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Morning Notes

Wakefield Advances to Championship — The Wakefield High School boys basketball team has advanced to the Virginia Class 5 championship after defeating Edison last night 82-66. The team will face Varina tomorrow at VCU. Meanwhile, Wakefield senior forward A’Mari Cooper has been named Northern Region Class 5 Player of the Year. [Washington Post, InsideNova]

Metro Starts Selling Merch — Despite its reliability issues and subsequent image problem, Metro has launched a new line of clothing and gifts, sold online and at a new gift store at Metro Center. The reaction to the merchandise has been mixed. [WMATA, NBC Washington]

General Assembly Passes Car Seat Bill — “Today, the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 708… which would change the commonwealth’s law to require that child safety seats remain rear facing until the age of two, or the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device. The bill is now on its way to Governor Northam’s office for his signature. If signed, the new law would become effective July 1, 2019.” [AAA Mid-Atlantic]

More Restaurants Considering Ballston Quarter — Fresh off the announcement that Ted’s Bulletin was coming to Ballston Quarter, the owners of trendy D.C. spots Himitsu and Gravitas are said to be considering opening up eateries at the mall. Also in the works: a donut shop, an arepas stand, an oyster bar, and a barbecue joint. [Washington Business Journal]

Nicecream Expanding to D.C. — Liquid nitrogen-powered ice cream shop Nicecream Factory, which first opened in Clarendon, has since expanded to Alexandria and is now planning to open two D.C. locations, in Adams Morgan and Shaw. [Washington Business Journal]

Nearby: Gun Reform Discussion — Fred Guttenberg, father of one of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting victims, will speak at an event called “A Conversation About Gun Safety And The Safety Of American Schools” at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria tonight. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is hosting the event, which will discuss “actions we can take to ensure no other parent has to experience this kind of trauma.” [Eventbrite]

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Morning Notes

Arlington Ready for Possible Snow — The chances of “meaningful accumulation” have since gone down, but Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services crews started applying brine to county roads Monday night in anticipation a “potential snow/ice this Wednesday evening/Thursday.” [Twitter, Washington Post]

VDOT Pleased With I-66 HOT Lane Data — NBC 4’s Adam Tuss tweets: “Doesn’t look like @VaDOTNOVA plans to change anything about the I-66 toll lanes. They say their data shows commutes were faster and more reliable.” [Twitter]

Dems Want Satellite-Voting Centers — “The Arlington County Democratic Committee could again be at loggerheads with the county’s elections office over whether to provide satellite locations for absentee voting in non-presidential-election years.” [InsideNova]

ARLnow T-Shirt Now Available — Need a gift for the ARLnow.com fan in your life? Show your Arlington pride with this long-sleeved t-shirt from the county’s No. 1 local news source. [Amazon]

ACPD Officers Helping in Puerto Rico — The Arlington County Police Department is among the departments nationwide sending officers to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to provide emergency assistance. The third ACPD team to rotate in is working on the island through Dec. 18. Officers who’ve gone say many challenges remain but there are hopeful signs as well. [Arlington Connection]

Westover Townhouse Battle Continues — Arlington County is weighing both a historic district and a “Housing Conservation District” for Westover, to protect aging but affordable garden apartments from being redeveloped into $800,000 townhomes. [Falls Church News-Press]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Arlington Police Officer Receives Anonymous Holiday Gift

An Arlington County police officer received a little holiday cheer from a secret gift giver yesterday.

One of the department’s officers found a gift card and note of gratitude left anonymously on the windshield of an ACPD cruiser.

https://twitter.com/ArlingtonVaPD/status/814196016933117952

That kind of appreciation isn’t exactly a common occurrence for the ACPD. Typically only the officers working on Christmas receive a little something extra: a meal provided by an employee group.

This holiday season there was, however, another notable demonstration of appreciation when a Brownie troop dropped off festive reindeer-shaped treats last week.

https://twitter.com/ArlingtonVaPD/status/812010035257581568

No matter how big or small, members of the ACPD are grateful for positive recognition from the public, both during the holidays and throughout the year.

