Arlington, VA

(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) Many businesses have been forced to shift their expectations and approaches this year, and Kinder Haus Toys in Clarendon is no exception.

The toy store, located at 1220 N. Fillmore Street, already faced the test of keeping up with online competition before the pandemic. Its business challenges were exacerbated by the pandemic and state mandates that required the store to temporarily close earlier in the year.

But Kinder Haus has begun to return back to normal, albeit with stringent COVID-19 safety precautions. The store implements social distancing, has hand sanitizers ready, requires customers and employees to wear masks, and has installed a sneeze guard at the register.

Owner Sue Pyatt and the store’s employees have made the adjustments in stride, and it’s starting to pay off.

“It’s getting better. Little by little, week by week, we’re seeing an improvement in sales,” Pyatt said. “And that’s very encouraging.”

Once the store reopened, sales initially shifted to curbside service, online advertisements were heavily utilized, and Pyatt leaned on the business drummed up by an email newsletter.

Though some things have changed, others have stayed the same. The store’s focus has remained on some essentials Pyatt feels are synonymous with small independent business, such as offering free gift wrapping and the “knowledgeable suggestions” from the staff.

“We have a number of loyal customers, and they were so pleased we were open,” Pyatt said. “And they had such nice things to say, such as, ‘It gives us hope that you’re continuing,’ and ‘We appreciate being able to have a store like this that we can turn to when we need gifts for children,’ and things along that line.”

Kinder Haus has managed to maintain its normal hours since it reopened, and according to Pyatt has been able to meet its expenses and ensure payroll was consistently met for employees.

Though the store is open and business is slowly getting better, there have been some additional cuts due to safety measures. The store’s regular events like Tunes 4 Tots music class, arts and crafts activities, Lego Play Day, and others have been suspended until further notice, for instance.

Pyatt hopes to be able to offer the activities again “as soon as we feel it’s safe.”

The store has been able to maintain its charitable efforts with the help of the “very generous community that we’re blessed to be in,” Pyatt said.

The store maintains a donation box to support the Arlington Food Assistance Center and continues to provide support to the Educate the Girls organization that provides financial assistance to girls in rural Uganda to attend primary or secondary school.

“I’d just like to say how much we appreciate our customers and more than anything, it’s the customers and the support we’ve received from them that has made it possible for us to continue and give us the encouragement that we needed,” Pyatt said. “That words that occur to me are kind of cliché, but we’re all in this together. Our staff, our wonderful customers, we’re all in this doing the best we can. And I think that’s why it works.”

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After new movie releases came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic, the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) has pivoted to older movies, alternative events, and a greater reliance on live comedy.

“The movie industry is a big black hole right now,” owner Tim Clark said. “Studios are pushing release dates farther and farther out, and dedicating more resources to direct-to-streaming.”

Since reopening in August, the Drafthouse has shown classic films and cartoons, and brought in live stand-up comedians for groups no larger than 85 people, or 30% of the space’s capacity.

“Movie attendance is down across the board with all theaters,” Clark said. “Comedy has been fairly steady and now we’re trying fun stuff.”

This week, Clark is leaning into spooky season with Halloween-themed events.

This weekend, “Spoons, Toons and Booze,” a Drafthouse special event with free cereal, cartoons and brunch-themed cocktails, will show cartoons from the 1940s to present day that feature creatures who go bump in the night. Tonight, “Witches and Wine” ticket holders get to celebrate Wine Wednesday and watch the cult classic “Hocus Pocus.”

Wednesday night’s event, with half-priced wine, has sold at least 40 tickets, “which is incredible for an old Disney film,” he said. Another cult classic, Beetlejuice, is set for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

“Witches and Wine” may bring out crowds for the novelty, but most showings of old films are not bringing people out. Half of the films to which Drafthouse has access are available on-demand or on cable, Clark noted. Comedy is now the driving force for filling seats at the Drafthouse.

“I think it’s going to be comedy-driven for a while before movies return,” Clark said.

