a business.

Angelica Talan, a resident of the Courthouse-Clarendon area, created the blog Clarendon Moms in 2011. Talan often frequented restaurant launches or book signings in the area but noticed she was the only mother present. She created Clarendon Moms as a resource for other Arlington-based mothers to learn about these free events.

The blog eventually expanded to include travel, fitness and fashion advice, and two years later, she began to profit from sponsored posts.

“It was never my intention,” Talan said. “I really just wanted to connect people with what was going on. Never in a million years would I have guessed that you could combine your passion for writing, photography, mingling with people and connecting people, create a blog and make money.”

In 2016, Talan’s friends helped her realize she needed to create a second blog, Angelica in the City, which is geared towards single women instead of mothers. Both of Talan’s blogs strive to promote positivity and an educational purpose.

Talan’s Instagram account has 21,500 thousand followers.

Virginia Square couple Blake Davenport and Leah Virbitsky, initially started their Instagram account, Discover Arlington, as a way to enhance Davenport’s real estate business.

The couple is very particular about the images they share on Instagram; the account now has 5,719 followers.

“On Instagram if you don’t have a good picture people are going to go right past it,” Daveport said.

They launched a website last September, which has the best places to eat, explore and buy a home. The couple started hosting events with local businesses in January.

Sarah Phillips of Arlington’s Penrose neighborhood and Michelle Martin, who lives in Los Angeles, began their fashion blog 52 Thursdays as a hobby.

Both women studied fashion in college, where they were sorority sisters. In 2013, they decided to create a business revolving around that shared passion.

“We came up with 52 Thursdays because our wine nights were on Thursdays,” Phillips said.

At first they did not share the website with anybody. Months went by and the women decided to give their web page a makeover: they organized a photo shoot at a studio and hired a professional photographer.

Now, the women partner with various brands to make a profit. They enjoy working with small businesses in Arlington such as South Block and LavaBarre. The women also offer fashion, blogging, branding and social media consultations as well.

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(Updated at 7:15 p.m.) About 24 hours ago, the unofficial Facebook page for the popular and heavily-used Shirlington dog park posted something that could barely be believed.

Arlington County, the page said, has a plan “to move the dog park and make it much smaller, or do away with it.” It’s unclear who exactly posted that on behalf of the page — there is no contact information on the page’s “About” section — but the reaction from its more than 2,500 fans was swift.

“Whaaaattt??? Noooo!!!!” and “This is bullshit. (Sorry for the language, but it’s that serious)” were typical responses.

“That’s insane,” said another person. “The dog park is one of the biggest draws of the area for people when considering places to live; plus, people come from all over to use it = lots of money into [Shirlington]!”

In all, there have been some 200 responses and comments on the post and another 175 shares, so far. It has been re-posted, separately, by concerned residents on a Fairlington neighborhood Facebook page and elsewhere around the social network.

The Shirlington Dog Park Page cites a source for its alarming assertion: a presentation of early land use proposals generated last month as part of the Four Mile Run Valley planning process. However, the presentation appears to show that the area of the dog park is being considered generally for “outdoor parks/rec/cultural” uses — which could well include a dog park.

Only one of seven alternative scenarios presented shows the dog park apparently replaced — by a “riparian zone” and a promenade.

Virginia Farris, a member of the Four Mile Run Valley working group who’s also active in the Shirlington Civic Association, offered one of the 75 comments on the Facebook post.

“There is no proposal from the County yet, nor will there be for awhile yet,” she wrote. “The Working Group meets twice a month and the planning process still has a long way to go. The Dog Park has solid supporters among Working Group members — it’s definitely not going to be closed!”

Her post received seven likes as more than a dozen additional comments from people upset about the possibility of the park closing followed. Dog park supporters, in the meantime, are being encouraged to write emails to all five County Board members, with some pledging to do so every day until they get a favorable response.

The page, and Farris, are also encouraging dog park supporters to attend a meeting of the working group Tuesday night. The meeting, scheduled from 7-10 p.m. on the second floor of 2700 S. Taylor Street, will include a discussion of the land use plans and a 15 minute public comment period at the end.

“If you come… you can expect to hear a lot of questions and push-back from the Working Group members on many aspects (including the dog park) of the second set of conceptual drawings,” Farris said.