“We appreciate the support we receive from our community,” said police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “We’re often asked how citizens can show their appreciation for our officers. A simple thank you and handshake goes a long way for those working over the holidays.”

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Random, Last-Minute Arlington-Related Gifts From Amazon.com

Looking for a last-minute holiday gift idea for a special Arlingtonian in your life? We’ve got just the list for you.

Below are the top dozen Arlington-related gifts to be found on Amazon.com.

Have other ideas? Let us know in the comments.

Arlington County Chronicles1. Arlington County Chronicles by Charlie Clark
Paperback: $15.98 or Kindle: $7.99

“Our Man in Arlington” columnist Charlie Clark knows the history of Arlington better than almost anyone. In this 224 page tome, Clark “regales with stories of politics, personalities and everything in between.”

Murder Across the Board2. Murder Across the Board: An Arlington County Mystery by Jane Barcroft
Paperback: $13.95

There are theories as to who Jane Barcroft really is, but guessing is half the fun. Jane’s two-book literary career started with this mid-aughts novel about “the April morning that the County Board meeting was gaveled to order by a fatal gunshot.”

Clarendon t-shirt3. Clarendon T-Shirt by GreatCitees
Large: $13.99 + $5.99 shipping

Available in both white and gray and a wide variety of sizes, this unisex t-shirt will have you “looking cool and stylish” while you announce to the world your love of all things Clarendon. Printed with “direct-to-garment printing technology.”

Feast and the Famine4. Sonic Highways by the Foo Fighters
Blu-ray: $29.98 or DVD: $11.39 or MP3: $9.99 or Vinyl: $16.98

Northern Virginia native Dave Grohl and company recorded “The Feast and the Famine,” one of the songs from their Sonic Highways album and HBO series, at Arlington’s legendary Inner Ear Studios (2710 S. Oakland Street). Read more about it here.

Remy's The Falafel Album5. The Falafel Album by GoRemy
MP3: $4.99

Local funnyman Remy Munasifi released this comedy album in 2010 but it still holds up, with parody songs like “Saudis in Audis,” the “Metro Song” and “Passive-Aggressive Love Song.” Not included: Remy’s classic “Arlington Rap.”

How Your City Works6. How Your City Works!! Behind the Scenes in Arlington by Spencer and Avery Park
Paperback: $10.00

A pair of Arlington elementary school students wrote this 44-page book about how stuff works in our fair county. Almost as impressive as the inner workings of Arlington’s infrastructure: the fact that this was the authors’ second book.

Arlington cufflinks7. Antique Arlington Map Cufflinks by Beluga Home Studio
Handmade: $39.95 + $5.00 shipping

A copy of a “circa 1900’s antique map of The Old Dominion State” was used to create these sepia-tinted cufflinks. The word “Glencarlyn” is featured prominently above “Arlington,” so if you live in the Glencarlyn neighborhood then double whammy.

Historic Photos of Arlington County8. Historic Photos of Arlington County by Matthew Gilmore
Hardcover: $30.56

“Historic Photos of Arlington County brings together many different images and perspectives on Arlington, from the non-recognizable rural nineteenth century to quite recognizable images from the 1970s. It captures the manifold aspects of the county in striking, black-and-white photographs.”

Arlington t-shirt9. Retro, Vintage Style Arlington Shirt by Ann Arbor T-Shirt Co.
Large: $19.95

Let’s be honest about it, if you love Arlington enough to buy this ugly t-shirt, you’d probably pay the same amount for a stylish ARLnow t-shirt. Email us and we’ll tell you where to Paypal the money.

Grace Hopper book10. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer
Paperback: $20.12 or Kindle: $11.99

Learn more about tech pioneer, Google Doodle honoree, United States Navy Rear Admiral and all-around badass Grace Hopper. Her work “laid the foundation for the development of user-friendly personal computers.”