With Christmas season seemingly coming earlier and earlier each year, Clark is already preparing creative, fun and themed holiday events. He’s hoping for something of a holiday miracle: a return to normality sooner rather than later.

“I’m not sure where we’re going to be in a couple of months as a country, but at this point, with a 30% reduced capacity, it’s not a long term sustainable model,” he said. “It helps a bit, but there’s only so much you can do.”

The schedule for the rest of the year includes weekends of stand-up comedy and a Mongolian film called “Six Feet” about what humans have done in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

More live comedy is already on the schedule for 2021, including “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Jeff Garlin on March 26 and 27.

Photo via @cinemadraft/Twitter

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Euphoria, a flea market that has drawn huge crowds to Arlington’s normally quiet Barcroft neighborhood, went so viral on the social media app TikTok that it’s now on hold here while its founder figures out how to handle the newfound popularity.

The market was launched by Washington-Lee (now Washington-Liberty) High School graduate Fabricio Gamarra and features vintage sneakers, t-shirts and other carefully-curated items.

For four consecutive months, 20-year-old Gamarra got away with hosting Euphoria, which he describes as a “pop-up vintage market,” with his friend and business partner Chris Claure out of a parking lot on S. Buchanan Street in Barcroft. The market features Gamarra’s own vintage brand, Forbiidden Vintage, along with roughly a dozen local sellers selling everything from high-end streetwear to vintage sunglasses. And between the third and fourth event, he says, Euphoria’s popularity exploded.

“I woke up one morning to my friends texting me to check my phone, and I couldn’t believe it,” Gamarra said. “I thought, ‘Is this really happening?”

As it turns out, a friend of Claure who attended the Sept. 6 flea market posted about it on the popular short-form video app. The video has so far attracted more than 100,000 likes, in addition to thousands of comments like “Hold up Virginia? I’m going right now!” and “Finally something good in the DMV area.”

As of today, the video has more than 360,000 views.

Word caught on by the next Euphoria market, on Oct. 4.  According to Gamarra, the line to enter stretched a mile long and people were lining up to enter all day. The crowd size and increased traffic also attracted the attention of the neighbors. Even though social distancing was in place and face masks were required, Gamarra says the Arlington County Police Department was alerted to the event.

“There are some safety issues we need to make sure are taken care of before we can have another market in Arlington, yeah,” Gamarra said. “We’re talking to the county to figure out what we can do. I’ve lived in Arlington since I was three and I believe it’s a great market to attract people from both Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. I want to make sure these events can continue here.”

A video of the October market, showing off the long lines and the collection of unique clothing, also went viral on TikTok. It has received nearly 40,000 likes since it was posted.

For now, Gamarra says the next market is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15 in Silver Spring, Maryland, but he hopes to make it back to Arlington soon.

“Fingers are crossed we can do something bigger and better in Arlington, but of course, safety has to be the first priority,” he said.

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Charlene Nguyen was 18 years old when she fled communist Vietnam for Virginia.

She landed a job at Arlington’s Old Dominion Cleaners (4036 Lee Highway) in 1985, and finally lay to rest the two years she spent living in fear of communists and surviving on meager portions of rice.

In 1996, she and her husband Tien, who she sponsored when he came to the U.S., took over the dry-cleaning business. They have operated Old Dominion for the last 25 years, greeting customers by name and treating them like family.

But the new work-from-home normal has almost completely erased that quarter-century of work. Like other local dry cleaning businesses, Old Dominion Cleaners is hurting.

“It’s heartbreaking to see my business going down so fast since mid-March,” Charlene Nguyen said. “It went down 90% and hasn’t bounced back. We have to open every day, but we don’t have customers because people aren’t going to work.”

The business is on the brink of closure, and has not benefited from any local and state grants. Last week, however, devoted customers teamed up to give the family business a boost.