County officials have struggled to respond to the rumors as they spread like wildfire, with thousands of Facebook users likely seeing the original dog park post.

(Facebook has recently been making headlines as it combats so-called “fake news” on the network, with much of the focus coming in the wake of the recent presidential election.)

The Dept. of Parks and Recreation did respond to the post, just an hour after it was first published (see gallery above), but the response was buried since it was made to a comment on the post rather than the post itself.

At 5:35 p.m. Tuesday evening, six hours after our first enquiry about plans for the dog park, a county spokesperson responded to ARLnow.com but did not directly address what was being considered.

“There will be four ideas proposed at tonight’s 4MRV meeting,” said Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish. “This is just a first step to get feedback. There will be another meeting solely on getting input on the dog park on March 18 from 9-11 a.m. at the Park Operations Building.”

A county webpage for the March meeting says it will “discuss opportunities for improvements to the Shirlington Dog Park as part of the overall 4MRV Parks Master Plan.”

“This is an opportunity to share your ideas for the dog park with DPR staff and learn more about the 4MRV park planning process,” the page said.

“To look at the bright side,” concluded Kalish, “there is obviously a lot of support for the dog park and we should be able to get lots of great input to make it better through the Parks Master Planning process.”

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Morning Notes

Marymount University main house during Christmastime (Flickr pool photo by Eric)

Man Found Dead in Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — A middle-aged man was found dead in the bathroom at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Crystal City Monday afternoon. The restaurant was closed and the man was found by a cleaning crew. Arlington County police say the death is not considered suspicious. [WTOP, Fox 5]

Same-Sex Marriage Rate Falls — So far in 2016, only 1.9 percent of the more than 3,600 marriage licenses issued by the Arlington Circuit Court were issued to same-sex couples. That compares to 5.3 percent from June to December 2015, after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally. The first same-sex marriage in Arlington took place in Oct. 2014. [InsideNova]

Morning Rush Hour Crash on I-395 — Several lanes of northbound I-395 were blocked near Shirlington Circle this morning due to a crash. [Twitter]

Arlington Man Reunited With Trophy — Arlington resident Larry Funkhouser has been reunited with a high school baseball trophy he won 50 years ago but had since lost. Thanks to a post on the “I grew up in Arlington” Facebook page, the trophy was located at an antique shop in Purcellville and delivered to Funkhouser just in time for Christmas. [Fox 5]

Arlington’s Family Christmas Miracle — An Arlington couple’s two-year-old has become only the fifth child in the country to receive an auditory brainstem implant surgery. As a result of the procedure, which is in a clinical trial, the child, who was born deaf, can now hear. [WJLA]

Flickr pool photo by Eric

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Morning Notes

Rainy drive in Clarendon

Civic Federation Debate — The candidates for Arlington County Board, School Board and Congress took the stage at Tuesday’s Arlington County Civic Federation meeting, marking the unofficial kickoff of general election campaign season. During the County Board debate, independent challenger Audrey Clement went on the attack against “backroom deals” allegedly facilitated by incumbent Libby Garvey. [InsideNova, InsideNova, InsideNova]

September Heat Wave — Temperatures are expected to soar into the upper 90s today, and the heat and humidity will stay mid-summer-like through Saturday. [Capital Weather Gang]

New Flight Path Closer to Arlington? — To appease unhappy Northwest D.C. residents, the FAA is considering a new northern departure flight path for Reagan National Airport that’s closer to Arlington. A community meeting will be held to discuss the plan on Tuesday, Sept. 13 from 6:30-9:30 p.m., at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. [WUSA 9]

Outdoor Movies on the Pike — Four films are left on the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization outdoor movie calendar. Tonight, the critically-acclaimed film Brooklyn will be screened outside the Arlington Mill Community Center. [CPRO]

Clement Against Lubber Run Plan — County Board candidate Audrey Clement says it’s “inappropriate and unnecessary, given the county’s current 20% office vacancy rate,” for Arlington County to be planning to spend $46 million on a new four-story Lubber Run Community Center that will include new offices for the Dept. of Parks and Recreation. [Audrey Clement]

Beware the Cute Puppy Scam — Scammers are active on some local Facebook groups, trying to convince people to part with their cash and personal information to adopt a (fake) cute puppy from a (fake) man who can no longer afford to take care of it. [Fox 5]

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Morning Notes

D.C. skyline view from the rooftop of the Bartlett in Pentagon City

Police Conduct Pedestrian Safety Detail — Arlington County Police conducted a pedestrian safety detail at the intersection of Washington Blvd and N. Utah Street, in Ballston, where a teen was struck by a car and seriously injured in April. In a tweet, a driver is shown receiving a ticket for failure to yield to a pedestrian. [Twitter]

Pure Barre Coming to Pentagon City? — Exercise studio Pure Barre is finalizing a lease on the ground floor of the new Bartlett apartment building in Pentagon City. That was revealed during an opening party for the Bartlett on the building’s rooftop (see photo, above) Wednesday night.