Gravity movie11. Gravity (movie)
Online HD rental: $3.99 or Blu-ray: $7.98

The winner of seven Academy Awards, this film stars Arlington native Sandra Bullock. Last year “Sandy” Bullock told the Daily Mail that her Washington-Lee High School cheerleading uniform still fits like a glove.

Images of America: Arlington12. Images of America: Arlington by the Arlington Historical Society
Paperback: $21.99

“Through this unique pictorial retrospective, readers will explore some of the county’s early villages, such as Glencarlyn, Queen City, Cherrydale, and Barcroft, and will enjoy viewing the transition from the early trolley lines and Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, which first brought growth to the area.”

Photos via Amazon.com

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Making Saving for College Easier at ‘Leaf’

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Leaf College SavingsThe skyrocketing cost of higher education can make saving and paying for college overwhelming. So you might want to “leaf” the burden to the experts.

Leaf College Savings co-founders Juan Aguilar, Chris Duffus and Josh Bixler set out with the goal of making it easier to save for college. More specifically, they wanted to find an easier way to give the gift of college savings because, as Aguilar says, “it’s a complicated web out there of college savings.”

The collaborators previously had been colleagues at another Arlington business and regrouped a few years after that company sold. Leaf has been around for about three years now and the Rosslyn-based business has nearly 20 employees.

Leaf enables people to purchase an FDIC-insured gift card which transfers money directly into any 529 college savings plan. If the recipient doesn’t have a college savings account, the business will help set one up.

“It’s a gift that says something very special and very specific,” Aguilar says.

Another option Leaf offers is for an employer to allow payroll contributions to go toward a college savings gift, in a similar way to how a 401(k) works.

“That’s the headache we’re solving right now,” says Aguilar. “The gift card is one idea, a payroll deduction… is idea number two.”

Aguilar points out that children are more likely to pursue higher education if they have some savings set aside for it. He says Leaf offers ways to start saving early — for example, by giving one of the gift cards at a baby shower — and all of the contributions will add up over the child’s lifetime.

“We’re not trying to say a gift card will pay for every dime. But we say that every little bit helps and you need to get started somewhere,” he says. “Over time it will grow into something, which is certainly better than not having made a plan or waiting until it’s too late.”

The business continues to evolve and improve based on feedback from customers and research on changes and trends for savings plans. Employees currently are devising a payroll benefits program to help workers pay off their student loans. Leaf is working on the idea with companies interested in using such a benefit as a recruitment and retention incentive.

“The amount of college debt is staggering,” Aguilar says. “Companies love the idea of college savings and helping employees with student loans.”

As a testament to the benefits Leaf provides, Aguilar says he uses the services for his own kids.

“On a personal level, being able to use Leaf myself… it’s good to see the product work and that it really helps people,” he says. “I’m happy that we’re helping people save for college.”

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Local Author’s Book Makes Today Show’s Holiday Gift Guide

Oscar Takes Off from TODAY 12.17For those who wait until the last minute to finish their holiday shopping, NBC’s Today Show has compiled a list of 40 gift ideas. This year, a local author’s book is included on that list.

Arlington resident Liz Lord’s first self-published book Oscar Takes Off! The Eco-Adventures of “Oscocopter” is an illustrated story written for readers ages 3-8 but has a message for all ages about protecting the environment.

On Today’s list — which had its own segment on the show Thursday morning — the story is described as follows:

A kids book that even adults will love. This teaches kids about climate change and the environment in a fun way. Kids will love Oscar and parents will love the lesson he imparts.

Oscar Takes Off coverA synopsis of the story sent to ARLnow describes the main character as Oscar, an octopus who discovers he can fly like like a helicopter and uses that skill to go on “the first of many global eco-advenutres” after unwelcome debris settles in his ocean home. The story is meant to encourage readers to become environmentally conscious and friendly.

A Kickstarter campaign launched in March successfully funded the book, including illustrations, design and publishing. Oscar Takes Off! was put on Amazon about a month ago, and more than 150 copies have been sold.