On Sept. 26, Alex Berger and Kelly James set up a GoFundMe page. Their team also includes Alan Wade, Maria Voultsides and Matt Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn, a photographer with a studio in Arlington, decided to charge a minimum sitting fee of $50 for pet portrait sessions that would benefit the GoFundMe campaign. As of Monday afternoon, the group effort has raised nearly $15,000.

Few are getting their clothes dry cleaned these days, said Mendelsohn, who used to bring his suits in before photographing weddings. When he dropped off clothing last week, the racks that are normally full of customer clothing were empty, he said.

The studio photographer is known in town for his portraits of pets and their humans, which he has taken for the last 15 years, as well as his headline-grabbing, socially-distanced photos of 2020 Yorktown High School seniors.

Normally, when Mendelsohn hosts his annual Dog Day Photo Marathon, he does not charge a sitting fee, but this year he asked patrons to donate to the GoFundMe and show him the receipts.

The marathon took place on Sunday, and 25 people sat with their pets for portraits.

“It was beautiful and fun. We made gorgeous pictures and had a good time,” he said. “It takes zero effort to help people out.”

Mendelsohn said Charlene is known in the community for her cheer, work ethic and humor. For years, when the photographer brought in his suits, she would give him lollipops for his daughter. Now, his daughter is 17 years old, and they talk about Charlene and her college-aged kids.

“She’s fantastic,” he said. “She’s always cheery and never in a grumpy mood, even though I’m in a grumpy mood.”

The GoFundMe organizers spent one week fundraising, which is not a lot of effort compared to the 25 years that Charlene has spent being kind to customers, Mendelsohn said.

Charlene came through once more for her customers when the country experienced mask shortages earlier this year. She and her staff made about 400 masks a week from fabric that Charlene had from when she used to sew custom shirts.

They gave out the masks for free.

After the Nguyens helped customers protect themselves, fundraiser organizers say it is time to help them in return.

“It’s like ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,'” Mendelsohn said. “George Bailey is in trouble and people rallied. So we rallied, and hopefully that gives them some breathing room.”

The gift has left Charlene at a loss for words.

“I don’t know how to say it, but I want to thank everybody who is helping us out,” she told ARLnow. “Words can’t be enough.”

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Morning Notes

Girl’s Study Shed Featured on NBC — With the help of a local Facebook group called “Buy Nothing,” an Arlington dad built a study shed for his daughter using materials donated by neighbors. The project was featured on Saturday’s national NBC Nightly News broadcast. [YouTube, Washington Post]

APS Graduation Rate Improves — “Arlington’s public-school students posted a 93.4-percent on-time graduation rate up from 92.5 percent a year before, according to new data from the Virginia Department of Education. Rates rose among both genders and in major racial/ethnic groups compared to the Class of 2019, while the school system’s dropout rate showed improvement, declining from 5.6 percent in 2019 to 4.9 percent in 2020.” [InsideNova]

Crystal City Halloween Shop Struggles — “This was supposed to be the biggest Halloween of Lorenzo Caltagirone’s career.
For the first time in 95 years, it would fall on both a full moon and a Saturday — an equation that normally would mean big profits for his Virginia costume shop. Instead, sales are down 80 percent and he is running low on cash.” [Washington Post]

Vehicle Tampering Suspects Flee — “Police were dispatched to the report of two subjects trespassing and tampering with vehicles in a parking garage. Upon arrival, it was determined that security observed two suspects enter the garage on motorcycles and begin trying door handles. Arriving officers observed the suspects, however, when they attempted to stop them, Suspect One got on a motorcycle, then fled on foot and the Suspect Two fled on a motorcycle.” [ACPD]

Memorial Service for Erik Gutshall — A memorial service for the late County Board member Erik Gutshall was held last night at outdoor the Lubber Run Amphitheater. Some mourners attended in person, though the service was also broadcast online. [YouTube]

Beyer’s Warnings Unheeded By White House — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) “specifically and directly warned the White House and the Trump Campaign in June, July, August, and September that refusing to wear masks or social distance could create ‘super-spreader events.’ We used those words,” said Beyer’s spokesman. [Twitter]