Photo Shows Big Changes in Pentagon City — As seen in an old black-and-white photo, 56 years ago Pentagon City was mostly empty fields on the outskirts of Crystal City and the Aurora Highlands neighborhood. Development has transformed it into a Metro-accessible hub for shopping, apartment living and offices. [Twitter]

Arlington Mom Gives Birth Live on Facebook — An Arlington mother gave birth to her son live via Facebook Live for the TLC show “A Baby Story Live.” [Patch]

Light Pole Snaps During Storm — Earlier this week, a light pole in the park along Lubber Run snapped during a storm. [Twitter]

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Linda and Justin Stegall outside of Bakeshop in Clarendon (photo via Facebook)

It’s a tad out-of-the-ordinary for a business owner to let his mom tell personal family stories on the business’ Facebook page. But Bakeshop (1025 N. Fillmore Street) in Clarendon isn’t your ordinary business.

On Monday the quirky bakery posted the first in what it says will be a series of “Humans of Bakeshop” posts — a takeoff on the human interest stories compiled by the popular social media publication Humans of New York. The story was from Linda Stegall, mother of shop owner Justin.

“I married my college sweetheart and then put him through 5 years of post grad school while teaching and getting my own masters degree at The University of Virginia. We had two adorable little boys and then we separated when they were 2 and 3 years old. In the absence of their father, I worked hard to be a good mother and father and taught them and their friends how to play football, baseball, how to fish and ride bicycles. I was the neighborhood “dad” and mother. It was the greatest time of my life. I also had the perfect career to be a single parent – I was an elementary school teacher and just retired a few years ago after 35 years of teaching 2nd and 3rd grade! I loved teaching and feel fortunate to have had a career that I was so passionate about.

Family means so much to me.

I still live in northern Va and so do my sons, Justin and Joshua. I’m so proud of both of them- they have grown to be such amazing, kind individuals! My youngest, Josh, married a short while ago to a wonderful girl and we have become part of her extended families. He recently received his MBA from UVA. He is making his way as a leader in the corporate world. He and my amazing daughter in law, Katie, gave me the greatest gift recently, the birth of my first grandchild.

My older son, Justin, followed his dream, which coincidentally began in my kitchen as a child, and is the owner of a lovely neighborhood bakery. It’s doing very well and I am so thankful. I retired to spend more time with my mom and to help him get started in 2010. I love being here, baking and meeting and talking with our customers and working alongside my son.

I’ve worked hard all my life to be able to keep my sons in their childhood home and to take care of the house and yard. My dear father was an engineer and taught me how to do repairs on the furnace, car and tractor. I became very independent and self-sufficient after my divorce.

Hopefully, this paints a small picture of what I’ve been through and what has shaped me.”

As of this morning, the post had received more than 400 likes.

“The reaction was great,” Stegall told ARLnow.com. “We didn’t anticipate the response with my mom’s feature. That blew her away. As her son, I found it so special because she was able to reflect on how many lives she has touched. It was a very emotional experience for her.”

“My mom is an Arlington legend having taught here for 30 years and now helping in the shop where she gets to see many of her former students come in all grown up,” Stegall noted. “People really seem to like the old-school aspect of a neighborhood bakery run by a son and his mom.”

More “Humans of Bakeshop” posts are in the works — perhaps up to one per week.

“A big thing I have worked hard to build is a sense of community for the bakery,” Stegall said said. “For example, we have people that have met at the bakery and gotten married, couples that now have children and spend their Saturday mornings with us. Grandparents that grew up in the area bring their grandchildren here. It’s very special for us. That’s why we started the Humans of Bakeshop series. We want to share the personal stories of people that help operate the bakery and customers that spend their time with us.”

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