The story’s message isn’t the only way the book tries to help the environment. All royalties the book earns are donated to Oceana, an organization working to protect oceans around the world.

As a last-minute holiday gift or otherwise, the book is available online for $6.99.

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Pentagon City Mall Offering Valentine’s Day Giftwrapping

Crowds of shoppers at Pentagon City mall (file photo)For those in the market for Valentine’s Day gifts, who like spending but not wrapping, the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City has a holiday promotion for you.

Today through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., the mall will offer free, full-service gift-wrapping, complete with a variety of wrapping paper, ribbons, and red and pink bows.

The only catch: you have to spend more than $250 at any of a handful of pricey stores. Those stores include:

  • Armani Exchange
  • Apple
  • Coach
  • Hugo Boss
  • Kate Spade
  • Michael Kors
  • Microsoft
  • Stuart Weitzman
  • Tourneau
  • Tumi
  • Vince Camuto

Shoppers who want to take advantage of the service are asked to bring proof of purchase to the Guest Services kiosk.

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Local Startup Offers Artfully-Designed Gifts (Promoted)

Two local, female entrepreneurs have transformed their love of gifting into a business. The Trendy Ribbon, an online gift company in Arlington, offers a fresh and stylish take on the traditional gift basket — turning it into something you can confidently give and happily receive.

The creative owners of the one-year old company focus on providing customers high-quality products (no fillers) and unique packaging and presentation. For example, instead of traditional wicker baskets, they use rustic and modern crates designed to be reused or displayed.

“Gift giving is personal and we want our arrangements to capture the personality of each recipient, artfully highlighting life’s special moments,” said the company’s co-founder Ashley. “We deliver a hand crafted, custom feel by getting to know our clients and incorporating thoughtful touches that make our gifts truly unique.”

You won’t find cookie cutter arrangements when it comes to this company. Unlike most gift basket companies, The Trendy Ribbon offers customization every step of the way – from brainstorming the initial look and feel via a gifting consultation, to personalizing specific elements to create memorable, one-of-a-kind arrangements.

“We pride ourselves on attention to detail and a keen ability to understand the client’s needs, style and taste,” said the company’s co-founder Kerry. “We have a true passion for designing inspired, relevant gifts and treat each project as though it was for our own friend, loved one or colleague.”

This commitment to artful gift design and customer service is the underpinning of The Trendy Ribbon brand and at the heart of every arrangement they do. If you ask the owners to describe their favorite creation, they can’t point to just one. Instead they talk about memorable crates that tell a story -the teacher appreciation gift with a gardening theme; a pig themed crate for a catering manager; a Bliss spa arrangement with a special “Have a Bliss-filled Holiday” notecard; an elegant wedding crate to pamper the bride-to-be; a baby crate for the owner of Clarendon-based salon Urban Halo featuring a custom hairdryer applique onesie and specialty infant hair care items. The list goes on, and the clients are impressed.

The Trendy Ribbon’s custom gift baskets are perfect for every gift and occasion,” said Urban Halo stylist Hillary Kellet. “It is so easy, the crates are filled with awesome treats, and you can stay in your budget. I recommended The Trendy Ribbon to absolutely everyone! There isn’t one person who wouldn’t benefit from the service.”

The company has a lot to offer this holiday from home-based gifting parties for you and your friends to corporate, pre-arranged and custom gift crates featuring high-end, gourmet products. Corporate offerings include logo branded ribbon, chocolate, coffee and more.

It is evident a high-level of thought and care goes into every Trendy Ribbon creation. In their own words, “We take great pride in knowing our personalized gifting service creates gifts that capture special stories, events and milestones to be cherished for years to come.”

Check out their website www.thetrendyribbon.com or send them an email at [email protected] for information on how to arrange a custom, corporate or personal gifting consultation.

Reference the ARLnow piece to receive 10% off your first order.

Happy Gifting!

The preceding article was submitted by an ARLnow.com sponsor.