Cross-Country Tandem Bike Ride — “Terri and Bruce Brown are finishing up a more than 3,000-mile, three-month bicycle trip from Oregon to the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, not with two bikes, but one.” [WTOP]

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Morning Notes

Soldiers Nearly Struck By SUV on TV — “Two soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment — also known as the The Old Guard — gave D.C. early morning viewers a real-time safety briefing when a driver nearly ran them down in the background of a live TV report on” safety changes around Memorial Circle. [Military Times, WJLA]

APS Not Releasing Some COVID Info — “Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said 11.7 percent of school staff have ‘been excluded from work due to COVID health and safety procedures’… [Bellavia] refused to say how many schools within Arlington have seen cases of the virus, calling building-level data “private health information.” [Washington Post]

Local Resident Charged With Election Felony — “Jacob Wohl and [Rosslyn resident] Jack Burkman were charged with four felonies of intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election law and using a computer to commit a crime, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday, after thousands of residents from at least five states received the robocall aimed at discouraging absentee voting.” [Washington Post]

E*Trade Acquisition to Close — Morgan Stanley is expected to complete its $13 billion acquisition of Arlington-based E*Trade today. The online brokerage was founded in Silicon Valley but eventually came to be headquartered in Arlington after it acquired Arlington-based Telebanc in 2000. [Virginia Business]

Sierra Club Calls for Electric Metrobus Fleet — “The environmental group has laid out a detailed process by which it believes Metro can get to fully electric by 2045. It proposes that the transit agency convert half of its fleet by 2030, 75 percent by 2035, 90 percent by 2040 and 100 percent by 2045.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Since VIDA Fitness Ballston opened on June 27, about 500 members have had the 30,000 square feet to themselves.

The regional, high-end fitness chain usually sees up to four times that many people join before opening day and in the first three months. But the coronavirus has hurt the boutique gym’s ability to attract members.

After overcoming construction and pandemic-related delays earlier this year, VIDA Ballston’s biggest challenge is getting people to walk in the door, VIDA Fitness Director of Operations Aaron Moore said.

The rate of new memberships is lagging compared to other locations, since many are not comfortable with going to the gym. In response, the company has spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on cleaning equipment and takes state regulations a step further to keep the space sanitary and to follow precautions.

“Our primary motivation is how are we going to keep people safe, because if they feel safe, they’re going to feel confident keeping their memberships and telling their friends about it,” Moore said.

Typically, about 1,400 people will sign up before opening day, and another 600 to 700 will join within the first 90 days, he said.

At VIDA Ballston, 420 members signed up before June 27, and by Sept. 29, membership grew to 511, Moore said. Memberships cost $140 a month, and grant access to group workout classes and studios, personal trainers, individual equipment, a proprietary high intensity interval training studio called Sweat Box, a spa and smoothie bar.

Once people experience the check-in process and see what precautions the gym is taking, Moore said patrons feel comfortable.

The state permits gym patrons to take off their masks while exercising, but VIDA requires masks stay on. Double-layered cloth masks and 3-ply disposable masks are allowed, but gators, bandanas and masks with valves are not.

Members reserve a time on the gym’s app before arriving and go through the gym’s check-in and check-out process for record-keeping. If patrons alert staff that they tested positive for COVID-19, staff know who to contact.

“There is some honor system involved,” Moore said. “If someone doesn’t tell us they tested positive, then disappears, we’re not going to know.”

The gym has not yet had a positive case, but has told several people to stay home because they came in contact with someone who later tested positive, he said.

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) Some local businesses are making it through the pandemic just fine, but others are still struggling.

Restaurants — particularly those that rely on sit-down and bar business — are among the hardest hit. In New York City, a new report said that 9 in 10 restaurants couldn’t pay their August rent. Here in Arlington, one long-time local restaurant owner estimated in April that 30-40% of restaurants could ultimately close as a result of the pandemic.