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Vihstadt Calls for Stronger County Gov’t Gifts Policy

John Vihstadt debates at the Arlington Civic federation on Sept. 2, 2014(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt is calling for a stronger gifts policy for county government employees and officials.

The county’s current Code of Ethics says that county workers should “ensure that no favors, gifts, gratuities or benefits are received for actions taken.”

Additionally, conflict-of-interest rules state that county employees “may not accept personal gifts, gratuities, or loans from organizations, businesses, or individuals with whom the employee conducts or will conduct official County business.”

(The rule does not apply to “articles of negligible value that are distributed to the general public,” “social courtesies which promote good public relations,” and “obtaining loans from regular lending institutions.”)

Vihstadt is calling for a specific $100 gift limit from any source, in addition to prohibiting gifts given in exchange for official actions.

Vihstadt, who is running for re-election against challenger Democrat Alan Howze, issued the following press release this morning.

Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt is calling for a firmer and more specific ethics policy regarding gifts to either county board members or county employees.

Vihstadt, an Independent running for re-election Nov. 4, said, “Arlington must signal its commitment to foster the highest standards of ethical conduct” in the wake of the convictions of former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen on multiple corruption charges.

“To start, the County should consider adoption of a $100 value limit on gifts from any source per year, and provide that in no instance shall a board member or county employee accept a gift given for services performed within the scope of an employee’s duties or given with intent to influence one’s actions” he added.

The current county ethics policy places no dollar limit on gifts to board members or employees. Vihstadt also noted that the current ethics policy describes “principles” of proper conduct. “This is more limited than what I am calling for, which is (a) a rule and not a principle and, (b) I prohibit anything intended to influence – not just items received for actions taken.”

Vihstadt noted that Arlington Public Schools adopted a similar provision effective July 1, and that Gov. Terry McAuliffe has likewise taken comparable strong steps for himself and senior staff in Richmond.

“We must work hard to restore trust in our elected leaders and public officials at all levels of government, Vihstadt said. “Let’s do our part in Arlington now.”

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Fact: Red Wine Tastes Better Than Red Roses

This post is sponsored by Grateful Red Wine & Gift Shop (2727 Wilson Blvd)

Roses are nice, but wouldn’t your sweetheart prefer something tastier than flowers for Valentine’s Day?

Your loved one will be the talk of the office when you surprise him or her with the gifts that keep on giving — wine and chocolate!

Clarendon wine and gift store Grateful Red has an easy-to-use website where you can build your own custom wine gift basket, or select from several pre-made gift baskets that are more affordable than a dozen roses.

We will happily deliver any basket purchased between now and midnight Thursday anywhere in Virginia within 25 miles of our shop on Valentine’s Day — home, office or otherwise.

We also have great beer baskets for the beer lover in your life. Choose from several beautiful pre-made baskets or build your own custom basket on our aforementioned website — just pick a gift basket or tin and fill it up with wine, beer, cheese, chocolate and other fun accessories.

Or, if you want to indulge your guy or gal with the ultimate “Beer Mine” present, why not purchase a beers of the month membership? Beers of the Month Club memberships are available in 3-month, 6-month or 1-year subscriptions. Applications for beer club can be found here.

ARLnow readers ordering online can save 10% on any gift basket from now until the end of February by using the code ARLnow10.

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APS Considers Limiting Teacher Gifts

Second grade teacher Elizabeth Abraham is presented with the Va. Lottery "Super Teacher" award (courtesy Frank Bellavia/APS)Apples for the teacher will be acceptable under a new gift policy for Arlington Public Schools, as long as it’s fruit and not electronics.

APS is circulating a proposed change to its gift policy for employees that would limit the amount of gifts educators can receive to $50.

The School Board will consider adopting the policy at its meeting Dec. 5, according to APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. There is already an APS gift policy on the books, but it only has guidelines for gifts purchased for employees with APS funds.

The draft policy defines a gift as “cash or cash equivalent; any gratuity, discount, favor, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, services, transportation, lodging and meals … and any items, event, activity or other thing(s) having monetary value given to or on behalf of an employee for his or her use or personal benefit.”