Clothing retailers, dry cleaners and anyone else whose business relies on people going to the office or children going to school is also in trouble.

Talks about another round of coronavirus stimulus on Capitol Hill have been stalled for month, but are reportedly restarting. A new aid package is likely to include new relief for small businesses, airlines and others.

Unfortunately, that will come too late for a number of Arlington businesses. Here are the fallen — a list of local businesses that have closed over the past 6+ months, since the first coronavirus case in Arlington.

It should be noted that not all of the above closed as a direct result of the pandemic. Sam Torrey Shoe Service, for instance, closed after the owner decided to move to the Outer Banks.

Know of any others not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments.

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A longtime Arlington boutique recently hosted “Chic in Shirlington,” an event for local women to model its clothes after seeing a decline in customers during the pandemic.

Sheyla’s Luxury Boutique has been a part of the Arlington community for 16 years, but over the past few months, Sheyla Voye, owner of the boutique, hasn’t seen many of her customers.

“I have a lot of customers that buy from me, but not even 5% of those people are coming because people are not in the need of clothing,” said Voye. “Because of the pandemic, no one now is going to work. Most of my business was running because people were going to work, events, dinners, galas — and unfortunately because all of that has not been allowed yet, it’s becoming to be extremely challenging and difficult.”

“Chic in Shirlington,” hosted earlier this month, called for women in Arlington to model Sheyla’s clothing in front of the Shirlington fountain.

“Sheyla’s Luxury Boutique seeks models to celebrate as we come safely outside again. We welcome friend groups, sisters, mother/daughter duos or come on your own! Don’t you miss dressing up to go out,” the event listing said.

Models were able to try on clothes, get their hair and makeup done, walk the runway, take pictures and receive a gift certificate to the store.

Kim Honor Matkovsky, a Waverly Hills resident and loyal Sheyla’s customer, said the event brought together women of “all shapes, ages, styles” in a celebration of fashion — and the store.

“Sheyla… is a phenom,” she told ARLnow. “I have been a customer for 16 years and am trying to help her to weather this economic storm.”

“The Boutique is what Loehmann’s used to be: a fun and rewarding treasure hunt for women who wanted quality and style without the price tag,” Matkovsky wrote. “And Sheyla is the special sauce.”

Since the pandemic started, Voye has faced many challenges including moving locations in Shirlington and losing employees.

“I used to be on Campbell Avenue before moving to another building. The [storefront] that I have now is a month-to-month lease, not a permanent lease. Permanent leases are too high for me and I can’t afford it,” said Voye. “I’m working literally by myself. Right now, I can’t afford to have an employee and I’m working seven days and sometimes it is extremely tiring. I have a family and I have little opportunity to spend time with them.”

Although Voye has faced many challenges, she said she refuses to give up.

“It’s been hard, but I’m still going. I’m not willing to quit,” said Voye.

“Sheyla has been knocked down, denied loans, lost her lease, and even ran her business out of a truck for a few years,” Matkovsky noted. “She is dogged by a lack of access to patient, affordable capital and has worked around issues by taking temporary leases on retail space. Sheyla recently paid off a small business loan through a nonprofit lender that charged her 14% interest.”

“It takes a special person to keep fighting,” she said.

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Morning Notes

Italian Deli Coming to Pentagon Row — “Napoli Pasta Bar, the Bib Gourmand-designated Italian restaurant in Columbia Heights, will expand into Northern Virginia next month when it adds a sister deli in Arlington. Napoli Salumeria is expected to open in early October at 1301 South Joyce Street… The Pentagon Row space was largely turnkey ready, as it formerly functioned as a deli called A Deli.” [Eater]

Shirlington Movie Theater Reopens — The AMC Shirlington 7 theater reopened earlier this week, after closing over the weekend. A PR rep said the closure was due to a “plumbing issue.”

More Hazy Skies Possible — “More smoke from western wildfires likely to stream into DC area tonight and into Wednesday. Skies unlikely to be as blue as the past several days.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

Restaurant Break-in on Pentagon Row — “At approximately 10:41 a.m. on September 21, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 12:25 a.m., two suspects forced entry to a business, causing damage, and stole an undisclosed amount of cash and items of value. The suspects are described as males, wearing hooded sweatshirts, masks, and gloves. The investigation is ongoing.” [Arlington County]

Cooking School Adapts During Pandemic — Cookology at Ballston Quarter mall was just hitting its stride when the pandemic hit. After shutting down for weeks, the cooking school reopened via “Cookology Live” virtual classes. And now, the business has secured outdoor space at the mall’s covered “Instagram Alley” in which to hold in-person classes. [Washington Business Journal]

Apartment Building Designated as Historic — “The Glebe Apartments (now known as Knightsbridge Apartments) in the Ballston area has been placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register… The apartment complex, located in the 200 block of North Glebe Road, is an example of garden-style apartment units that were constructed in Arlington from the 1930s to the 1950s to provide moderately priced housing for a growing number of federal workers and, after World War II, returning veterans.” [InsideNova]

Today: ‘Spirit of Community’ Event — “Please join us for the 2020 Spirit of Community celebration on Wednesday, September 23 at 12 p.m… The program will include interviews with Chris Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton, and Steve Presley, Chairman and CEO of Nestle USA.” [ARLnow Events]

Confederate Costumes Cause Controversy — ” Party City is racing to clear its shelves of children’s costumes celebrating the Confederacy. An Arlington, Virginia mom of two adopted Black children, was shocked to find the Party City store at Bailey’s Crossroads selling Civil War rebel costumes emblazoned with the Confederate flag.” [WUSA 9]

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A new hair salon that helps natural hair to thrive has opened in Ballston despite the pandemic

After initially hoping to open on June 19 to commemorate Juneteenth, Thrive Hair Bar (1010 N. Glebe Road) first opened its doors on Aug. 9.

“Thrive Hair Bar provides two-strand twists, braids, and leave out styles for kinky, coily, & curly haired naturalistas on the go. Embracing your hair texture with an emphasis on hair health,” the website says.

The website said Thrive Hair Bar aims to “revolutionize the luxury hair salon experience.”

Located inside the Sola Salon Studio, which hosts a number of solo entrepreneurs, the salon services its clients during a one-on-one, client and stylist experience.

“Our goal isn’t just for us to give them a hairstyle and they walk away, it’s really to help educate women on how to maintain their hair and care for their natural hair,” said Ajia Minnis, owner and founder of Thrive Hair Bar.

However, the single stylist and client combination is not the experience Minnis envisioned.

“It was definitely something that we had to adjust to. I had envisioned a salon with at least three to four stylists,” said Minnis. “I did definitely want to keep it small, to have that personalized experience, so the stylists themselves wouldn’t be rushed and because we’re just starting. But with the coronavirus, I realized that that wasn’t going to work. It just didn’t seem like the safest thing to do and I recognized that.”

Getting used to the restrictions on who can be in the salon wasn’t the only challenge Thrive Hair Bar faced.

“We still haven’t had our grand opening event yet because I had envisioned doing something where we featured local artists in the community and with the coronavirus, that doesn’t seem like the safest thing to do, even with masks,” Minnis said.

The good news is that clients have responded to Thrive’s policies positively.

“I think they like being the only one in the salon,” Minnis said. “Nobody likes having to wear a mask all day but it’s for the benefit of not only our customers, but for our stylists too. We want to make sure that they’re safe, so everybody has been respectful and keeping their masks on. We’re also using disposable capes — one-time use and throw it out. We’re disinfecting all chairs, door handles and anything that anybody touches after every single client, and then obviously staying within normal salon standards for disinfection with using Barbicide.”

“I think our clients have been comfortable with the precautions that we’ve been taking,” Minnis said, adding that she is optimistic about the future of the business as the country continues to make progress in the coronavirus fight.

Photos courtesy Ajia Minnis

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