The policy reads as follows:

Employees may accept gift valued at a total of $50.00 or less during a school year from any one student, individual, family or organization, including PTAs and Booster organizations. In no instance shall an employee accept a gift for services performed within the scope of the employee’s duties or given with the intent to influence an employee’s actions. Any single gift valued at more than $50, or gifts totaling more than $50 from one giver during the course of a school year, must be returned to the giver.

The policy “provides clear guidance” on what type and value of gifts APS employees can receive from students,, their family or outside organizations, which the current policy does not, according to Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Management Services Deirdra McLaughlin. It remains unclear how teachers will be tasked with appraising the value of gifts such as hospitality or services.

File Photo 

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GiftRocker Seeks to Make Gift Certificates Easier for Local Businesses

Startup Monday header

Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Giftrocker in action at House of SteepAlex Robertson was working as an IT manager when, for a charity event, he visited some local retailers to have them donate gift certificates to raise money.

One by one, he would walk in and see every restaurant, every coffee shop, every boutique had a different method for gift certificates; Some took as long as 15 minutes to provide one.

“I saw it as really ripe to be automated,” Robertson said. “The whole concept needed to be redone. I was doing software managemnt for years, and all of those experiences made me think ‘I could do better than that.'”

Two years ago, Robertson “just quit the day job and decided to do it.” He launched GiftRocker, with no outside funding, and brought in veterans of the local retail scene — head of business development Michael Scruggs in 2011 and Vice President of Sales Michael Rosen a few months ago — to try and revolutionize the way small businesses handle gift cards.

Rosen and Scruggs are gregarious sales types with connections all over the area. While Robertson is engaging when talking about his company and product, he is most comfortable building the product itself, and letting his work do the talking.

“As a technology guy, building the product, that was fun for me,” Robertson said. “It’s like a long crossword puzzle.”

GiftRocker is a tool for businesses to create customizable gift certificates, sold online, on mobile or in store. It can also be used for pre-selling event tickets and designing and creating promotions, among other services. The biggest distinguisher between GiftRocker and well-known sites that offer comparable services, like Groupon or Eventbrite, is each service is offered as an extension of the client’s brand, not GiftRocker’s.

Giftrocker coupon to Liberty Tavern“We just provide a service,” Robertson says. “Their customers are their customers.”

The GiftRocker icon is just subtly placed at the bottom of each gift certificate page, which, despite being hosted by GiftRocker.com, are designed to strongly resemble the client’s website.

The GiftRocker team has already brought its services to about 30 Arlington businesses, and approaching 100 in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

One of the businesses Robertson has partnered with is House of Steep at 3800 Lee Highway in Cherrydale. Owner Lyndsey DePalma is about to celebrate her one-year anniversary of running the store, and started offering gift cards with GiftRocker last October.

Giftrocker's Michael Scruggs, left, Alex Robertson, center and Michael Rosen

“I tried traditional gift cards and it not work out for me,” DePalma said. She was managing a spreadsheet that was getting unmanageable. Now, about 30 percent of her gift card sales occur online. “I just remember reconciling my books after the first round of online orders and saying ‘where did all this money come from?'”

Before GiftRocker, Scruggs was working for the group that owns Lyon Hall, The Liberty Tavern and Northside Social in Clarendon. Now, the three restaurants are all GiftRocker clients, coming on board after Backyard BBQ, Giftrocker’s first customer, and Lebanese Taverna, GiftRocker’s first “anchor client,” as Rosen puts it.

“The system is really a victory for consumers,” Rosen said. “There’s so much noise in the marketplace in this area. Cutting through it is very difficult, and we have a tool to do that.”

They’re still operating remotely — out of their homes in Arlington and various coffee shops — but nimbly enough to adapt to each client’s needs. GiftRocker’s next step is to expand nationally, but Robertson, Scruggs and Rosen are still deliberating over how to do it.

“When we figure it out, we’ll tell you,” Robertson said.

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